Why Are We Still Talking About Abortion?

In 2014, Stephen Merchant raised a difficult question on Real Time with Bill Maher. “We [probably meaning the British] have more or less figured out the big issues,” he said. “We’re just fiddling with the small print … [so] why are you [Americans] still talking about abortion?”

Why is America still talking about abortion? Why can’t Americans agree on what we Europeans supposedly solved decades ago? As Merchant spoke, I probably nodded along as the audience applauded. But now I am not entirely sure that we can or should stop talking about abortion, even if we Europeans have reached a stable position on the topic.

A series of answers have been proposed to Merchant’s question. Of course, there is the warring mentality prevalent in American politics, the tendency to side with your team no matter what. But since this is a human tendency, rather than a strictly American one, this cannot provide a complete answer.

In After Virtue (1981), Alasdair MacIntyre argues that we have lost a shared language by which to make moral issues intelligible. You and I cannot really agree on anything, because we no longer have any common ground from which to start the discussion. MacIntyre cites abortion as a subject that proves our inability to engage in fruitful dialogue through a common language.

There is some truth to this. Furthermore, there may be a specifically American contribution to this problem, caused by a religious divide. But since much of Europe has already solved the problem, the divide MacIntyre describes may not be as all-encompassing as he suggests. At the very least, it suggests that a common language and the agreement that results is in principle still possible.

I much prefer the philosopher Derek Parfit’s approach. Of course there will be disagreement over abortion, he told an audience at Oxford in 2015. Abortion is precisely an issue around which our moral intuitions become blurry and clash. As long as there is no definitive argument that proves that unborn children have no moral standing (are not moral patients), there must be disagreement.

Merchant is right that we have solved the issue of abortion, in that most people agree that some people, in some circumstances, at some early stage in the pregnancy should have the right to have an abortion. But to say that we are therefore just “fiddling with the small print” is a stretch. How you qualify the right to an abortion is precisely the sticking point. One may reasonably think that in cases of coercion, a woman ought to have the right to an abortion, without also thinking that it should be a right for all.

Following Parfit, I think the controversy over abortion, seemingly universal to some degree, stems from the problem of squaring our different moral ideals. Most of us agree that a person ought to have a high degree of self-determination. But we also acknowledge that the unborn child has some sort of moral standing. It is not only a potential child, deriving its importance from what it may someday be. Upon hearing of a miscarriage, our sadness is not only directed at the parents, who were unlucky enough to not receive what they so passionately hoped for. The unborn child is not treated as an object. We do not respond the way we might if the parents had failed to receive a new car they’d hoped to purchase: well, you might get another one soon; it was just a car. Our sadness is in some way directed at the child, as someone with moral standing, someone who matters. It is not just bad for us that the child died. We are sad for the child.

To accuse us of anthropomorphizing here would be misguided. The child is, at least at some point, someone for whom things can be good or bad and who can be wronged, even if it is not yet conscious of the wrongdoing. Self-determination still matters. As difficult as it is to convince those who deny unborn children moral standing, it is even more difficult to convince those who deny that self-determination plays a role in the ethics of abortion. I can only make the latter case coherent by pointing out that someone who was supporting a life external to himself, someone whose blood was constantly being transferred to another human being to keep him alive, say, would still have the right to discontinue the procedure.

There are some common objections that can be raised here. If someone has signed a contract obliging him to make regular blood transfusions to the patient dependent on him, there might very well be good reasons to enforce it, provided no unexpected harm has come to the donor. But consent to sex is not consent to having a child and there is therefore no such contract with respect to pregnancy. For many of us, a lot of the time, pregnancy is a risk of sexual activity, rather than a reason for engaging in it. There is also a further problem with the analogy of the blood donor: we intuit that late-term abortions are somehow more wrong than abortions which take place early in the pregnancy. Presumably, though, it doesn’t make a moral difference whether the man supported by the donor dies early or late in the procedure.

Such objections aside, many of us agree that some semblance of self-determination ought to be preserved for the mother-to-be (or not-to-be). Then how do we square the idea that unborn children have some moral standing with the notion that mothers ought to have some self-determination?

