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Abortion: Life? Choice? Right? Secular Arguments Against Abortion Richard Deem
Evidence for God (www.GodAndScience.org) Secular Arguments Against Abortion? Rich Deem – the agnostic
Libertarians for Life (L4L.org) – atheists
A Secular Case Against Abortion by Jennifer Roth – secular humanist (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/debates/secularist/abortion/roth1.html)
Feminists for Life (feministsforlife.org) – non-sectarian *Former agnostic, now Christian Why Should We Try to Persuade? 1999 Gallup Poll on Abortion
Opinion nearly split Prolife (42%) Prochoice (48%) Undecided (10%) Strongly Prolife (29%) Strongly Prochoice (26%) No strong opinion (45%) Only ~50% feel strongly either way
Nearly half have no strong opinion (i.e., can be persuaded) Abortion Arguments Scientific considerations
Human Embryology 101
When does human life begin?
Is the unborn a person?
Are the laws logically consistent?
When does a person begin to exist? Scientific Arguments When does human life begin?
Statements of doctors
When does abortion occur?
“Products of conception” – just a “blob of tissue” Medical Embryology Textbooks The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology
"Zygote: this cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo). Human development begins at fertilization… This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” Medical Embryology Textbooks Essentials of Human Embryology
“In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.” Medical Embryology Textbooks Human Embryology & Teratology
“Fertilization is an important landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…” What Do Medical Doctors Say? Dr. Alfred Bongioanni (University of Pennsylvania):
“I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception.”
Dr. Jerome LeJeune (University of Descartes):
“after fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being.” What Do Medical Doctors Say? Dr. Hymie Gordon (Mayo Clinic):
“By all criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”
Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth (Harvard University Medical School):
“It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception” Fetal brain begins to form on day 23
Brain waves produced by 6 weeks Human Embryology 101 Fetal heart begins to form 18 days after conception
Measurable heart beat 21-24 days after conception Abortion Statistics by Weeks of Gestation Elam-Evans, L.D., et al. 2002. Abortion Surveillance -- United States, 1999. Surveillance Summaries 51(SS09) 1-28. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) Fetus – Just a “Blob of Tissue”? “I opened the sock up and I put it on the towel and there were parts in there of a person. I’d taken anatomy; I was a medical student. I knew what I was looking at. There was a little scapula and there was an arm, and I saw some ribs and a chest, and I saw a little tiny head, and I saw a piece of a leg, and I saw a tiny hand. ... I checked it out and there were two arms and two legs and one head, etc., and I turned and said, I guess you got it all ... It was pretty awful that first time... it was like somebody put a hot poker into me.” (Dr. David Brewer, in training) Fetus – Just a “Blob of Tissue”? “I watched as the contents of the woman’s womb came through a suctioning device and into a stainless-steel pail sitting at his feet. I stepped back and wiped the perspiration from my brow. “This is kind of gruesome,” I said…. The doctor said, “At this point in a pregnancy, the products of conception aren’t much.” I stepped forward and peered into the pail. This time I broke out in a cold sweat. I backed up and leaned against the wall, my eyes closed. Dear Jesus! I thought. I just saw someone murdered! And I just stood and watched! (Nurse Don Haines, in training) Fetus – Just a “Blob of Tissue”? “I had a quick sonogram and then received a shot of methrotrexate. After the shot, I came home... I went to bed that evening around 9 p.m… I continued contracting and bleeding most of the night. Around three in the morning, I went to the bathroom. When I stood up, I noticed that the pain and the pressure was not from clots, but from passing the placenta. When I looked in the commode, I saw laying in the center of the placenta my baby. I saw the baby's perfectly formed hands, the little fingers. I remember the scream that came from my mouth... [from a 7 week abortion] (Char, “I used to be Pro-choice...But…”) Scientific Conclusions Human life begins at conception
Human development proceeds rapidly (all organs and systems are in place by week 8)
Abortion stops a beating heart
Most abortions occur after the fetus exhibits measurable brain waves Legal Arguments Right to life
Supreme Court decision
Legal definition of murder
Definition of murder – exceptions
Personhood issues Right to Life The Declaration of Independence of the United States guarantees “certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” Supreme Court Decision The Supreme Court held that the “right to privacy,” assured the freedom of a person to abort unless the state had a “compelling interest” in preventing the abortion.
The Court then held that, though the state had an interest in protecting fetal life, this interest did not become “compelling” until “fetal viability” occurred in the third trimester of pregnancy. Legal Definition of Murder CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE SECTION 187-199 187.
Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cacodes/pen/187-199.html Definition of Murder – Exceptions CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE 187.
This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act that results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply:
The act was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus. http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cacodes/pen/187-199.html Legal Personhood Issues The fetus is granted personhood if wanted by the mother
The fetus can become a non-person at the discretion of the mother
However, a mother may not choose to kill her born child
How can the personhood of a human being be decided by another person? Moral Arguments “Benefit” to women
“Benefit to child (every child “wanted”)
“Right” to control their own body
Fetus is not a person – personality argument
“Benefit” to Women Prevention of deaths from “coat hanger” or “back alley” abortions
Cases of rape or incest, fetal abnormalities or threats to mother’s life or health
Abortion alleviates economic and social problems Abortion Must Remain Legal to Prevent Abortion Deaths Abortion Must Remain Legal to Prevent Abortion Deaths The “Hard” Cases Abortion must be available for:
cases of rape or incest
Represent only 1% of all cases
cases of fetal abnormalities
Represent only 1% of all cases
mother’s health is at risk
Represents only 3% of all cases
The Alan Guttmacher Institute (http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html)
Abortion Alleviates Economic and Social Problems Pregnancy subjugates women, interferes with career and educational choices
For most women, pregnancy does not interfere with the ability to work or attend school, except after birth
Laws prevent employers from firing or discriminating against pregnant women
Women are not forced to keep their children. Adoption is always an option
The existence of social problems is not justification for another evil Every Child Should Be Wanted Being wanted is not a condition of the child, but of the adult
Is it fair to kill a child because of the attitude of an adult?
