Is Abortion Justified by the Fact that Most Pregnancies Miscarry?
October 4, 2009
In the comments to another post, the question arose whether the pro-life position is inconsistent with a failure to prevent as many naturally-occurring deaths in the womb as possible. I found the discussion worth a separate post, and I hope that the gentleman with whom I was conversing will take no offense at the separate post written in response to his comments:
You’re conflating, perhaps, my position with those that make this pro-choice argument. I am not claiming that the law should remain morally neutral. I am claiming that, on this particular moral question [of whether to legally prohibit abortion], I cannot provide a judgment without relying solely upon dogma (I’ve tried, I can’t make one stand up and hold water). [Bracket added]
I previously provided a non-religious principle for opposing abortion through law: “the intentional killing of innocent human life must never be permitted by secular human law.” With this principle there can be no dispute. It is a principle of natural reason that is apprehended by all humans to be correct, and for a person to disagree with it is to demonstrate that there is something wrong with that person. You have not raised a single reason, whether by secular or religious reason, why this principle should not be a bedrock for our human law. It is as obvious as any other principle of reason on which our law can be based. There is nothing hard to understand about this principle, including for all non-religious people; everyone already knows it’s true.
There are many religions that do not equate abortion with murder, because they do not recognize that life begins at conception.
There are also religions that permit child sacrifice. There are religions that hold that people of certain races are sub-human and may be enslaved. If you are not comfortable deeming certain religious practices illegal, you are not comfortable with the concept of law itself. The fact that some person opposes a law on any religious grounds cannot serve to defeat the reason for having the law when the religious grounds are contrary to reason.
If the law cannot withstand someone’s supposedly religious claim that unborn humans are unhuman, neither can it withstand someone’s religious claim that black people are unhuman. (Keep in mind that there was a time when most people in various American jurisdictions believed black people were sub-human; there was no human consensus on the issue to which a moralist could appeal.) Your logic, to the extent it bows to religious or public opinion rather than plain moral reason, mandates that slavery be legal, at least in many cases. Mine dictates that religious beliefs that are contrary to reason must be ignored in law-making. To hold that innocent human life may be intentionally killed is plainly contrary to reason, regardless of religious belief.
There are certainly entirely reasonable positions that can be made regarding the beginning of life, that are self consistent with various criteria that match those conditions that everyone agrees are “obviously” cases of living people. So one can certainly say that the law should not be morally neutral, but that in this particular case the morality of the action cannot be judged properly, inside the context of our particular social construct.
It is not any more “obvious” that black people are human life than that unborn humans (in whatever stage) are human life (i.e. living). In the practice of biotech medical products, I have heard lawyers say that the issues in pharmaceutical law are unique because the products are “alive.”
There is no dispute, from any credible scientist, that unborn humans are human life. None.
People deceive themselves into thinking that unborn humans are not human life, notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary, because they want to. Just like people used to employ the same self-deception with respect to black slaves; because they wanted to. And Nazis with respect to Jews, militant Muslims with respect to infidels, Russian/Asian communists with respect to religious people… But despite the long history of self-deception and people taking it upon themselves to decide who gets to be fully human with rights, the fact remains that all of the above are indisputably innocent human life and must not be wantonly murdered.
Keep in mind that my last point (which you agree with) also generalizes to a number of seriously potent questions for people who support the pro-life stance. Let us suppose that in fact we do have the capability to remove a fertilized egg from a woman after the moment of conception. Let us further suppose that we accept your working premise: that, after the moment of conception, the being created has precisely and exactly those rights which we grant to anyone we recognize as a sapient being.
Yes, and after thinking about your argument (your challenge did force me to dwell on it for a bit), I must note here that no person has a positive right to be kept alive in all circumstances. If I may say so, I note that positive rights are a consistent theme in your arguments. I submit that people have a negative right to life that results by virtue of the moral and legal restriction on all other people against intentionally killing them. It is true that a person can intentionally kill another person by starving them to death or other failure of basic care, as in when a mother abandons her baby in a trash can. But there is no moral requirement that anyone take extraordinary or unreasonable means to keep a person alive.
That is a summary of the right to life that we all enjoy, including the unborn, though their (negative) rights are so brazonly violated today.
It’s established as likely that the vast majority of conceptions do not result even in the fertilized egg reaching an implantation stage; it appears (from study) that actual pregnancies that reach even the first trimester represent a statistically small portion of overall births. I’ve heard many numbers bandied about, but I have no idea which if any of them is accurate; however, it seems a solid proposition.
This implies that it is likely that *many more lives are lost* even than are aborted.
“Lives lost” does not equal “lives killed.” Famine is obviously not the same as Stalin’s mass murders; there is no culpability in the former.
It follows, then, that the act of sex comes with the inherent staggering risk that a life is being created which will not survive, due to mischance or genetic flaw.
And yet, we have accepted the premise that this life is to be granted the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as anyone else.
Yes, and note that the right to life is not a positive right to always be kept alive. Nor is one’s negative right to life contingent on the odds of survival. Every one of us will die sometime, whether in or beyond the womb; that doesn’t give others the right to cause deaths sooner than God/nature would otherwise dictate.
