A Rational Look at the Abortion Controversy
One of the most hotly contested issues inside and outside of biomedical ethics today is abortion. The discussion received a new impetus at the release of the controversial abortion drug RU-486, "a pill to increase access to abortions and let women get them privately from their own doctor instead of facing shouting protesters at clinics."2 As is the case with all controversial issues, there are very passionate people on both sides of the fence. Unfortunately, a heated discussion on abortion can easily and quickly turn into a battle of rhetoric rather than a dialectic of reason. But the guiding light in such a discussion must always be reason, not rhetoric or other fallacies, for only reason can solve this issue and judge which side is correct.
In this brief essay, I shall attempt to clear away some of the confusion present in typical abortion debates by cooling the rhetoric with reason enlightened by scientific facts. Specifically, I will examine two common pro-abortion arguments made by Mary Anne Warren and Judith Jarvis Thomson and demonstrate that they cannot stand up to rational scrutiny and therefore fail to justify abortion. I shall also use a
"quadrilemma" argument similar to that of Peter Kreeft's to show that, aside from all specific argumentation, abortion cannot be morally justified.
Before even beginning to discuss the issue of abortion, it is imperative to agree upon a starting point from which to reason. The fact that some people differ even about this very point tends to render the pro-abortion and the anti-abortion paradigms somewhat "incommensurable," and this is probably one major reason why people are tempted to arrive at different conclusions about this topic. It seems to me, however, that to start with the definition of abortion and an examination of the beings involved would be a fair move.
Abortion is the unnatural termination of a pregnancy by killing (at least) one human fetus. This definition is not contested, and I think it seems clear that it is correct. Science confirms that life begins at conception,3 and that this life is human is a-scientific as well as logical-necessity, because it is the product of two humans, and humans can only produce humans. Ergo, the fetus involved is human. Secondly, the fetus is, at least scientifically speaking, a singular and individual organism, as evidenced by his own unique genetic make-up, which he shares with no other human being on earth (unless he have an identical twin). There is thus an essential difference between a human fetus and, say, a tumor or similar parasite. Finally, that the fetus is alive is confirmed through empirical observation, and hence forcing that life to come to an end involves at least some sort of killing. Therefore, the unavoidable conclusion is that abortion deliberately and forcibly puts to death a human being. Again, this definition is uncontested and thus I shall not dwell on it any further....