The Nature of Moral Standing

The common view, in much of Europe at any rate, is that abortions ought to be allowed at an early stage, but not at a later stage. Somehow, we think, the child spontaneously comes to have a moral standing. But this makes little sense—and the fact that it makes little sense is precisely the argument most commonly used against abortion. If someone has moral standing at week twenty-eight, why not at week one? If we appeal to the sudden emergence of moral standing, therefore, we appear to end up in a nonsensical position, or we are obliged to oppose abortion altogether.

It is important to remember that an infant, or an unborn child, is not a thing. That is, the words infant and child do not refer to something intrinsically separate from an adult. Infancy is a stage of life, a stage in the whole life of a subject. It is the subject who has moral standing, not the infant as such. But at what point does this subject gain moral standing?

The problem here stems from the tendency to think of moral standing as an on/off phenomenon: in which either we have it and we ought to be treated as ends in ourselves, rather than mere means, or we don’t. But whether someone has moral standing says nothing about what that standing is. We ought to treat human beings as having moral standing, meaning that we ought to allow them to decide for themselves how they should live their lives. We should not coerce or deceive others. But we can admit that animals have moral standing, without thinking that there is such a thing as deceiving a dog. Our duties toward them are just different. Saying that an unborn child has moral standing, therefore, is not to say that it should automatically be treated as an adult human being.

The responsibility we have to children changes, without changing the child’s moral standing from off to on. We have a duty of care toward very young children, a duty of respect toward teenagers: the type of duty we have alters as the child develops. Our obligation towards people changes as those people change. So too with unborn children.

If one agrees with all this, the challenge is to implement a system which takes seriously both moral standing and self-determination. The dichotomy one is often forced into is to either argue that a woman has no right to self-determination, or that whatever choice she makes is morally sound. In the eighties, there was an ethical debate in America, unrelated to abortion specifically, which illustrates this predicament.

Choice Versus Self-Determination

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) was based on Bloom’s realization that a lot of his students were relativists. How, Bloom asks, did they have no sense of right and wrong, and no sense of being right or wrong? Bloom presents his own answer to this, but this answer is largely dismissed by Charles Taylor in The Ethics of Authenticity (1992), in which Taylor argues that the American fixation with choice is the real source of relativism: i.e. for many Americans, mere choice masquerades as self-determination.

Self-determination was and is crucial. What separated the American students of the 80s and 90s from most reasonable adults was that they had lost sight of anything substantive pertaining to choice. A choice is not well-made or right, but just made, according to Taylor’s interpretation of their views. If you choose it, it’s right. Whatever works for you (in the sense that you choose it), works (in the sense of being morally sound). That’s Taylor’s reading of the situation.

Once the idea that whatever choice you make is good by virtue of your choosing it makes its way into political arguments, the abortion debate becomes untenable pretty fast. If making a choice, any choice, amounts to self-determination, and we ought to preserve self-determination, then there is no such thing as having an abortion for the wrong reason or, indeed, having a child for the right reason. In such a world, there will be no moral problems at all—or no moral problems that anyone can legitimately discuss.

But everyone feels that they have a stake in the abortion debate, precisely because it is a moral problem. Denying that the nature of one’s choice matters amounts to throwing everyone else out of the debate. Is it so strange, then, that Americans cannot agree on this issue, if the idea of self-determination as mere choice is as prevalent as Taylor suggests?

The Case of Norway

In Norway, the idea that the character of one’s choice matters has always been prevalent. So has the idea that moral standing can change—without having an off/on switch. It was and is accepted that the standing of the unborn child changes with its development. It gradually becomes more and more like a being or person and must increasingly be treated as such. The issue is therefore when the child becomes so much like a person that its life cannot be ended, and how to preserve self-determination, without granting validity to any and all choices.

The first law permitting abortion in Norway came into effect in 1964. Under this initial law, the pregnant woman had to come before a tribunal, which would decide her case. The woman’s choice was not all-important, but nor was self-determination, clearly. To be granted an abortion, the woman had to either be in physical danger from the pregnancy, she had to have been offended (coerced, usually), the child had to be suffering from some illness or she had to be at risk of losing her inheritance.

