Much of the popular opposition to abortion stems from a faulty analysis of the morality of abortion. Contrary to the critics of abortion, the termination of even a healthy pregnancy can be a morally responsible choice.
Why do women get abortions? A 2005 article in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health published relevant polling results. Thirteen percent of women cited “Possible problems affecting the health of the fetus.” Twelve percent cited “Physical problems with my health.” One percent got an abortion because of rape, and fewer than half of a percent got an abortion because of incest. The most popular answer given (where women could list multiple reasons) was, “Having a baby would dramatically change my life,” at 74 percent. Many women also offered financial reasons (73 percent), lack of a partner or problems with a romantic relationship (48 percent), or desire not to have another child (38 percent).57
Most people do not object to abortions in cases involving rape, incest, deformity, or risk to the woman’s life. What about abortions obtained for other reasons, when the pregnancy is healthy? Is abortion morally acceptable even if a woman failed to use birth control–or failed to use it properly?
Irresponsible sex is the most common cause of unintended pregnancy. One study found that 46 percent of women who got pregnant unintentionally weren’t using any birth control. Among the rest, only 13 percent of birth-control users and 14 percent of condom users reported correct use.58 That’s not surprising, as the difference in outcomes between “perfect use” and “typical use” of birth-control methods is dramatic.59
Abortion can be a moral choice for the significant minority of pregnancies due to a failure of properly-used birth control. Responsible adults do not allow themselves to be buffeted about in life by accidental circumstances. Instead, they consciously direct the course of their lives by their own rational judgment. So a woman (and her partner) ought not bear a child just because she happens to become pregnant, despite careful use of birth control. Instead, they ought to consider the impact of the pregnancy and resulting child on their health, finances, careers, and well-being. They ought to consider whether their relationship is stable enough to withstand the strain of raising a child. They ought to have a child only if they are willing and able to be good parents. That’s why, when the birth control of a sexually responsible couple fails, terminating an unwanted pregnancy is a morally responsible course.
Opponents of abortion often claim that couples can protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy by refraining from sex entirely. However, sex is a magnificent human value integral to any healthy, developed romantic relationship. Moreover, carrying a pregnancy to term itself involves some risk, as well as time, effort, and endurance. Putting up a child for adoption can involve high emotional costs. And raising a child to adulthood is an 18-year (and longer) commitment of time, energy, and resources. Those costs may be more than many couples are willing to bear, including married couples. So people who condemn abortion as immoral even when birth control fails (or worse, who advocate a ban) demand that a woman and her partner choose between abstinence and procreation. That is morally wrong: it’s not a choice that couples in a modern society should be forced to make.
Couples who cannot be bothered to use birth control or who use it carelessly, then terminate the resulting pregnancy by abortion, understandably earn the frustration of much of the public. Yet such abortions should not be restricted or outlawed, nor even condemned as immoral. The fact that a fetus is not a person means that the government must uphold the woman’s right to choose whether to maintain or terminate a pregnancy, regardless of how it was caused. However, respect for a woman’s rights does not require endorsing her decision to terminate a pregnancy. Yet if an unwanted pregnancy was caused by irresponsible behavior, then that behavior ought to be morally blamed, not any ensuing abortion. Similarly, if a skier breaks his leg by skiing too fast in dangerous terrain, we ought to blame him for that skiing, not for his sensible choice to restore his leg to health by surgery.
Moreover, the fact that an embryo is not a person, nor even sentient, means that the woman (and her partner) have no moral obligation to consider its not-yet-existent interests in their decision to abort or not. They ought to consider the impact of bearing a child on their own lives, as well as the kind of life they could offer that born child. Nothing else matters. So when an unwanted pregnancy results from the careless use or absence of birth control, an abortion may be the most responsible course of action, as the couple is likely ill-prepared for the immense burdens of raising a child well. In such cases, the couple ought to resolve to always use birth control properly, in order to avoid the distress of another unintended pregnancy. Yet they should feel no guilt for the abortion, if that best served their interests, only for engaging in irresponsible sex.
The opponents of abortion often gather support for their cause by associating abortions with promiscuous, irresponsible sex and other self-destructive behaviors. However, women often become pregnant unexpectedly through no fault of their own. In other cases, the moral wrong was not the abortion but the irresponsible sex. In any case, the moral condemnation of abortion is often wrong: the embryo or fetus is not a person whose interests must be balanced against those of the woman. The attempt to outlaw abortion in order to punish irresponsible sex is doubly wrong: it is a violation of the rights of the woman and it is abusive to the children born to irresponsible, uncaring parents.
