Humanist arguments against abortion

Caption: Abortion is one of the most difficult issues in modern society. Blanket dismissing all objections as “religious bigotry” isn’t going to help resolve it.

I?ve written in the past, questioning the assumption that humanism ipso facto leans left, and that, conversely, any arguments against certain jejune leftist orthodoxies must necessarily be religious. It?s fallacious to suppose that a humanist cannot, for instance, oppose euthanasia, or that any and every objection to gay marriage must be religious.

Abortion is another where one side automatically assumes that any opposition must be religious. This strawman-cum-ad-hominem fallacy is then used to bash their opponent into silence.

But are all arguments against abortion religious? Quote:

Normally those who oppose abortion do so on religious grounds but there is a plethora of reasons why both conservatives and progressives should not support it. For example, Cynthia Isabell has written? [ten]* arguments based on anatomy, physiology and logic rather than anything ?religious?

1. Because life begins at conception. End of quote.

This is undeniable. The question then becomes one of the value of that life. Quote:

2. Because a foetus is actually a human being.

?What determines whether we are a human, rather than a bird or a zucchini? The answer to this is simple and they correctly reply that it is ?our genetics, our DNA.? End of quote.

This is true, but it sidesteps the implied question: is a foetus a person? This is much more difficult to answer, but it?s the crux of the moral issue. We don?t object to killing living non-persons, be it a carrot or a cow. But person is what philosophers call ?forensic?: to be a person is to possess certain moral qualities.

But, personhood is one of the trickiest concepts in philosophy. Locke argued that a person is ?a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness, which is inseparable from thinking?.

Clearly, little of that can be attributed to a very early foetus, but this raises the question: well, when? This is a very, very slippery problem, and any age chosen is currently arbitrary. Quote:

3. Because abortion is [therefore] an act of murder.

Even feminists such as Antonia Senior openly acknowledge this: ? What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure? Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life?. End of quote.

Senior is at least honest, but her conclusion that it?s a killing which is ?the lesser evil? mostly seems a convenient justification.

It seems to me that the insurmountable problem with arguments for or against abortion is that it involves a fundamental clash of competing claims to the same right: the right to bodily integrity.

Humanists almost all agree that a person?s body is the ultimate property right. This is true for women and men alike, but here?s where nature stops playing fair. Quote:

5. Because a mother and her baby are not biologically one and the same thing.

The placenta and umbilical cord which separate the mother from the baby and prove that the foetus was never part of its mother?s body? If the foetus were not a separate human being but were only another part of its mother?s body, it would not need a placenta and umbilical cord to separate them. It could simply grow inside one of her body cavities like a tumour without any barriers between the two to protect each of them. End of quote.

This is where human vanities meet the brute facts of nature.

Like it or not, the fact remains that abortion is a matter that involves the fundamental rights of two human beings. However, you decide is going to suborn the rights of one to the other, often tying people up in knots of contradiction. Many jurisdictions now have ?foetal homicide? laws, for instance, in cases where a car crash causes only the death of unborn child. Which only raises the question: why isn?t abortion also therefore murder?

Feminist website Mammamia argued that ?the mother?s will? is the crucial difference. Which is fine, but it then raises the question: are mothers therefore entitled to commit infanticide?

I don?t pretend to have the answer to that or any of the other questions here. All I want to do is show that abortion is a fiendishly difficult problem that can?t be hand-waved away by grandly pooh-poohing objections as ?religious bigotry?.

*I?ve only highlighted what seem to me to be the most difficult points, but several others are at least eye-opening, especially the ones that challenge conventional pro-abortion nostrums like, ?rape and incest? or ?to preserve the mother’s life?.