On Understanding Both Views of Abortion
Leaving aside marginal cases—e.g., where an unviable foetus will likely end the mother’s life—isn’t the abortion question relatively straightforward, depending on your base conviction?
Some believe (A) that the foetus does not possess the status of a human life, perhaps on the grounds that it is totally dependent on the mother, or that it lacks full self-awareness. So it makes sense, on this view, to end a foetus’ existence if it will improve the situation or feelings of the mother. I don’t believe any rational woman would knowingly end the life of another human being for her own comfort, convenience, or betterment, on the meagre grounds that “It’s my body!” The reality is, on this conviction about the status of the foetus, no argument for abortion is actually necessary. You don’t even need “It’s my body!” And it makes sense to celebrate the result of Ireland’s referendum on abortion, as a victory for women’s rights.
However, some believe (B) that the foetus does possess the status of a human life, perhaps on the grounds that its DNA is entirely fixed and distinct from the mother’s DNA and, moreover, that total dependence and lack of self-awareness hardly constitute grounds for ending the life of another (e.g., the mentally impaired, advanced dementia patients, and so on.). So, it makes sense, on this view, to oppose abortion as a profound evil. I don’t believe any rational person would seek to interfere in the pregnancy of another, without this visceral fear that abortion is a form of killing, morally indistinguishable from the killing of an infant or a dementia patient. On this conviction, the words “It’s my body!” can sound like an obscene justification for personal advancement. And it makes sense to lament the result of Ireland’s referendum, as another step toward welcoming the barbarians.
As someone who is increasingly convinced of the intellectual merits of View B, I have nonetheless been trying these last few days to imagine things from the perspective of those who hold View A. I think we all need to do something like this, if we’re going to get along.