Amendment 48 Is Not a “Message”
Ironically, the fact that Amendment 48 is so outrageous in its implications may cause some Colorado voters to not take it seriously. Many voters may be tempted to think: “surely they don’t really want to ban abortions even in cases of rape, incest, deformity, or risks to the life of the mother; surely they don’t really want lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty for women who get abortions; surely they don’t seriously want to outlaw the birth-control pill; surely they don’t want to shut down fertility clinics; surely not.” But the most consistent advocates of Amendment 48 do intend those effects–and they will use Amendment 48 to make them the law of the land.
The Religious Right typically packages the issue of abortion with a variety of other cultural issues, such as nihilism, postmodernism, promiscuous sex, violent video games, and pornography. They claim that voting for Amendment 48 will send the “message” that “all human life has value.”60 Yet the measure does not say, “Resolved: All human life has value.” Rather, Amendment 48 is a specific measure with specific, foreseeable political implications. A vote for it is a vote for those sweeping political changes. It is a vote for granting full legal rights to fertilized eggs–at the expense of the real men and women of Colorado.
As this paper has shown, Amendment 48 would fundamentally change Colorado law. If Roe v. Wade were reversed, the consistent enforcement of the measure would outlaw abortion in all cases except perhaps for extreme and immediate risk to the woman’s life, outlaw popular forms of birth control, outlaw all embryonic stem-cell research and the most common in vitro fertilization techniques, and impose severe police and prosecutorial control over the sexual lives of most couples. Not only would it cause some women to suffer and die needlessly, but it would violate the rights of actual persons and prevent them from making the best choices for their lives.
In its essence, Amendment 48 is profoundly anti-life.
Colorado for Equal Rights tempts voters to ignore these clear implications of Amendment 48. The organization disingenuously claims, “In and of itself, this amendment will not ban abortion, stop birth control, or prevent in vitro fertilization or stem cell research. This is not criminal legislation.”61 Even though the measure does not alter the criminal code, it would, if legally implemented and enforced, automatically apply existing criminal statutes, including life in prison or the death penalty for first-degree murder of a “person.” Why is Colorado for Equal Rights so coy about its agenda?
Obviously the advocates of Amendment 48 hope that Colorado voters will overlook the real and frightening implications of the measure, and instead vote based on their disapproval of irresponsible sex and their affection for cuddly babies. Yet in this case, an irresponsible vote would be worse than irresponsible sex. The way to change the culture in the direction of greater responsibility and stronger moral values is not to pass a law that would kill women, foster a police state, foist parenthood on unwilling couples, and severely violate the rights of millions of actual people.
If you believe that “human life has value,” the only moral choice is to vote against Amendment 48.
Originally published by the Coalition for Secular Government. The Coalition advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights. The protection of a person’s basic rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness — including freedom of religion and conscience — requires a strict separation of church and state.
Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life
- Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person (Part 1 of 6)
- Amendment 48 and Birth Control (Part 2 of 6)
- Fertility Treatment and Medical Research (Part 3 of 6)
- Amendment 48 and Abortion (Part 4 of 6)
- Personhood and the Right to Abortion (Part 5 of 6)
- Morality and Abortion (Part 6 of 6)
1 On Bob Enyart Live, Enyart says, “Abortion [in] the law should be murder, and if you commit murder, you get put to death. And if the woman is a willing accomplice, she also would be put to death.” See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzOcTJpgx0k. Enyart is pastor of Denver Bible Church; see http://denverbiblechurch.org/enyart (accessed August 9, 2008).
2 Colorado for Equal Rights, “Life Counts,” 2008, http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com/files/cer_info_sheet.pdf.
3 Peter J. Smith, “Historic Chance to Defeat Roe v. Wade on the Ballot in Colorado,” LifeSiteNews.com, May 30, 2008, http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/may/08053007.html.
4 Ari Armstrong, “Schizophrenic Republicans,” FreeColorado.com, June 23, 2008, http://www.ariarmstrong.com/2008/06/schizophrenic-republicans.html. The document cited by that article, http://www.cologop.org/stateConvention.htm, was no longer available when accessed on August 5, 2008.
5 Colorado Right to Life, “CRTL 2008 Candidate Questionnaire,” http://www.coloradorighttolife.org/news/2008/04/crtl-2008-candidate-questionnaire.
6 “Unborn to be defined as ‘persons’? Colorado proposal would use loophole Blackmun created in ‘Roe’,” World Net Daily, November 14, 2007, http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=58675.
