Abortion Is Not Murder

abortionsmallI’ve heard many good arguments against abortion. Well thought out and presented, etc. I’ve also heard some poor ones, particularly from fundamentalists. Particularly when they call abortion murder. The problem with this is that it is not murder. Abortion is not homicide. You can’t just go changing definitions all willy-nilly. Homicide is the killing of a human being, which is an independent human life. Until a time when a fetus can survive apart from the mother, either naturally or by medical incubation, it is an unarguable biological fact that fetal gestation and sustenance is inextricable from the mother.

As a parent and grandparent, my thoughts and views on abortion fall on the side of it being acceptable in matters of the mother’s health and in instances of rape and incest. As a human being who doesn’t possess a uterus, I generally don’t comment on the procedure. However, there is a certain amount of science that should be considered when addressing a woman’s right to choose. The very health of a fetus requires the direct coercion of the mother’s body, and while this coercion is in process, the mother reserves the right to terminate her pregnancy.

More Science…

At conception, the life form is called a zygote and it begins its journey by dividing into two identical cells, called blastomeres. They continue to subdivide once every twelve to twenty hours. When it reaches sixteen cells it becomes known as a morula, which usually occurs after three days gestation. A couple of days later a cavity appears in its center and it is now called a blastocyst, which contain an inner group of cells that will eventually become the fetus and an outer group that will form the placenta. At about twelve days or so after conception, the blastocyst starts to produce hormones that are detectable in urine. It is at this point where most physicians define the start of pregnancy. A vast majority of zygotes never make it this far.

At about two weeks what is known as a ‘primitive streak‘ appears that will later develop into the central nervous system and the zygote is now referred to as an embryo. It is still an extremely small cluster of undifferentiated tissue. After another week of development, the embryo is about the size of pen point and looks a lot like a worm. At four weeks, it looks like a tadpole, complete with gill-like structures, which is normal given our evolutionary beginnings. By seven weeks, the embryo has lost its tail, which is another point of reference to our evolutionary ancestry. The higher functions of the brain have yet to develop, and there are no pathways to transfer pain signals. In fact, even at two months along, the embryo does not appear to be fully human. It has a reptilian brain and has not yet developed the capacity for consciousness. It is not yet sentient and is not defined as a fetus until the tenth week. In fact, over ninety percent of abortions are performed before the fetus reaches thirteen weeks, at which time it is about three inches long and weighs about an ounce.

So, to say that the termination of a human zygote, blastocyst, embryo or a fetus is a human being before viability, with a right to life, is scientifically unfounded and rightfully illegal. There is a huge difference between something being potentially human and an actual living, breathing human being. Even a fetus that is prematurely born or removed from a sick or dying mother is not a human being until it is actually apart from the mother.

A desire that there should exist legislation that accords rights and person-hood to a zygote, blastocyst or a non-viable fetus is borne out of fairy-tale religious beliefs and a gross ignorance of human embryology. It is a poor way to govern a civil society, is misogynist in principle and results in the oppression of women. The value of a fetus needs to remain subjective. If you are against abortion, then don’t have one.

Legal Terminology…

It should come as no surprise that the conservatives who were elected to produce jobs ended up giving us almost a thousand anti-abortion bills, instead. Many of them seek to have a fetus designated as a person, but “personhood” is a legal term. It means the existence of a birth certificate. If a fetus is considered a person, then it would be entitled to all the rights and privileges that a person has who owns an actual birth certificate. This would mean that a woman’s body would be subordinated to the protection of embryos. The legal consequences of this would be catastrophic. Why this is not obvious to everyone still baffles me.

Still, there are many individuals within the pro-life movement that seek to give a fetus full legal protection. If this were to be granted, then whatever agency was given jurisdiction over a fetus would also need to have complete control and supervision over the body of the mother. When laws that protect a human child from negligence in areas of health, safety, nutrition, physical and mental abuse are violated, the child can be removed from the custody of irresponsible parents or guardians. However, this cannot be done with a fetus without controlling the mother’s body. In fact, no matter how irresponsibly a pregnant woman behaves, charges cannot be levied against her until her fetus becomes viable, and even then there are complicated issues until the child is actually born.

