What is the abortion debate really about?

The abortion debate is, by its very nature, a complex issue which touches on many different topics.

One has to look no further than the debates which have raged on our LifeChoice Facebook homepage to see how the debate encompasses a variety of different issues ranging from the metaphysical nature of human rights to the adoption statistics in the state of NSW. However, is it possible that amongst this myriad of complex issues, the true core of the abortion debate has begun to take a back seat?

This can be said for all sides. A common trend amongst ‘pro-life’ members on the LifeChoice page is the argument that abortion is bad for a woman’s health – both physically and psychologically. While there is no doubt a case to be made for these statements, I would suggest that this line of argument somewhat misses the point. Despite assertions to the contrary, prolifers don’t, and shouldn’t, want to control the legitimate autonomy of women’s bodies. A woman has every right to do with her body as she wills, and if this includes the destruction of a meaningless, parasitic ‘clump of cells’, even at the risk of harming herself, then so be it. However, if this ‘clump of cells’ is in fact a human being then the woman is no longer dealing exclusively with her own body. Thus it seems that the core of the abortion debate is the beginning point of human life.

The many critics of the pro-life movement who post on LifeChoice’s page commonly use emotional arguments to support their pro-choice convictions. One such argument I read was the case of a 14 year old girl who was raped and subsequently fell pregnant. While stories such as this evoke strong feelings of sympathy, if the foetus in question is in fact a human being, the circumstances of its conception should have no impact on its right to exist. Conversely, if the foetus in fact a meaningless clump of cells, then clearly the teenage girl should be entitled to terminate her pregnancy.

The point of this article is merely to suggest that without defining the status of a human foetus – that is whether it is a human being or not – all arguments brought to the abortion debate are in fact irrelevant. A pro-life advocate will never support abortion, even in the most extreme of circumstances while he/she holds the belief that a human life is in question. In a similar vein, pro-choice advocates will always defend a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy while they believe that only a clump of cells will be destroyed. While I find Peter Singer’s idea that infanticide is in fact not an immoral practice quite disturbing, I do admire his logic and his consistency. He does not let emotion sway his argument what soever. One cannot argue that abortion is a moral practice without any attempt to define the beginning point of human life.

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  • David Chua

    Hi Charlie,

    As a philosophy student I think I agree 100% with the point of this post,—abortion is indeed at bottom a rather simple question of whether fetuses are as worthy of protection as other innocent human persons. I guess the next question is, WHY would I want to think the fetus counts as a human person? And, even if it is a human person, what exactly are its rights anyway? (Could it be that we older human persons just happen to be bigger and stronger clumps of cells…?).

  • Alex

    This is a great article that reminds us that the abortion debate should really be occurring between Pro-Life voices and the likes of Peter Singer, who have taken ‘pro-choice’ to their logical conclusion. The irony is that Peter Singer is a philosopher, not a biologist, yet he can see that there is no difference other than a stage of development between a foetus and a new-born child. We need more Peter Singers to show us the ‘logic’ of the archaic argument that a child in the womb is just a clump of cells. We also need more posts like that from David above, who shows us another logical conclusion – that we are just older clumps of cells if a foetus is a small and young clump of cells. Our human status and dignity come from something much more intrinsic than simply the legal rights we grant ourselves (or deny ourselves).

    Well done Charlie, looking forward to reading more of your enlightening views.

  • Charlie

    Hi David,
    I agree that the debate must move on to why a fetus counts as a human person and is thus entitled to the right to live. I think it is a simple question of where can we draw the line other than at the moment of conception? As soon as you nominate an arbitrary beginning point to humanity, problems will surely arise. For arguments sake, if you were to suggest that a baby only counts as a human person the moment it is born, the counter-argument that 9 month year old unborn babies are in fact more developed (and bigger and stronger) than a child born 3 weeks prematurely. Surely there is no clearer and more logical moment to define a human person (not just a biological human) than at its very point of conception?