7 John M. Opitz, “Early Embryonic Development: An Up-to-Date Account,” The President’s Council on Bioethics, January 16, 2003, http://www.bioethics.gov/transcripts/jan03/session1.html.
8 American Pregnancy Association, “Miscarriage,” http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/miscarriage.html (accessed August 5, 2008).
9 William Saletan, “Breast-Feeding Kills: The Pro-Life Case Against Birth Control, Nursing, and Exercise,” Slate, August 5, 2008, http://www.slate.com/id/2196784.
10 William D. Mosher, et. al, “Use of Contraception and Use of Family Planning Services in the United States: 1982-2002,” Centers for Disease Control, Advance Data From Vital and Health Statistics, No. 350, December 10, 2004, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad350.pdf.
11 Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on Contraceptive Use,” January, 2008, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html.
12 EMedicineHealth, “Tubal Sterilization,” http://www.emedicinehealth.com/tubal_sterilization/page3_em.htm (accessed August 9, 2008).
13 Planned Parenthood, “Birth Control Pill,” http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/birth-control-pill-4228.htm (accessed August 5, 2008). Planned Parenthood, “IUD,” http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/iud-4245.htm (accessed August 5, 2008). Planned Parenthood, “ Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill),” http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/emergency-contraception-morning-after-pill-4363.htm (accessed August 9, 2008).
14 William Saletan, “The Birds and the B’s: Are Morning-After Pills Abortion or Contraception?”, Slate, April 1, 2006, http://www.slate.com/id/2139107.
15 See http://www.ortho-mcneilpharmaceutical.com/ortho-mcneilpharmaceutical/shared/pi/cycltri.pdf.
16 See http://www.go2planb.com/pdf/PlanBPI.pdf. See also U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Plan B: Questions and Answers,” August 24, 2006, updated December 14, 2006, http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/infopage/planB/planBQandA20060824.htm; James Trussell, “Mechanism of Action of Emergency Contraceptive Pills,” February 16, 2008, http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/MOA.pdf.
17 See http://berlex.bayerhealthcare.com/html/products/pi/Mirena_PI.pdf.
18 Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on Contraceptive Use,” January, 2008, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html.
19 Stephanie Simon, “Treating the Pill as Abortion, Draft Regulation Stirs Debate,” Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2008, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121745387879898315.html.
20 J.T. Finn, “‘Birth Control’ Pills Cause Early Abortions,” April 23, 2005, http://www.prolife.com/BIRTHCNT.html.
21 Contraceptive Information Resource, “Post-Fertilization Mechanisms: What to Know about Hormonal Methods,” http://www.contracept.org/postfertilization.php (accessed August 5, 2008).
22 Walter L. Larimore and Joseph B. Stanford, “Postfertilization Effects of Oral Contraceptives and Their Relationship to Informed Consent,” Archives of Family Medicine, Vol. 9, February, 2000, p. 133, reproduced at http://www.contracept.org/news/fsa8035.pdf.
23 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “2005 Assisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates: National Summary and Fertility Clinic Reports,” October, 2007, http://www.cdc.gov/ART/ART2005/508PDF/2005ART508.pdf, pp. 1, 3, 5, 11, 13, 14, 39, 164-70.
24 Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, “Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine Statistics: 2007 Statistics,” http://www.colocrm.com/rates2007.htm.
25 Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, “Egg Fertilization & Embryo Culture,” http://www.colocrm.com/eggfert.htm (accessed August 9, 2008).
26 Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, “Embryo Transfer,” http://www.colocrm.com/embryotransfer.htm (accessed August 9, 2008).
27 Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, “Embryo Freezing,” http://www.colocrm.com/embryofreezing.htm (accessed August 9, 2008).
28 National Institutes of Health, “Stem Cell Information: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),” http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/faqs.asp (accessed August 9, 2008).
29 Brady E. Hamilton, et al., “Preliminary Births for 2004,” Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/prelim_births/prelim_births04.htm.
30 Lilo T. Strauss, et. al, “Abortion Surveillance-United States, 2004,” Centers for Disease Control, Surveillance Summaries, November 23, 2007, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5609a1.htm.
31 Guttmacher Institute, “State Facts About Abortion: Colorado,” http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/sfaa/colorado.html (accessed August 5, 2008).
32 Lilo T. Strauss, et. al, “Abortion Surveillance-United States, 2004,” Centers for Disease Control, Surveillance Summaries, November 23, 2007, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5609a1.htm, Table 1.