A fetus is life within a life, and has no basis for distinction or regulation without direct imposition on a woman’s reproductive processes. Because the life of the fetus depends on the life of the mother, decisions regarding the fetus should be the decision of the mother. Because a fetus does not have the ability to exist independently from its mother until it reaches viability, it cannot be considered a person with all the rights and responsibilities of someone who has been born. If we were to grant the same rights to a fetus as we do to the born, it would automatically subjugate the rights of the woman, thus giving the fetus greater rights than the woman carrying it. It is illogical, unreasonable and unfair to the mother.

Equating abortion with murder is not only playing fast and furious with the truth, such a comparison is legally disingenuous. With few exceptions, the pro-life argument is theological. While those who oppose abortion for religious reasons certainly do have the right to do so, the First Amendment implies that legislation should not reflect theological doctrines. Thus, personal religious convictions toward abortion do not constitute legal opposition to the right to an abortion. Additionally, abortion does not have an equal effect on our societies as murder. We need laws against murder to regulate behavior and allow the civil function of human society and laws against murder pre-date all the Abrahamic religions. Not only does this prove that a god is not needed to regulate murder, but that society is capable of regulating murder on its own because if left unregulated, civil society could not exist.

Exactly when a fetus becomes viable was addressed and decided by the Supreme Court in 1973 in a decision stating that an unborn fetus had no constitutional rights until the third trimester. This decision was reached based on scientific data, which revealed a post-birth survival rate of less than ten percent due to undifferentiated respiratory, and central nervous systems. Pre-term birth remains the most common cause of perinatal mortality and it is rare for a baby weighing less than five hundred grams to survive.

Fear, Loathing, Violence And Intimidation…

Religious doctrines and dogmas have blinded pro-lifers to the fact that abortion often has positive benefits to the health and well being of women. Their “narrow-is-the-gate” worldview does not take into account that most people reject the position that abortion is always wrong. It makes them cringe that abortion helps with family planning, which only serves to strengthen families. As well, they seem to have forgotten that when abortion was illegal it did not stop the practice from being performed, but only made them horrifically unsafe. As well, many unwanted babies are abused, neglected and suffer lifelong developmental and social problems.

What it boils down to is that pro-lifers fear that their interpretation of morality is being abrogated. This is true not only with the abortion issue, but with same-sex marriage and everything else they perceive as an affront or abomination against their god. Most individuals and church groups often choose to work within the legal system to correct what they perceive as a moral injustice. They use their vote and influence in an attempt to elect legislators that are supportive of their views. This should be obvious to anyone who knows that the slew of Tea Baggers elected year failed in their promise to create jobs, but did manage to present almost a thousand anti-abortion bills. Most pro-life people are content to hold up signs in protest, usually in proximity to facilities that provide abortion services. This is their right as long as they are not interfering with the conduction of business.

The more fundamentalist Christians, however, cannot stop there. They often resort to anti-social and usually illegal actions against individuals and businesses that they believe are worthy of judgment and condemnation. Sometimes all it takes is the statement, “I am pro-choice” to instigate them to assault. Sometimes this assault escalates to battery, or worse. They routinely harass women who are arriving for an appointment. They attempt to block their entry, shove pictures of aborted fetuses in their face, cram tracts into their hands and hurl threats of eternal damnation or worse.

Some take it to the extreme, such as Scott Roeder, the man who killed Dr. George Tiller, who was one of the few physicians licensed to provide late-term emergency abortions in order to save the life of the mother. Roeder has been linked to “Operation Rescue,” a group considered by many to be domestic terrorists. Roeder accused Dr. Tiller of mass murder and compared him to Hitler, stating that six million abortions are the same as six million Jews, which is a total and complete insult to the memory of the actual, living human beings who were murdered by the Nazis.

Fact is, rabid fundamentalist pro-lifers are responsible for hundreds of crimes against doctors who perform abortions, from vandalism to murder, including the use of bombs. For this reason alone, I refuse to even engage them in discourse. Their minds are like concrete, permanently set and all mixed up.

