Questions About Abortion

by | Oct 25, 2011 | Abortion, Women's Rights

Abortion Opponent: I don’t believe abortion is moral. The fetus is a conscious, sentient individual. It enjoys the inalienable right to life just as all human beings do. Abortion should be illegal – because it’s murder. Dr. Hurd: A fetus is a potential human individual; not an actual one. This is glaringly obvious in the […]

Abortion Opponent: I don’t believe abortion is moral. The fetus is a conscious, sentient individual. It enjoys the inalienable right to life just as all human beings do. Abortion should be illegal – because it’s murder.

Dr. Hurd: A fetus is a potential human individual; not an actual one.

This is glaringly obvious in the early stages of pregnancy where the fetus is really nothing more than a mass of tissue. As the fetus slowly evolves into a more human-like form, even one with apparent partial consciousness, you still can’t call it an individual, human being.

Why not? Because the fetus literally feeds off the woman’s body in order to develop. It is not yet an individual entity, in any real sense of that term. The pregnant mother, for example, does not have the option of putting the fetus up for adoption, or having loved ones take care of it, as she would if it were a real, live infant. It’s a part of her own body, not a body all by itself.

A crucial difference exists between an infant (even though highly dependent at first) that can live and breathe on its own versus a fetus that must – by its nature– function as a part of another human’s body in order to thrive. The fetus is a slowly evolving potential life; but not yet an actual life.

Abortion Opponent: But how can you deny that the fetus is conscious, at least in the later stages of pregnancy? And that the fetus feels pain?

Dr. Hurd: “Consciousness” presupposes a biologically self-generating, self-sustaining individual life. In order to prove that the fetus has an individual consciousness, you must first prove that it’s an individual.

Yet there’s no rational, factual basis for doing so.

Only individuals have rights – not parts of individuals. Defending the “right to life” of the fetus is like confusing the egg for the chicken.

An egg is not a chicken until it’s hatched. Before it’s hatched, the egg remains a merely potential chicken.

Abortion Opponent: But I look at the pictures of bloodied fetuses and I can’t get past the fact that this is murder.

Dr. Hurd: All decent human beings respect the individual right to life – that is, the right to be free from murder. They know, and feel very strongly, that murder of the innocent is wrong. Yet anti-abortionists project qualities onto a two-week, three-month or six-month fetus which it does not and cannot possess – qualities such as the independence and tenacity of an infant struggling to hold onto its food, or of a toddler learning to walk.

Your struggle is one of emotions versus reason. Sometimes we feel emotions strongly, but an objective inventory of the facts forces us to a different conclusion. Abortion represents an especially dramatic example of this principle. Many abortion opponents feel that the fetus is human, because of their subconscious projections of humanity onto the not-yet human; but facts remain facts regardless of feelings.

Abortion Opponent: But the fetus can sense, perceive, and feel pain – just like an infant. It contains human, living cells.

Dr. Hurd: Your appendix, your tonsils, and your fingers all contain living cells as well. But these cells and body parts do not exist as individuals. They are part of you, and they are alive, but they do not comprise an individual with rights.

These living organs only exist as part of a human body, not a human body all its own. The same applies to the human embryo – growing towards the state of a sovereign, self-sustaining entity; but not one until birth.

You cannot reverse cause and effect. Individual existence comes first; then, along with it, comes the capacity for sensing, perceiving, and (later on) reasoning associated with human individuals. So it’s pointless to indulge in debates about whether the fetus can feel or sense. These concepts only apply to actual individuals. Until you have established that the fetus is an individual, your other arguments simply don’t hold up.

Abortion Opponent: But the fetus is helpless! Helpless creatures have rights.

Dr. Hurd: Animals are often helpless creatures, at least against man.

Does this mean we should stop doing research on mice or rabbits, even if doing so could bring a cure for cancer? Or that we should forbid ownership of pets, on the grounds that this constitutes slavery? Are we to stop eating beef and chicken? Should we stop eating plants, since they are helpless forms of life? All these forms of life are, to some extent, helpless – and, unlike the fetus, they constitute actual life, not partial or potential life. If we use helplessness as the criteria for individual rights, then virtually everything has rights and the human species will necessarily perish.

Abortion Opponent: A newborn infant, like the fetus, is a potential more than an actual. Yet I’m sure you would argue that the young baby has a right to life; that infanticide is wrong. If infanticide is wrong, then why is abortion morally acceptable? It seems arbitrary to draw the line at birth. Why not draw the line at conception? Or, if not conception, at some point during the pregnancy, when some level of consciousness begins? What gives the two-day-old infant rights which the fetus does not possess?