33 Pamela White, “Extreme Measures,” Boulder Weekly, July 31, 2008, http://www.boulderweekly.com/20080731/coverstory.html.
34 Colorado Right to Life, “2008 Candidate Questionnaire-Answers,” http://www.coloradorighttolife.org/news/2008/05/2008-candidate-quesitonnaire-answers (accessed August 14, 2008).
35 Jeani Chang, et. al, “Pregnancy-Related Mortality Surveillance-United States, 1991-1999,” Centers for Disease Control, Surveillance Summaries, February 21, 2003, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5202a1.htm.
36 Guttmacher Institute, “State Facts About Abortion: Colorado,” http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/sfaa/colorado.html (accessed August 5, 2008).
37 EMedicine, “Ectopic Pregnancy,” August 17, 2007, http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic3212.htm.
38 Human Rights Watch, “Over Their Dead Bodies: Denial of Access to Emergency Obstetric Care and Therapeutic Abortion in Nicaragua,” http://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/nicaragua1007.
39 Associated Press, “Women die after Nicaragua’s ban on abortions,” November 6, 2007, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21601045.
40 PollingReport.com, “Abortion and Birth Control,” http://www.pollingreport.com/abortion.htm (accessed August 5, 2008).
41 Rasmussen Reports, “Colorado: Race tightens, Obama 43%, McCain 41%,” June 19, 2008, http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_20082/2008_presidential_election/colorado/colorado_race_tightens_obama_43_mccain_41.
42 Colorado Right to Life, “CRTL 2008 Candidate Questionnaire,” http://www.coloradorighttolife.org/news/2008/04/crtl-2008-candidate-questionnaire.
43 Pamela White, “Extreme Measures,” Boulder Weekly, July 31, 2008, http://www.boulderweekly.com/20080731/coverstory.html.
44 Association of Prolife Physicians, “Are There Rare Cases When an Abortion Is Justified?” http://www.prolifephysicians.org/rarecases.htm (accessed August 6, 2008).
45 Dave Kopel, “Echoes of abortion fraud,” Rocky Mountain News, May 5, 2007, http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/opinion_columnists/article/0,2777,DRMN_23972_5521942,00.html.
46 Protect Families Protect Choices, “Who We Are,” http://www.protectfamiliesprotectchoices.org/getthefacts/whoweare.html (accessed August 6, 2008).
47 Colorado for Equal Rights, “Life Counts,” 2008, http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com/files/cer_info_sheet.pdf.
48 Colorado Right to Life, “CRTL 2008 Candidate Questionnaire,” http://www.coloradorighttolife.org/news/2008/04/crtl-2008-candidate-questionnaire.
49 Electa Draper, “Face of ‘Personhood’ Issue Young, Resolute,” Denver Post, May 4, 2008, http://www.denverpost.com/ci_9153861.
50 Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to the Danbury Baptists,” January 1, 1802, http://www.seculargovernment.us/docs/jefferson-danbury.shtml.
51 Colorado for Equal Rights, “Life Counts,” 2008, http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com/files/cer_info_sheet.pdf.
52 Colorado for Equal Rights, http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com (accessed August 17, 2008).
53 All information on fetal development is drawn from U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Fetal Development,” http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002398.htm (accessed August 16, 2008).
54 Nova, “Morphing Embryos,” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/odyssey/clips (accessed August 16, 2008).
55 National Institutes of Health, “NIH Study Reveals Factors That Influence Premature Infant Survival, Disability,” April 16, 2008, http://www.nih.gov/news/health/apr2008/nichd-16.htm.
56 Arthur C. Wittich and Michelle E. Szczepanik, “True Knot of the Umbilical Cord: A Report of 13 Cases,” Military Medicine, August, 2007, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3912/is_200708/ai_n19511940.
57 Lawrence B. Finer, et. al, “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 37, No. 3, September, 2005, p. 113, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/psrh/full/3711005.pdf.
58 Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States,” July, 2008, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html. Guttmacher cites R. K. Jones, et. al, “Contraceptive use among U.S. women having abortions in 2000-2001,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 34, No. 6, 2002, pp. 294–303.
59 Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on Contraceptive Use,” January, 2008, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html.
60 Focus on the Family Action, “Colorado Voters to Decide on Pro-Life Amendment,” CizizenLink.com, August 5, 2008, http://www.citizenlink.org/content/A000007934.cfm.
61 Colorado for Equal Rights, “Life Counts,” 2008, http://www.coloradoforequalrights.com/files/cer_info_sheet.pdf.