  16 comments for “Abortion Is Not Murder

  1. October 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Reblogged this on suzzeq's Blog.

  2. October 31, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    This is the best explanation I have ever read.
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. gazerbeam
    October 31, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Militant atheist here.

    >You can’t just go changing definitions all willy-nilly.
    >Homicide is the killing of a human being, which is an independent human life.

    Is this some kind of sick joke? A human is only a human being when it is independent? What about all the people on life support? They don’t deserve the rights of a human? But that’s not even all you’re saying. You went and changed the definition, just as you said one couldn’t, and now they aren’t human beings /at all/.

    >The very health of a fetus requires the direct coercion of the mother’s body, and while this coercion is in process, the mother reserves the right to terminate her pregnancy.

    The very health of any younger human being requires the support of others around them. Does this give everyone the right to kill them whenever they’re feeling particularly selfish? This is the logic of abusive parents, sir. I cannot wait to see how you extricate your logic from theirs.

    >In fact, over ninety percent of abortions are performed before the fetus reaches thirteen weeks

    Really? Are you willing to swear by that statistic? 90% of abortions, huh?
    Right… Because surely, even half of the abortions around the world are both reported and then subsequently accurately recorded and then reported AGAIN to the VERY REPUTABLE SOURCE that WE ARE ALL SURE you will procure… eventually. Right?

    >There is a huge difference between something being potentially human and an actual living, breathing human being.

    I keep hearing this from pro-choicers, but in hearing and reading years and years and years of arguments, I’ve yet to see a single one that wasn’t totally ambiguous and/or arbitrary. What exactly is the difference, when do you make it, and what gives you the right to make that distinction and definition?

    >is not a human being until it is actually apart from the mother

    Arbitrary. How is your power of defining what life is different from the power of a Catholic Priest? It isn’t. It is totally, righteously arbitrary.

    > is misogynist in principle

    I really don’t see how my stances are misogynist. The bearer of life could just as easily be male, and then, by your logic, my stances would be “misandrist in principle”. I know that some religious stances are misogynist, but this one simply isn’t, and again, there is never any explanation about why exactly pro-life is misogynist. It /just is/. The burden of proof, so to speak, lies on the pro-choicer’s side about how pro-lifers (atheist pro-lifers, specifically) are misogynist.

    I believe that the father and mother should have the same amount of choice when it comes to killing their child- no choice. How that makes me misogynist and doesn’t make pro-choicers misandrist is nonsensical, but I would NEVER think to call you misandrist.
    Food for thought.

    > then whatever agency was given jurisdiction over a fetus would also need to have complete control and supervision over the body of the mother. When laws that protect a human child from negligence in areas of health, safety, nutrition, physical and mental abuse are violated, the child can be removed from the custody of irresponsible parents or guardians. However, this cannot be done with a fetus without controlling the mother’s body. In fact, no matter how irresponsibly a pregnant woman behaves, charges cannot be levied against her until her fetus becomes viable, and even then there are complicated issues until the child is actually born.

    None of these are concerns of the atheist pro-lifer. These are criticisms of Christian pro-life systems and theories and I think they are rightly criticized. The legality can be dealt with much better (by secular means). In fact, when it comes to all the laws necessary, I honestly cannot comment much because none so far proposed make much sense to me besides making most (not quite all- when the life of the mother is at stake, or if the child will be born into disease and suffering, a choice can be made, and in that vein, the mother should choose. It’s her life, after all) unilateral murder of underdeveloped humans illegal.

    >helps with family planning, which only serves to strengthen families

    This is a non-issue with regards to the morality of unilaterally taking the life of another, and again, the vast majority of surrounding arguments equate to, “You’re religious and that makes you wrong,” well, I’m atheist, and my pro-lifer stance has nothing at all to do with dogma or rejection of science or evolution, and everything to do with a rejection of pro-choicer’s stance that they have the power to make arbitrary decisions about when human life attains human rights.

    • Ellen
      October 31, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      While I hope that the author responds to your comments, I wanted to take a shot at the first few (militant atheist myself here), based on my interpretation of what the author said.

      To your first point, about “What about all the people on life support?”:

      The very next sentence from the line you quoted actually addresses that:

      “Homicide is the killing of a human being, which is an independent human life. Until a time when a fetus can survive apart from the mother, either naturally or by medical incubation, it is an unarguable biological fact that fetal gestation and sustenance is inextricable from the mother.”