Dr. Hurd: The fact that the infant does not require another’s body to function. The fact that the infant is now a young chicken, so to speak, rather than a still unhatched egg. The fact that he is no longer part of another person’s body – but rather a body, and consciousness, all his own.

Abortion Opponent: What about the right to life? How can you deny that to the innocent unborn—even if it is only a potential?

Dr. Hurd: Whose rights are more important—the “right” of the not-yet-individual fetus to be born? Or the right of the already-individualized mother to have control over her destiny and her body? To me, the answer seems obvious. Consider something else. If the fetus has a right to be born, then might not the same “right” be established for an infant not yet conceived? If the government is allowed to force women to carry a baby to term, then what’s to stop the government from also issuing an edict that citizens must procreate whether they want to or not?

A future President Michele Bachmann or President Rick Santorum, for example, might decide that since the traditional family is in decline, or birth rates were getting too low to ensure the survival of Medicare and Social Security, then we must consider the rights of all the unborn Johnnys and Suzys – including those not yet conceived.

In short: procreation can become mandatory, on the same premise that makes carrying fetuses to term mandatory. And, of course, if procreation could be mandatory, so too could abortion become mandatory during a different political administration seeking to lower birth rates. Who knows? Maybe we could even form a Federal Reproduction Board, to constantly monitor and determine birth rates, just as the Federal Reserve Chairman presently monitors and controls currency supply and the banking industry.

Don’t dismiss this scenario as preposterous. It’s not a difference in principle, if you think about it. If we have a moral duty to actualize a fetus – initially only a tiny mass of cells growing in a woman’s body – then it seems like we also have a moral duty to give rise to the fetus in the first place, if the government wants us to do so.

As soon as we give up even a tiny piece of the principle that we own our minds and bodies, then it’s only a matter of time before all freedom is destroyed. Even the left-wingers, normally supportive of abortion rights, could join in on the act. They could argue that in order to achieve the greater social good of a “compassionate” society, we are all duty bound to make sure we have enough employees born to keep up the standard of living for all. If the government may impose on its citizens a duty to provide a minimum wage and a guaranteed minimum income, why not also a minimum birthrate?

Abortion Opponent: What about late-term abortion? Who could condone killing a nearly born fetus? Haven’t you seen the pictures? They are horrifying scenes of carnage.

Dr. Hurd: Who could condone sacrificing the life of a mother when, for medical reasons, an abortion may be necessary late in the pregnancy?

Allow me to show you a picture of a dead woman who died because her government dictated she must sacrifice herself for the fetus.

Or, let me show you a picture of two young parents, forced to carry a child to term against their wishes, and against their ability to afford it. Let me show you the psychological and economic condition of such a child. Would those pictures count for anything? To say nothing of the stress of living under an authoritarian government which determines whether you have children and, if so, how many.

It’s hard to imagine that any woman would carry a child to the third trimester, unless she was reasonably certain she wanted the baby. To postpone thinking about whether or not to have an abortion until late in the pregnancy is self-defeating, irresponsible—and dangerous.

Yet there must be room for exceptions. A pregnant mother could lose all her money in the third trimester and face financial ruin. Her husband might die suddenly. Government edicts are notoriously at odds with rational exceptions.

For example, an unexpected and sudden health problem may require a woman to terminate her pregnancy late in its term, even though her original intention was to carry the fetus to birth. Many who advocate outlawing partial-birth abortions will allow for exceptions when the mother’s health is endangered, at least in principle. But what will such an exception mean in actual practice? Will the mother and doctor have time to write a letter to their Senator, or to the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, to gain permission? To fill out Form X2378911APL, The Request-For-Right-to-Abortion-Under-Exceptional-Circumstances Form? Must medical treatment be put on hold to attain a court order?

The obvious impracticality and the moral indignity of such a scenario should be enough to dismiss it immediately. It will always make sense, obviously, for a woman to have an abortion sooner rather than later. Why go through risks or discomfort with an abortion at 7 months when you could have an abortion at 2 months? With or without government edicts, partial-birth abortion will always be the exception – most likely due to medical reasons for which the government would have to make an exception anyway.

Arguing about partial-birth abortions represents an evasion of the central questions nobody on the left or right seems to want to name explicitly: Is the fetus a life? If so, why? And if not, why not?

When considering the emotional issue of abortion, do yourself one very important favor. Ask yourself the central, most fundamental questions first. Take your time and think over the answers carefully, without losing sight of the facts. Don’t retreat to the cowardly, wishy-washy middle for fear of thinking. Don’t allow people with mistaken or dishonest motives to set the terms of the debate for you. The terms of any debate must be set by the fundamentals.

I just identified the fundamentals for you. Now form your own conclusions.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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