It is unclear how many abortions there were in those days, but a contemporary newspaper reports that 4,700 women requested an abortion in 1967—and 3,500 of those requests were granted.

In 1978, the law was changed, following years of protests. That year, women were granted the right to choose to have an abortion of their own free will, during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. This delayed the necessity of convening a tribunal hearing until the twelfth week of pregnancy.

This was—and is—a disputed move. If we agree that there is such a thing as illegitimate grounds for an abortion, which we must if we agree that there ought to be a tribunal at all, it is unclear why this should only come into effect in week twelve. I think uncertainty is and was a driving factor. The uncertainty of whether the unborn child will survive the pregnancy appears to matter, though it is unclear how. The odds of the child’s survival improve after the twelfth week, so the argument goes, and the moral standing of the child becomes more stable as a result.

That does not make any sense. After all, my own future is uncertain. I might very well die tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean that you can justifiably end my life today. Uncertainty, though a common argument, really is not an argument at all.

The twelve-week cut-off for abortions without a tribunal hearing is better defended by appealing to practical considerations. To consent to sex does not imply a consent to pregnancy, so the mother ought to be allowed to decide whether she should carry the child to term. This is in keeping with self-determination. However, it is irresponsible to put off the decision perpetually, while the child grows, develops and becomes a more a more stable entity: more like a person for whom things are good and bad. This is in keeping with viewing the unborn child as possessing a developing moral standing.

The tribunal, which continued to make decisions for the mother after week twelve, made those decisions in much the same way as before. However, the inheritance factor was removed, and a focus on the personal situation of the mother added. Today, the tribunal will consider such things as the mother’s potential inability to keep her job or finish her education as relevant grounds for abortion. They will also factor in the mother’s relationship status and her general willingness to raise the child. Up until the twenty-second week at least—at which point, only bodily, psychological or social harm to the mother or child, or instances of coercion, function as valid grounds for abortion.

It is difficult to know what grounds are dismissed by the tribunal due to doctor-patient confidentiality. The true anti-abortionists among us may get the sense that the tribunal would allow almost any grounds for abortion: if a difficult situation counts as a valid justification. Then what is the point of the tribunal?

This is where my view differs from that of the prevailing law of the land. There may be some reasons which obviously do not count as grounds for an abortion after the twelfth week. Fear of an untidy apartment, say. But those cases are so marginal that I find it difficult to imagine anyone trying to appeal to the tribunal on those grounds.

The function of the tribunal ought to be to determine whether the mother is making a rational choice: not by the tribunal’s standards, but by her own. Consider the following case: a woman gets pregnant at age sixteen and wants to keep the child. However, her abusive boyfriend coerces her into having an abortion. This can and does happen.

The role of the tribunal, in my view, is to determine whether the mother is making a free and rational decision. The mother ought to know what she is going through, be able to reflect on what it is like to have a child—without seeing only the potential bad consequences. She needs to know that there is help available to assist her with potential difficulties and she must be free from coercion.

This is not a complete list of criteria. We would need to define precisely what constitutes a free and rational choice. When you request euthanasia in countries in which it is allowed, you usually have to go through a system designed to ensure that you are making the decision in the right way. This is completely in line with self-determination. You don’t have to arrive at a specific decision. You just have to be following a justifiable, reasonable decision making process. This ought to be the role of the tribunal. They should also function as arbitrators, deciding which grounds are valid, but they should focus primarily on the procedural element, designed to ensure the mother’s self-determination (and therefore well-being).

Tribunals in Norway are already designed to function in this way, even if some do not yet do so. The Norwegian Directorate of Health describes the function of the tribunal in the following terms: the tribunal “places significant emphasis on how you yourself understand your situation and its decision should be made in consultation with you.” The tribunal is composed of only two medical doctors, who should ideally be as different from each other as possible: one man and one woman in all cases where this is practicable. The idea is to remove bias and create a forum in which a decision can be made through cooperation.

But the debate over abortion never ends. Just this month, a series of essays have been published in Norwegian newspapers, arguing that a woman should be able to have an abortion without going before a tribunal, up until the twenty-second week of pregnancy. Choice masquerading as self-determination is slowly gaining traction here. Some have even argued that appearing before a tribunal is a form of shaming and should be removed from the process altogether.

