I believe abortion should be outlawed with some minor exceptions because the unborn are entitled to their rights- specifically the right to life. I am stating that the unborn are entitled to the same rights as me or you, making them persons, a quality I will refer to hereafter as personhood.
If policies were adopted to recognize the personhood of the unborn beginning at conception, abortion would be akin to murder. However, I make some exceptions - If the mother’s life is in danger, abortion is self-defense. If the child has some sort of immediate and terminal defect such as Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type Three, I could be convinced to allow abortions in that case as well. Down syndrome and other non-terminal birth defects do not justify abortion. If the unborn is a person, the mother does not get to decide whether his/her life is worth living.
Yes, of course, rape and incest are awful - they’re illegal for a reason - but the circumstances of the unborn’s conception aren’t the fault of the unborn - they can make the situation much more gut-wrenching, but they have no bearing on the personhood of the unborn and do not impact their value. It is important to note that rape and incest account for less than a percent of all abortions, and doesn’t in any way justify the other 99% (Source 1)
Before diving into any philosophical considerations, I have to address the legal precedent. Let me just say, for the record: Roe v. Wade is utter bullshit.
Not only were “Roe’s” circumstances questionable, but the court cited the fourth amendment to demonstrate that abortion is a constitutional right. The truth is the constitution is completely silent on abortion.
The true issue is that the court completely ignored the question of when personhood begins. Despite the fact that Justice Blackmun admitted in the decision that if the personhood of the unborn could be established, its right to life would be constitutionally protected under the 14th amendment. However, due to the court’s intellectual cowardice, laziness, or perhaps even incompetence, they neglected to answer this fundamental question and decided to pave the way for 61 million abortions while it remained unanswered.
The science is quite clear (Source 2), life technically does begin at conception - All cells are alive. And while both egg and sperm are cells, they are (sometimes a contraction doesn’t have the best flow) parts of a larger whole, and share the DNA of that whole. Upon the moment of conception, however, a zygote is formed, complete with its own, brand new, unique DNA. A zygote is technically an organism (Source 3). A single-celled organism sure, but still an organism. And a human organism at that. Why wouldn’t a living, human organism be considered a person?
Why should these underdeveloped human beings be considered persons? It is because there is no criteria, no line, for personhood that the unborn fails to meet that a post-birth individual couldn’t also fail to meet. If any such difference does exist, it is irrelevant to the question of personhood.
The first such potential line could be the formation of a sense of identity. Children start forming lasting memories when they are around two years of age, but the majority of memories only become explicit around seven years of age (Source 4). Long-term memories are rather essential for a sense of identity and I very much doubt that you, my dear reader, would be content with the killing of year old infants on these grounds. A common rebuttal I hear to this claim is that yes, infants recognize the sound of voices and sometimes faces, but so can guinea pigs, that doesn’t automatically make them people. (Source 5) Besides, the unborn can recognize voices as well, even though they don’t have the option of viewing faces
Birth comes up often as well, but to truly hold this line one would have to consider aborting a child an hour before birth as completely morally justified. One would have to see zero equivalence between a child 10 minutes before birth and a child 10 minutes after. I know you most likely don’t believe this, so we can move on to the next line.
Viability is a popular one too, the problem is that this line is constantly moving. Our technology is improving all the time and the unborn child who wasn’t viable ten years ago is viable today. Even today there are examples of babies being born much too early and surviving. Our very own Michaela Miller was born more than three months too early in 1995 and lived to tell the tale. Our capabilities in the future will likely only improve. The absolute limit to pre-term viability is unknown, and eventually I’d imagine fully artificial natal development will be possible, rendering this point irrelevant. However, the true issue with this line is the fact that one’s ability to survive on their own doesn't define personhood. As we discussed, an infant is dependent on a caretaker for survival as anyone on a ventilator is dependent upon it for survival. I’d imagine neither of those individuals would be considered just a clump of cells.
A helpless person is still a person.
As for pain or the ability to suffer, this one seems rather obviously wrong. If you don’t feel pain, that doesn’t mean you lose all semblance of personhood. If that were true, all you’d have to do is knock someone out before killing them to get let off the hook. Assault? Maybe. But not a murder, since once the person can’t feel pain, they are not a person. Pump you full of anesthesia and all of a sudden you’re no more than a “clump of cells”, and your life means nothing. There are cases of those who naturally can’t feel physical pain either, and they’re still people. (Source 6) Abortion before the development of a nervous system is akin to painlessly killing someone while they’re asleep. They will not experience death. They will not feel the pain and yet killing them takes away their capacity for wellbeing. The same applies to the unborn. They cannot feel the pain or experience the death, but ending their lives deprives them of their capacity for well being. It is an unnoticeable killing for the villain, but it is still killing. So no, the pain won’t exactly do as a metric of personhood either.
So we come to the final line: conception - the moment where a new human is created with personhood and worth.
There are many other potential lines, heartbeat, brainwave, implantation, to name a few. But all of these arguments fall when you recognize that they’re not permanent. Even if the child is missing his/her heartbeat, or hasn’t implanted yet, s/he will eventually. You do not consider a sleeping person dead, because you know the person will wake up. You only consider a brain dead person dead because you know brain waves will not resume. An unborn child is the former, not the latter.
Personhood begins at conception.
But the argument being made states that “This type of living human being is not like you or me, and despite being human, and being alive, they are not worthy of the rights you and I are entitled to. Despite being human beings, they are not people.”
This argument has been made multiple times throughout human history for multiple purposes. Be it for economic reasons, political purposes, or personal convenience, it has never ended well.