This represents a serious difficulty for the pro-life person, who usually does not consider this case. We now have the capability to capture those lives, using technology. In fact, if we can show that the technology improves the survival rate of conceived persons, then it follows that we have an obligation to *forbid* normal childbirth, as it is statistically staggeringly more likely to result in the death of a life than the technological option.
I beg to differ. There is no difficulty at all. Intentionally killing someone is obviously a wholly different thing than watching a person die when you can do nothing about it within your ordinary, reasonable means. Everyone dies eventually; it does not follow that giving birth is immoral just because the chances of eventual death are 100%.
Furthermore, I previously explained the principle of double-effect in a prior comment. You can have sex with the intent that any resulting child live, even if you know the odds are that a resulting child will die. Consider bygone centuries when medical technology did not exist. Was it immoral to have sex just because they knew that a death was more likely than life? Today, is it immoral to have a child in the United States when you know that the birth survival percentage is higher in Canada? There is no moral requirement that you increase the odds of survival; only that you not intentionally kill human life. This whole technology argument is a red herring that does absolutely nothing to alter the principle that you must not intentionally kill innocent human life.
The woman’s desire to give birth must be considered a cosmetic concern in the light of the risk to the child, much like the woman’s desire *not* to be pregnant must be considered a cosmetic concern in the light of the pro-life argument we are now assuming is axiomatic.
I believe I agree (if I understand you). In other words, a woman’s desire to be pregnant or not to be pregnant is as relevant as a mother’s desire to be a mother or not to be a mother. By nature, no one owes her a thing, other than to respect her negative rights. And she must respect the negative rights of her child, whether born or unborn, not to be intentionally killed.
Since the vast number of those pregnancies which self-terminate are due to genetic flaw, if we use technology to extend those lives to birth, it follows that it is also likely that we will be bringing into the world a great number of infants who possess incredible genetic flaws, resulting in physical, mental, or developmental defects.
I don’t see how this is relevant, unless you think that disabled people are sub-human. However, since you (or a lot of people, anyway) don’t want to live in an inconvenient world with too many disabled people, it may comfort you to know that we do not owe unborn children a duty to use extraordinary or unreasonable means to save them. If God/nature chooses them for death in the womb, that is His decision, and we don’t owe it to the child to take extraordinary medical steps to keep him or her alive. But when we go ahead and decide instead of God, we commit murder. It’s akin to you seeing a stranger lying on the street alive but apparently not breathing. You are not legally required to give it your best shot at CPR (especially if giving CPR is “extraordinary” for you, like if you don’t know CPR or you have a breathing problem) and we won’t throw you in jail if you don’t try; but if you hold your hand over the stranger’s nose and mouth to finish the job, you indisputably commit murder under the law, even though the person was going to die anyway.
Now, you can perhaps receive some comfort from a belief that these cases aren’t likely, but you must still address the possibility that your stance will generalize into such a scenario.
I’ll concede, for the sake of argument, that they are likely, but it won’t make a bit of difference to the principle I repeat and repeat: the intentional killing of innocent human life must be deemed illegal by secular law.
Do you then agree, that given the technology, we would have to forbid natural birth as being an unnecessary risk to the child? Do you then agree, that given the technology, we would have to force anyone engaging in a sex act to undergo screening to test for, and rescue, any conceived life that may have resulted from the act? Do you then agree, that given the technology, we must carry these lives to term, regardless of the physical or mental deformities and attendant health and developmental problems?
(1) Of course not; see above. Natural occurrences are not immoral; volitional abortion is never, ever natural. (2) Of course not; see above. Again with the nature thing… (3) Yes, but not because of the technology. We must let nature run its course, which would involve carrying these lives to term if they make it that far, regardless of the child’s health or developmental problems (just like after the child is born–we can’t kill the child just because he or she has such problems). But we do not owe the unborn child an extraordinary or unreasonable life-saving procedure.
If not, I then must level a charge of inconsistency, as you clearly do not maintain that the conceived life is of equivalent value to the established pregnancy, or of the infant child.
And you would be mistaken. There is no inconsistency. A conceived life is of equivalent value of an infant child, or an elderly person for that matter. Neither innocent life may be intentionally killed, but neither has a positive right to extraordinary care, either. A helpful discussion is provided by the classic encyclical Evangelium Vitae (required reading in a philosophy class I took in college) with respect to euthenasia, but it applies equally to your objection:
For a correct moral judgment on euthanasia, in the first place a clear definition is required. Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to be an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering. “Euthanasia’s terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods used”.
Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called “aggressive medical treatment”, in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience “refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted”. Certainly there is a moral obligation to care for oneself and to allow oneself to be cared for, but this duty must take account of concrete circumstances. It needs to be determined whether the means of treatment available are objectively proportionate to the prospects for improvement. To forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition in the face of death. [Emphasis supplied]
Thus, to allow a child to die in the womb by failure of extraordinary care, so long as death is not intended and survival is hoped for, is not murder or immoral. It is an “acceptance of the human condition in the face of death.” The law need not contravene natural occurrences, but it must prevent humans from intentionally killing other innocent humans.
In sum, it is immoral and must be illegal to intentionally kill innocent human life. With this statement there can be no dispute.