      Note he said either naturally or by medical incubation. I’d say medical incubation is comparable to life support, so I don’t think his view conflicts with your life support example.

      To your second point, about the health of a younger human being requiring the support of others around them.:

      I see this as a false equivalence to a fetus requiring the direct coercion of the mother’s body. You don’t have a choice of transferring the fetus to the body of another woman (or machine or whatever). Selfish parents have the option of sending their kids away.

      To your third point, about the 90% statistic:
      It is from the CDC:
      http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6015a1.htm?s_cid=ss6015a1_w
      Perhaps the author could have clarified this was for the US (which, really, is what applies when we are talking about politics). And of course this can only reflect legal abortions. If abortions are made illegal, you’ll still the problem of all those unreported illegal abortions (which would increase), so your concern about the statistic not reflecting the illegal ones does not apply to your main argument of making abortions illegal.

      To your third point, I think the transition point between a potential human and an “actual” human is somewhat arbitrary. I personally draw the distinction at where the life form is able to survive outside of the mother (either by machine, or on its own). I would also argue that you seem to make an arbitrary distinction when you say that abortion should be legal if the life of the mother is at stake, or if the child will be born into disease or suffering. The reason I say this is that I doubt you would be okay with killing a suffering 1-year-old, but if a fetus is determined to have that same disease and will have that suffering in the future, you would be willing to say the pregnancy can be terminated to prevent that suffering. I could be wrong about your thinking, though.

      I also wanted to point out that your exceptions to outlawing abortions are left open to a wide variation to interpretation. Exactly how much danger does the woman’s life need to be in? Is it only if there is a 100% chance the woman will die? 90%? 10%? Exactly how much suffering would we need to know the fetus would be in if left to develop into a baby before we’d say it is okay? Tay Sachs diagnosis? Chromosomal disorder? The mother did heaving drinking/drugs throughout the pregnancy?

      • gazerbeam
        October 31, 2012 at 6:32 pm

        >“Homicide is the killing of a human being, which is an independent human life. Until a time when a fetus can survive apart from the mother, either naturally or by medical incubation, it is an unarguable biological fact that fetal gestation and sustenance is inextricable from the mother.”

        Note he said either naturally or by medical incubation. I’d say medical incubation is comparable to life support, so I don’t think his view conflicts with your life support example.

        I ignored this because it is arbitrary like so much else of the argument. He is changing the definitions of what it takes to be a human being, and again, just because a child is born doesn’t mean they are no longer fully dependent. Even 20 years later, the human can still be fully dependent. See why I keep using the word arbitrary? I’m not sure how exactly pro-choicers view the world, but that view certainly isn’t backed up by anthropology in the SLIGHTEST.

        >To your third point, about the 90% statistic:
        It is from the CDC:
        http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6015a1.htm?s_cid=ss6015a1_w
        Perhaps the author could have clarified this was for the US (which, really, is what applies when we are talking about politics). And of course this can only reflect legal abortions.

        So, like I assumed, it was a complete and total deception. Got it. You always ALWAYS have to be wary when people use the word ‘all’ in tandem with statistics as high as ‘90%’. Especially when they are using statistics to argue ethics/morality. Sorry, that’s just demonstrably fallacious and has no bearing within the pro-choice argument. It’s so irrelevant, switching the goal posts and everything. Even if all abortions could be shown to be at some point or other, the ARGUMENT is against when that point is, not against prevalence of abortions. Not even close.
        Unfortunately, many pro-choicers see it as relevant. Nothing can be more frustrating than your opponent claiming their arguments are bulletproof when they aren’t even arguing against you. =/
        A lot of people have killed other people without remorse throughout history. It’s kind of a common thing. Does that necessarily make any of it morally permissible? See my point?

        >You don’t have a choice of transferring the fetus to the body of another woman (or machine or whatever). Selfish parents have the option of sending their kids away.

        Yes, but it doesn’t make them any less selfish, does it? What makes a parent sending their kids away more selfish than a parent killing their kids?