I have already explained why I think it is practically wise to have a cut-off point at the twelfth week, for entirely self-determined abortion (i.e. without a tribunal hearing). But it’s difficult not to sympathize with the shaming argument. These are women in vulnerable situations, after all. But arguing that something puts an undue burden on someone does not show that that thing is wrong. It just shows that it may need adjustment. I believe that the notion that the process is shaming may stem from the idea that tribunals function as judges. Some may believe that they are going before the elders of our society, having to make their case, but taking no part in the decision. A switch to a procedural view of the tribunals, in which we regard them as ensuring that the decision is made in the right way, rather than ensuring that the right decision is made, ought to remove some of the stigma. As the Directorate of Health attempts to make clear, the decision is made in cooperation with the mother. It is not made for her. Not feeling in control is a burden, but it is a burden that could be removed.

Another question which was debated a couple of years ago was whether doctors were obligated to participate in the abortion if they were morally opposed to it. A pregnant woman used to need a referral from her general practitioner, and some of those GPs opposed abortion. We have solved that problem by removing the need for a referral. This, as I understand it, is already the case in the United States.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the right to have an abortion, the issue has not been solved in any meaningful way. The Norwegian system has been fairly stable since the 70s, but it is constantly under attack. I don’t think it’s at all strange that America has yet to reach a stable position on the subject. Norway is only comprised of just over five million people. Getting 325 million people to agree is surely more difficult, especially on a question which lies at the very core of our intuitions and moral ideals.

We have not solved all the big picture problems. There will always be ongoing debate about abortion— and almost everything else. There will always be tension and reassessments and angry arguments on issues in which moral ideals come so forcefully into conflict. Understanding how and why our moral ideals collide is profoundly important.

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  1. “consent to sex is not consent to having a child” – this sounds nice, but what does it mean? As far as I can see, informed consent to sex entails acceptance of the risks involved, which include pregnancy.

  2. Here in France, there are proposals to make conscientious objection impossible for gynecologists. The argument is that it is their job to practise an abortion. For many, abortion has become a health issue regardless of the reasons rather than a question of free choice. I think people are confusing the right of a woman to seek an abortion and a doctor’s obligation to perform it.

    1. There was a debate here in the UK when a pharmacist refused to sell morning after pill because of his/her religion. I think, if doctors or a pharmacists wish to provide limited services they have to accept limited employment options, no lone working for example.

      1. Firstly, let’s clarify one thing: opposition to abortion is not limited to religious belief. Secondly, a gynecologist’s job is about much more than abortion. It is first and foremost about women’s sexual health. An abortion isn’t necessarily a question of health.

        1. I’m not sure a gynaecologist’s job is first and foremost about women’s sexual health but yes, abortion isn’t necessarily a question of health. When it is, it’s a matter of life or death though. When it isn’t, a woman still has right to have one, until abortion is legal. That’s why I think that the health care service needs to be organised in a way to satisfy both anti-abortion doctors and abortion requests.

          1. The question remains: should the right to abortion mean an obligation to provide or simply a right to seek an abortion? Let’s clarify that in countries where there are more limits on abortion than in Britain or France, there are exceptions in cases where the woman’s health is at risk. One could imagine non-criminalisation of abortion in any case and an obligation to provide an abortion when it concerns the woman’s health.

          2. Yes, the right to abortion mean an obligation to provide that on institutional level. When tax payers maintain the health care system, nobody has to seek services far away from their home. If a doctor opposes abortion he/she can’t run the practice/shift on his own.

          1. Of course I do. And as our midwives reminded us, pregnancy is not a medical problem. Risks are always a possibility. A pregancy is not automatically a risk.

        2. Do you even hear yourself? “Risks are always a possibility.” Exactly right. And would those ‘risks’ be health-related by definition? Why, by Jove, indeed they would be. Hence my original point stands – even through your own words – pregnancy ALWAYS has the potential to be a health risk. Ergo, abortion is ALWAYS a question of health. Who are you to even dare consider forcing another person to put their body through such a serious life-affecting change as a pregnancy! You don’t want to get an abortion, fine, don’t have one. But other people living other lives with other realities do not need your bankrupt moralism calling the shots. If they choose to remove the clump of cells from their own bodies, that is their right and doctors should respond accordingly. It is most definitely a health issue, physically, emotionally, and mentally. To say otherwise is to betray an astounding ignorance.

