What is the most important thing, indeed the only thing, that matters in the abortion debate?
Most proponents of abortion would say that the most important thing is women’s freedom and bodily autonomy. They contend that women should be able to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies, that women should not be forced to go through with unwanted pregnancies, and that women need abortion in order not to get bogged down in life by an unwanted child.
However, there is something even more critical than all that. Yes, freedom and bodily autonomy are obviously very important, and we cannot ignore them, but there is another concern that overrides them: life. The right to life is the most fundamental right we have, the foundation of all the others (if you’re not alive, you cannot have any other rights). Thus, life is the only thing that really matters in the abortion debate.
Most people believe in human rights. They believe that we have certain rights simply because we’re human beings (hence the name “human” rights), and these include the right to life, the right to education, and the right to food and shelter. Because we have these rights simply by virtue of being human, no other factor (such as race, age, sex, ethnicity, etc.) has anything to do with them.
Now, it is a biological fact that a new human being comes into existence when a sperm fertilizes an egg (in other words, at conception). This scientific datum is not up for debate. To deny it is just as unscientific as denying that the earth is round or that it revolves around the sun (for proof that life begins at fertilization, check out these quotes from embryology textbooks). Thus, fetuses are human beings with human rights too.
Granted, they are at a much earlier stage of development than we adults are, but that is irrelevant. We don’t gain human rights when we reach a certain age. No, if we have them simply because we are human beings, then we have them from the moment we begin to exist, and since we begin to exist at conception, fetuses have them too.
This means that fetuses have a right to life just like you and I, and that is the only thing that matters in the abortion debate. Nothing can justify killing an innocent human being. Not bodily autonomy, not freedom, and not anything else. Those are important things, and we have to respect them, but they are secondary to the right to life. Since fetuses have that basic human right to life, nothing can justify killing them.
Life Before and After Birth
In case there is any doubt about this, let’s see what happens when we try to use pro-choice arguments to justify killing children after they are born. For example, imagine that a woman gives birth to a child and for some reason cannot give it up for adoption (I know that is pretty rare in our modern world, but for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s go with it). If she does not want to raise it, can she just kill it or leave it alone and let it die? Of course not! Similarly, if that same woman does not have access to baby formula and does not want to breastfeed her child, does her bodily autonomy give her the right to let it starve? Again, the answer is clearly no.
Granted, these examples aren’t 100% like pregnancy (for instance, a woman gives her body to a child in the womb much more than she does simply in order to breastfeed it), but the principle still stands. If the arguments of abortion supporters about women’s rights and bodily autonomy do not justify infanticide, neither do they justify killing a fetus with the same right to life as any other human being.
The Hard Cases
And this same principle applies to the hard cases too. To take just one example, many people think abortion should be allowed when a woman becomes pregnant through rape, but let’s think about this a bit. Imagine that a woman is raped, conceives a child, gives birth to it, and then raises it for three years. After the child’s third birthday, she decides that she just cannot do it anymore. She can no longer raise this child because every time she looks at it, she is painfully reminded of the rape that conceived it. Again, for the sake of the thought experiment, let’s say that she cannot give it up for adoption, so her only options are to continue raising the child or kill it.
In this scenario, would she be justified in killing her child? Of course not! While she is in a very tough spot, and we should not downplay her suffering and trauma, the fact of the matter is that her child has a right to life, so she cannot kill it. And since a fetus has that same right to life, she cannot kill her child before it is born either.
The Only Thing That Matters
From all this, we can clearly see that whenever we talk or think about abortion, we should always keep the focus where it belongs: on the fetuses that are killed. Because they’re persons with a right to life just like you and me, abortion is always wrong. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Even in the hard cases.
To be clear, this does not mean that we should not care about women in crisis pregnancies. To ignore them is contrary to the principles of human dignity upon which the pro-life stance is built, and we can never forget that. My point simply has to do with the philosophical debate over whether or not abortion is morally permissible, not with how we should treat pregnant women in difficult situations, and in that debate, the right to life of fetuses is the deciding factor, indeed the only thing that matters. Everything else is just a distraction.