        • Ellen
          November 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm

          Okay, so based on your first post and your follow-up comments, I suspect the problem is that you are not seeing one of the main arguments of this post – which is the bodily rights argument (the pregnant woman has rights to her own body). The author mentions it throughout his post. Here are a few examples:

          “The very health of a fetus requires the direct coercion of the mother’s body, and while this coercion is in process, the mother reserves the right to terminate her pregnancy.”

          “This would mean that a woman’s body would be subordinated to the protection of embryos.”

          “A fetus is life within a life, and has no basis for distinction or regulation without direct imposition on a woman’s reproductive processes.”

          Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. Because the embryo/zygote/blastocyst/fetus is dependent on the body of the mother, the removal of it from the mother results in its death. It is absurd to compare the biological dependence on a person’s body to a 20-year-old who has yet to move out of his mother’s basement. And do we make it illegal for a parent to stop financially/emotionally/physically supporting their 20-year-old? No. Do we legally require parents to provide blood, bone marrow, or kidneys to their children if needed? No. Is the fetus capable of surviving in some way without the use of the woman’s body, or not?

          And I’m not exactly sure what you were expecting from the 90% statistic. I honestly believe you are looking for any reason to say the author is being deceitful, and went after this statistic even though you admit that you don’t really care what this statistic is (saying it has no bearing, etc). In the note at the top of this post, the author mentions how he thought the post was relevant given the upcoming election, so I wasn’t surprised at all that the 90% statistic was for the US. And exactly how would a worldwide statistic help? What if all abortions performed in Canada were done during the 3rd trimester? What could Americans do about that? And as I mentioned previously, of course it is for legal abortions. What if all illegal, undocumented abortions in the US were done in the 3rd trimester? How does that help your argument of making abortions illegal?

          I’d address your last comment, but I really don’t understand it. You originally stated that “The very health of any younger human being requires the support of others around them. Does this give everyone the right to kill them whenever they’re feeling particularly selfish?” Perhaps my response was lost on you because you still don’t understand the bodily rights argument. Terminating a pregnancy, which results in the death of the fetus/whatever because it is biologically dependent on the mother’s body, is completely different from killing a person that is not infringing on your bodily rights.

          And I’d once again like to point out that your ideas for exceptions to outlawing abortion are not feasible to apply to law. There are ranges of probabilities to the pregnant woman’s life being in danger, which would probably vary at least slightly from doctor to doctor, and there are ranges of probabilities to suffering (how well a condition can be diagnosed, and how severe will that condition be to that particular life) as well as ranges of suffering that a fetus could face if left to be born into the world.

          You should check out the recent debate at the Texas Freethought Convention between Matt Dillahunty and Kristine Kruszelnicki.

          • gazerbeam
            November 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

            I watched until 16:30 when the guy disproved his whole argument. “We atheists should support the right to abortion.. because we don’t have sufficient cause to deny that right.”

            Where is the sufficient cause to decide that an underdeveloped human should be denied a right? Not going to watch another hour looking for an answer. He EVEN SAID EARLIER that it was RIDICULOUS to give themselves the right to deny other rights.

            Self defeating argument twice in the first 16 minutes.

          • bob
            November 18, 2012 at 3:22 pm

            yet gazerbeam thinks it is perfectly reasonable to deny women their rights for the crime of having sex and getting pregnant

        • bob
          November 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

          gazerbeam said: ” just because a child is born doesn’t mean they are no longer fully dependent. Even 20 years later, the human can still be fully dependent”

          Wow, bro, you are a thickie, arent you? A 20 year old does NOT live inside another person’s body in order to survive. What is so hard to understand about this?

  4. October 31, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Looks like a good article (not enough time to read it all right now), but the first sentence doesn’t make sense (tho it’s easy enough to understand what you mean). It needs something before the “than”, like “better” or “more”. Odd that no one caught this before.

  5. Bob Loewenthal
    October 31, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Christians who believe that their god condemns abortion also believe that their god can do no wrong and everything is determined by him. Therefore, they must admit that their god runs the biggest abortion clinic the world has ever known. Approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a natural miscarriage or about 1,000,000 per year. Add to that, early childhood deaths and it’s plain to see it is the god of Abraham condones the death of babies: unborn, stillborn and after they’re born.