          1. I always thought the job of a doctor was to remove something which is definitely a danger. A fetus is only potentially a danger. Do you think a doctor should be obliged to remove a breast or a prostate in case a cancer were to develop? My point is that it should be legal for a woman to seek and have an abortion but not obligatory for a doctor to provide one unless the pregnancy is a definite risk.Now, if you wish to go further and say that certain women are not mentally or emotionally fit to have babies, I’ll let you go down that slippery slope by yourself.

        3. “Now, if you wish to go further and say that certain women are not mentally or emotionally fit to have babies, I’ll let you go down that slippery slope by yourself.”

          This last bit stinks of projection on your part.
          As to your comparison, its more apples and oranges as opposed to anything intelligent being said. However, even still it does follow that if a person wants to get rid of something that potentially will become a problem, e.g. Angelina Jolie’s choice to have a double masectomy, why shouldn’t a qualified doctor comply. Preventive care is also a part of being a doctor, is it not?

          1. Obviously, the comparison was not that far-fetched – even for you! If for you preventive care includes removing healthy body parts which may one day become unhealthy then I suppose our opinions differ. If a woman wishes to have her healthy breasts removed, I don’t propose to stop her seeking a doctor who will agree to it. I just don’t think a doctor should be obliged to do so.

        4. Of course a qualified doctor working in the field which includes abortion should be obliged to do his/her job, regardless of their alleged moral stance. Or do you suppose we should go back to black people being denied service because of a person’s ‘morals’, or gay people shouldn’t get a cake, etc. Hmmm, Jeremy. Speaking of slippery slopes, you’re right smack dab in the middle of one, friend.

          1. Well there is a law in various countries allowing conscientious objection which you can disagree with if you like. There is also something known as the Hippocratic Oath which prohibits doctors from doing anything which will harm a patient. So, regardless of moral dilemmas, any doctor who considers that an abortion will constitute a higher risk to her/his patient than continuation of pregnancy ought to refuse to carry out the abortion. Interestingly enough this appears to be accepted for pretty much any operation other than abortion. On another note, I think there might be a risk of discouraging many people from becoming gynecologists if conscientious objection on abortion were to be scrapped.

  3. No thinking person who’s ever had a miscarriage, no matter how saddened they were by it, would dare consider compare it as equal to losing a child. Because it isn’t. See, the question’s not when, it just is. When does the sauna become an oven? Green to yellow? You were a child, now you’re not. Australopithecus into Homo sapiens. There is no exact when, right? Developing a tumour doesn’t make you a corpse. Likewise, you can’t murder what’s only a potential.

  4. “Upon hearing of a miscarriage, our sadness is not only directed at the parents, who were unlucky enough to not receive what they so passionately hoped for. The unborn child is not treated as an object. We do not respond the way we might if the parents had failed to receive a new car they’d hoped to purchase: well, you might get another one soon; it was just a car. ” This strikes me as an assumption on the part of the author. The comparison of the fetus with a car is grotesque. No one doubts the unique pain of the bereft parents. This does not confer personhood on the fetus. Sentimental fantasies about the status and future of the lost child are pointless, quasi-religious, and muddy the waters.

  5. You say: “If someone has moral standing at week twenty-eight, why not at week one?”

    Referring to Norway’s reasoning, you say: “It was and is accepted that the standing of the unborn child changes with its development. It gradually becomes more and more like a being or person and must increasingly be treated as such.”

    Ok, yes it was and is accepted that the moral standing changes, and there is no on/off switch. But why? I do not think there is any reason it should.

    What you do not mention in this article is the stark reality that a human life is being ended. That IS an on/off switch with no gradation whatsoever.
    Even if it were reasonable that the moral standing changes over time (which it is not), they are either alive or dead. A stark and permanent difference.

