Is abortion murder?: a comedy of errors. [part 1]

This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.

There is a great deal of contention between the pro-choice and anti-abortion positions on whether abortion is murder, and at what point it becomes murder. Anti-abortion people contend that abortion is murder, and therefore should be made illegal. Pro-choice people contend that abortion is not murder and should be allowed. What both positions have in common is that they accept the basic premise that, if abortion is shown to be murder, then it must be illegal (although many people argue that the opposite is not true).

As I’ve explained before, my pro-abortion position is perfectly compatible with late term abortions being murder. The pro-abortion position is based on the fact that starting a new human life means to create harm, which is equally unethical; in a decision between the harm of an abortion (which is not proven scientifically and, in any case, is minute) and the harm that a human life entails (which can be astonishingly vast), I think the former is far, far less important, and abortion should always win out. Because I have no reason to posit the desirability of childbirth, I am entirely free to bite the bullet and keep my position coherent.

Of course, this avenue is not available to pro-choice people, since they, like everyone else who is not antinatalist, believe that life is wonderful and that starting human lives is a wonderful gift. So they cannot state that starting a new human life is unethical. Their only way out is therefore to argue that abortion cannot be murder.

This alone is a tall order, but another requirement makes this impossible: pro-choice people must also prove that their justification does not apply to babies as well. If their justification logically entails that babies can be killed, then it is unacceptable, because the pro-choice position is inherently a political position and pro-choice people must kowtow to the margins of discourse. They know this, and try to distance themselves from infanticide in their arguments.

The most simplistic and childish way that pro-choice people deny that some abortions are murder is by stating that murder is legally defined as an unlawful killing, and that abortion is not unlawful, therefore it is not murder. The law has nothing to do with ethics whatsoever; in fact, I have proven that it is logically impossible to turn a legal obligation into an ethical obligation (i.e. that law can never become a standard of ethics). So this argument doesn’t even get off the ground.

Besides that, it is obvious that laws are subjective evaluations from privileged individuals and can be made evil very easily; anyone who allies emself with the law also has to claim that the fugitive slave laws, segregation laws, anti-union laws, the Nazi laws that created the concentration camps, anti-“immigration” laws, and the war on drugs are all, or were all, valid ethical principles. This is just not credible. It also leads us to the conclusion that, in places where abortion is illegal, abortion is therefore murder; ergo, according to this reasoning, abortion is murder and not murder at the same time. This proves that the legal argument is not only logically invalid and non-credible, but also pure gibberish.

Another simplistic and childish argument is to say that abortion is not an act of killing, merely a removal of the fetus from the womb, cutting off its resources. Here is an example of such asinine reasoning:

A woman who has an abortion is – in the vast majority of abortions, those carried out early in the first trimester – not actually killing the fetus: in those instances, no one is killing the fetus. The fetus is removed from the uterus, that’s all: the woman ceases to provide her bodily resources to keep the fetus alive and developing. To cease to provide bodily resources is not murder.

This is just semantics in service of a cruel sort of logic, as we know that a fetus will necessarily die if it is cut off from the resources it needs to live, just like any other living being. You can stop feeding a baby, and it’ll die as well. So this argument fails not only to justify abortions, but also fails at ruling out infanticide. It also fails at ruling out any number of horrible forms of torture which rely on the removal of vital resources. Obviously, depriving a war prisoner of his oxygen is not killing, it’s just ceasing to provide resources, right?

The pro-choice advocate will reply, as in the example above, that there is a major difference, that the fetus is feeding off another person’s body, while the baby can survive without such bodily input. Again, I fail to see why this is relevant. In either case, it is clear that removing the resources in question is a form of killing (as one anti-abortion commentator points out, we wouldn’t have killed Christopher Reeve while he was still alive just because he depended on a machine to live). The logical necessity is just as pressing regardless of where the resources are coming from. Furthermore, if the fetus is a person (as it becomes late in the pregnancy), then it has a right to the resources it needs to live just as a grown human being has a right to the resources ey needs to live.

Another argument is that we have “reasonable doubt” on whether any given abortion is murder or not (this is what Pakaluk alluded to in one of his questions). And if there is “reasonable doubt” that someone may not actually have committed murder, then we must declare them innocent, as our legal system promulgates.

The trouble with this argument is that epistemology doesn’t work like a courtroom. The concept of “reasonable doubt” in a courtroom is ethically vital because it’s preferable to let any number of guilty people go free than to put one innocent person through the cruel punishments of our justice system. This consideration is not relevant when we are talking about resolving an ontological question of this nature, since no punishment is involved.

The default position is the one which is supported by the most evidence at that given moment, and which is the most logical. And using the reasonable doubt argument seems to assume a lack of such evidence on the pro-choice side. Otherwise, why use it at all? Why not just present evidence?

The only somewhat solid argument for the pro-choice position is the personhood argument, which is that for murder to be ascertained, we must first know that the target was a person. This does not seem to correspond to the legal definitions, which are based around the term “human being.” Ironically, using the term “human being” would make a good pro-choice argument, since it excludes all fetuses and includes all babies. But personhood is a whole new can of worms, because personhood, unlike beingness, is a very slow and gradual process that continues after birth.

The pro-choice advocate here can take one of two positions: either the third trimester fetus is fully a person and cannot be aborted, or it is only the undeveloped beginning of a person and can be aborted. If the latter is true, then infanticide cannot be ruled out, since the baby is merely another part of this process of development and is not any more fully a person than the fetus was, and the argument is invalid. If the former is true, then there is no possible justification for third trimester abortions, not even rape or health risks.

This may be the only consistent position for pro-choice advocates to take as long as they absolutely reject all third trimester abortions, but it goes against both the scientific facts and common sense, contradicting the supposedly scientific basis for the pro-choice position. This would make the pro-choice position just as unscientific as the anti-abortion position, and therefore equally dismissible.

Go to part 2, where I give the same treatment to the anti-abortion position.

One thought on “Is abortion murder?: a comedy of errors. [part 1]

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