  6. October 31, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Great article and explanation of why abortion needs to stay legal, free and readily available to all women. I too am a militant atheist, and have a hard time believing that bozo
    gazerbeam above is actually one, and not just a fundie Tea Bagger in disguise.

    It’s always a choice for the woman to make, not the doctrines of some antiquated Abrahamic religion, or the laws of a bunch of greedy, misogynistic white males elected to office by equally moronic fundamentalist voters.

    Why is it that pro-lifers are so damn high strung about preventing a woman’s choice to her own body, but are not willing to put the same vitriol towards child abusers, pedophiles, and those that generally suck at being parents?

    What, is a zygote or blastocyst more important to protect than a grown child, left to suffer at the hands of unfit parents? Pro-Life should be renamed Pro-Brainwashed, because these people have their heads so far up their religious (or non-religious, in the case of gazerbeam) asses, that they fail to see the issue from the perspective of biology or women’s health.

    I say, “Abortion on demand and without apology!”

    • gazerbeam
      October 31, 2012 at 6:20 pm

      I am actually an atheist, and I definitely turn much, much more vitriol against child abusers and else. Religious leaders in general totally creep me out. Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, doesn’t matter. They are all sick human beings.

      >Pro-Life should be renamed Pro-Brainwashed, because these people have their heads so far up their religious (or non-religious, in the case of gazerbeam) asses, that they fail to see the issue from the perspective of biology or women’s health.

      Who has brainwashed me? And you keep spouting stuff about biology. I totally get it. But your argument is flawed. My secular argument is only against your ability to choose when one should attain human rights. I totally understand how a human develops, I get it. And I love biology and the sciences. They’re very important in day to day life. But I cannot help but take a step back and see that it is the ones with the power to choose and the power to end the other’s life in this situation. It is downright unethical. Medieval, even.

      If my senses were dulled to nothing, and I were mute so couldn’t speak for myself, why would I have human rights?
      Because of arbitrary biological markers? Plenty of people are just as dependent on their mothers as they were the day they were born. What makes them human beings?

      • tlhughes
        November 1, 2012 at 11:17 pm

        The ability to be self-conscious is a great (and to me obvious) prerequisite to calling something a human being. Assigning rights to something pre-conscious just cheapens the value of human life as a whole, and incredibly cheapens the value of the woman’s life. No consciousness == nothing to be unethical to.

        Granted, this is different from the author’s reasoning and doesn’t address late term abortions. One has to weigh the possibility of a rudimentary self consciousness vs the hugely unethical (medieval?) act of slavery/torture of removing someone’s bodily integrity and forcing them to carry a pregnancy to term. Since I never want to see people forced to give up kidneys to 3rd parties, I have to choose bodily integrity as the most important in weighing the conflicting evils here.

  7. Dianne Leonard
    October 31, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I am 60 years old and I remember the days before Roe (January 1973). At that time I worked in a doctors’ office. Right up the block was a hospital, which had a ward–as all hospitals did in those days–which was dedicated to women who were surviving–and dying–from septic abortions. Pre-Roe, the leading cause of death among women of childbearing age was complications from septic abortions. This is true. Go look it up in CDC reports. One of my jobs in the doctors’ office, which I will never forget, was moving patient files from the “active” to the “deceased” sections. Most of those deceased were women who had died just up the block in that hospital ward. Starting in January 1973, the hospital ward began to close down. I worked there until September 1973, and in the last 6 or 8 months, I only had to move a few files of elderly people. I do not want those days to come back, I do not want any other young clerk to move files as I did. And I will never forget those women whom the files represented.

  8. bob
    November 18, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Great article Al!

    quote: “The seemingly obligatory role of fundamental Christian women to function as brood-mares notwithstanding, the legal consequences would be catastrophic. Why this is not obvious to everyone still baffles me.”

    I have asked every pro-lifer that I have come across about these ‘legal consequences’ and they all either 1) refuse to answer or say 2) nah, that wouldnt happen, dont be silly. It didnt happen in the 1950s, why would it happen now! you are the crazy!

Leave a Reply