Wanted children are less likely to suffer abuse (next slide) Every Child Should Be Wanted (Wanted Children Are Less Likely to Be Abused) U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, National Center of Child Abuse & Neglect; National Analysis of Official Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Women Have a “Right” to Control Their Own Body Is the fetus part their body?
Separate circulatory system
Do we have rights to do anything with our bodies?
Use of drugs/alcohol during pregnancy Population Control – Rebuttal Those countries that outlaw abortion have an overcrowding problem
This does not indicated cause and effect – these countries also have little or no access to birth-control, poor education, etc.
War, disease and famine also curb population growth. Should we condone them? Fetus Is Not a Person “Persons . . . are members of a social community that shapes and values them, and personhood must be defined in terms of interactions and relationships with others.”
Susan Sherwin. 1999. Ethical Issues: Perspectives for Canadians. Ed. Soifer, Eldon. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, p. 267 Fetus Is Not a Person – Rebuttal Personality definition problems
Does a human non-person exist?
What traits define personhood?
Who makes the definition?
Society has excluded certain humans from personhood before (e.g., African slaves, Chinese, etc.) Should we make a new list of human non-persons? Fetus Is Not a Person – Rebuttal The lack of certain personality traits would remove from personhood:
Those who are in a coma
Elderly with degenerative disorders (Alzheimer's, etc.)
Is is okay to consider these human beings as non-persons? Definition of Personhood One who is consciously performing personal acts – eliminates those who are sleeping
One with a present capacity to perform personal acts – eliminates those who are in a coma Definition of Personhood One who has a history of performing personal acts – eliminates one who was in a coma from birth, but wakes up
One with a future capacity for performing personal acts – makes those who are dying as non-persons Implications of Functionally-Defined Personhood Newborns lack the ability to perform personal functions – in fact, newborn humans are less capable physically and mentally than virtually all other mammals
Therefore, on the basis of functionally-defined personhood, newborns fail the test could be killed on the basis of “non-personhood” When Does a Human Become a Person? At conception
After 20 weeks’ gestation
After 24 weeks (fetal viability outside the womb)
At the point that the individual expresses self-consciousness and an interest in their continued existence At Conception, It Is Only a Single Cell Claim:
Fertilized eggs are single cells, like blood cells or other parts of the body
The single cell is unique from both the father’s and mother’s cells and is the beginning of every new human being Claim: Prior to 20 Weeks, a Fetus Is Not a Person A person possess an individual human personality
Prior to 20 weeks’ gestation, the cerebral cortex has not yet developed to the point that the fetus can possess an individual human personality
The fetus prior to 20 weeks’ gestation is not a person. Prior to 20 Weeks, a Fetus Is Not a Person – Rebuttal Person = Personality Problem
All persons were once fetuses. When did we go from non-person status to person status?
To say that personality defines personhood is to deny the role of the body
Mind/Body dualism? Prior to 20 Weeks, a Fetus Is Not a Person – Rebuttal Brain Development Problem
The development of the brain is programmed by the DNA – it is an inherent function of the fertilized ovum and continues even after birth Prior to 24 Weeks, a Fetus Is Not Viable – Rebuttal Depends upon current technology
Age of viability used to be 28 weeks
Changed to 24 weeks in 1990
Artificial womb (Nature, 2002)
Developed for premature infants
Uses oxygenated perfluorinated hydrocarbons
Could cut the point of fetal viability in half? Personhood Starts at the Point of Self-consciousness ‘In Defense of Abortion and Infanticide,’ Michael Tooley claims that individuals have a right to life only at the point of self-consciousness and an interest in their own continued existence
Tooley concludes, therefore, that infanticide is morally acceptable
If the individual will, in the future develop such interest, is it permissible to kill the individual before such interests develop? Can fetuses be excluded from allowing such development to occur? Morality and Abortion Often quoted, “safe, legal, and rare” – Why rare?
Abortion rate “too high”
~30% of pregnancies in the U.S.
~70% of pregnancies in Russia
If abortion is good, wouldn’t higher be better? Do You Personally Believe That Abortion Is Wrong? Even though 51% claimed to be “pro-choice” only 36% believe that abortion was not morally wrong No (36%) Yes (56%) Don’t Know (8%) Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates. October 29-30, 1998 I Am Personally Against Abortion, But… Why are you personally against abortion?
If you believe it is immoral, why do you think it should be legally allowed?
I am personally against murder, but…
I am personally against robbery, but… Abortion Vs. Slavery *Stephen Douglas used all of these arguments in favor of retaining slavery Abortion: Life? Choice? Right? Available Online at
Evidence for God (www.GodAndScience.org)