    You explain well the process of tribunals, and how a main reason is for these is to determine whether coercion is involved, and to ensure a free and reasoned choice. Fair enough. And you explain these tribunals are used for both abortion and euthanasia. You say:

    “When you request euthanasia in countries in which it is allowed, you usually have to go through a system designed to ensure that you are making the decision in the right way. This is completely in line with self-determination.”

    What is lacking in your assessment is any discussion of the self determination of an unborn person. For euthenasia, someone is not depriving another person of life. For abortion, this is always the case.

    How can a society claim to support the right to self determination for all members while at the same time completely denying it to some members?

    1. If it is indeed ‘a stark reality’ that in abortion ‘a human life is being ended’, then there’s hardly a doubt that women who undergo abortions are guilty of pre-meditated murder and should be subject to long imprisonment if not the death penalty itself. But starkly or not, most people believe that human life begins at birth. The idea that the fetus is a self-determining being is strange. What choices do fetuses make that may be evidence of their self determination?

      1. Astrodreamer, you said: “If it is indeed ‘a stark reality’ that in abortion ‘a human life is being ended’, then there’s hardly a doubt that women who undergo abortions are guilty of pre-meditated murder and should be subject to long imprisonment if not the death penalty itself.”

        No, I doubt any woman who has an abortion understands what they are doing. So it would be a lower form of manslaughter, likely not even 3rd degree murder.

        What choices do newborns make that may be evidence of their self determination that would be different from the unborn?

        1. “What choices do newborns make that may be evidence of their self determination that would be different from the unborn?”

          The ability to live without being physically attached to another human being, for one.

          1. Exactly, Sara. David Meyer seems to think most women are incapable of understanding ‘a stark reality’! And believes women who abort should be charged with manslaughter?!?! And then, most probably, abortionist doctors with multiple manslaughters.

          2. “You doubt any woman who has an abortion understands what they are doing. But you, you understand it.”

            Correct. Every women I know who has had an abortion did not believe they were ending a life when they did it. It would be thinking very ill of people to assume they would intentionally end an innocent life.

      2. “Exactly, Sara. David Meyer seems to think most women are incapable of understanding ‘a stark reality’! And believes women who abort should be charged with manslaughter?!?! And then, most probably, abortionist doctors with multiple manslaughters.”

        Instead of trying to intuit what I think you could ask. You drastically misstate my view.
        I don’t think anyone is incapable of understanding anything.
        I didn’t say anyone should be charged with any crime, only what level of crime it would be if they were charged.

        And yes, the plain scientific fact is that a life is ended. A human with unique DNA who is alive stops being alive and begins to decompose.

        I understand the reasons someone gets an abortion and how they might not see it that way, or yes, more likely is that they may not consider it. Women close to me have had abortions, and I have discussed it with them and with the men who helped them get the abortions, so I understand.

        Nevertheless, science wins in this case. In abortion a life is ended. No serious discussion of abortion denies this as it was sometimes denied in the past. Even this article does not deny it. The science is just too solid.
        Person A ceases to live due entirely to the decision of person B. Any examples of this happening in history in non-abortion related events would cause us to cry foul… Romans throwing babies into rivers, Slaveowners beating or killing slaves, women being killed for adultery, witches being burned, etc. Each of these was accepted on a broad scale in the societies of their times. And each of those situations the people doing the killing had blind-spots which we see clearly from our future vantage point. Abortion is our modern blind-spot.

        1. Your argument would essentially give personhood to a tumour. You are outmatched, your thinking flawed, your dichotomy broken, you clearly understand very littler. Abortion is not taking a life. Abortion is taking a bundle of cells and disposing of them. Nothing more. Stop pretending to be the arbitrator of all that is good and right and moral. Jesus, are you religious or something?

          1. Your comment is ad hominem and table pounding. So I will reply in kind. I will say it is ironic that you seem so offended that someone might be religious, even though I made no argument involving religion, like you are on the lookout for heresy. Ill note that you were the one to bring up Jesus, making your limping attempt at argument the closest thing to a religious one.

            And your table pounding about a bundle of cells reminds me of a man I once knew who pounded a Koran on the table to show the moon landing never happened. Keep pounding and maybe science will hear you?

        2. Table-pounding, ha! Nah man, just your arrogance meets Dunning-Kruger is blinding.
          As to science, understand this – if science really agreed with you, abortion would be illegal.
          But again, curiosity is all – are your religious? Because you sure as shit sound like it.

          1. Do your parents know you eat cock? How about we just ask each other irellevant questions, won’t that be a great discussion.

          2. David, your sampling method is not convincing, if you want to be scientific.
            I accept your pro-birth view as your choice, not your arguments. Innocent life and unborn child seem to be simple rhetoric tricks here, like if we would refer to long-ago-born children in a discussion about death-penalty or migration. Science is quite clear, there’s more common in a child and an adult than in an embryo and a child.

        3. You may insist that “In abortion a life is ended.” But is it a human life? “Science” I think would agree that the human embryo, whether or not you define it as living, is not a human being. It has no legal or political status, it has no name, and I would argue, it has no soul, for the simple reason that ‘science wins in this case’ by declaring that there is no soul.

        4. Can’t reply to ‘anonymous’ below, but assume you’re probably it. Something wrong with eating cock? As to the religious question, I can only surmise you are. And as it relates to the abortion question it is very much relevant as religious minds inhabit an illogical plane where somehow a couple cells equals a human being. Better save all your hair follicles if that’s the case! Better yet, why aren’t you out there pounding the streets desperately fighting to find the ‘cure’ for miscarriages? I mean, my god, that’s a far greater epidemic of ‘humans dying’ than abortion could ever hope to be. And yet you’re not fighting to cure miscarriages are you. Because in some way you know it’s not really a human being yet. All anti-choice people feel that way at heart. Rather, being against abortion is about controlling women, and as much as it no doubt makes you feel good to pound your desk and cry about ‘life’, at end you’re simply virtue signalling to your ‘tribe’, nothing more. Your black and white thinking is misplaced. And I do hope you manage to bust out of it someday soon.

  6. “Understanding how and why our moral ideals collide is profoundly important.”

    Here are some straightforward considerations I’m surprised you didn’t recognize:

    From (one) pro-abortion perspective, at the individual level the moral standing and value of the fetus is infinitesimal compared to that of the carrier. At the collective level, it is understood that restrictions on abortion have profound social ramifications for women *in practice*. From the individual level, it is immoral to interfere with the carrier. From the individual perspective, and from the collective one it may be disindicated to support restrictions on abortion *even* if you believe it is a morally fraught or even outright Bad practice.

    From the anti-abortion perspective meanwhile, it is (arguably) *typically* understood to comport with a collective level understanding of the worth and “place” of women, who are understood to be simply identified with the term “carrier”. The fetus itself, and its putative moral standing, are not so important here.

    1. Your rather opaque comment seems to claim that the anti-abortion position necessarily relegates women’s status to that of merely the carrier of a foetus. I’m an atheist and have, as yet, developed no opinion on the abortion question. But I don’t recognise your claim as universally valid. If you talk with organisations such as Life, for all their religious nonsense they are composed mainly of women who offer a service to other women who are considering an abortion. I’ve just had a look at their website https://lifecharity.org.uk/. It contains nothing to support your view of people like them.

      1. I’m sorry, let me adumbrate this a bit more clearly:

        The author spends a lot of time discussing the concept of the moral standing of the fetus. However, to fully understand the abortion debates one must realize that on both axes of the debate a plurality (I would contend a majority) base their philosophical positions less on the moral standing of the *fetus* than on that of the woman (or carrier).

        All very abstract, but no more so than the author above. To corroborate one emphasis or the other empirically would require some very precisely designed polls or surveys. Maybe you know of and recommend some?

        Now, the group you specifically invoke sounds like one of those genuine pro-life groups. I say genuine in the sense that their position, often religiously-motivated, is that government and society should make vigorous efforts to facilitate women’s child-bearing and child-rearing, hoping to make both happy, healthy, and manageable experiences. Their objective is to *obviate* the demand for abortion, not crack down on it. I believe this type of principled stance is rare.

      2. And of course there are those civil libertarian-leaning types who have a negative view of abortion but see greater danger in allowing the state to restrict it.

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