This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.
(Antinatalist Antelope, from Better Never To Have LOLed)
What arguments prove that the pro-abortion position is the correct one?
I have waited until now to publish this entry, mainly because I hope I have proven by my previous entries that the pro-choice and anti-abortion arguments are fallacious and inconsistent. I am mounting a Sherlock Holmes Argument, called thus because of the quote: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. Because the pro-choice and anti-abortion positions are so thoroughly logically bankrupt, the pro-abortion position is the only viable position on abortion.
The Sherlock Holmes Argument has been called fallacious because one can never cover all the possible positions on any given topic. In the case of abortion, however, I think the anti-abortion/pro-choice/pro-abortion options, as well as the gradients between them, logically cover the whole spectrum. Certainly most people lean to one side or the other, but in doing so they still follow one or many of the arguments or concepts employed by the different positions. Any refutation of the arguments or concepts by extension also refutes the position of people who lean on those arguments or concepts.
Beyond that, how do the pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates defend their own positions? By giving an account of human development and what rights or privileges this development entails. So it is only fair that I do the same. But first I have to introduce the first central pro-abortion concept, which is the imposition of harm.
It is a central concept of justice in all societies that we have a duty not to create harm, but we do not have a duty to create pleasure. Given that fact, starting new human lives is inherently suspicious, as human lives always necessarily entail at least some harm (and some entail a great deal of harm, or even nothing but harm). If we have no right to give people a disease, maim them, kill them, or otherwise harm them, then we no more have the right to start a new life which will be subject to an incalculable number of risks of disease, maiming, and other forms of harm (not to mention the certainty of dying). Unless a good rational justification can be provided as to why all this harm should be created, we must see starting new human lives as a straightforward imposition of harm, and therefore a crime on par with murder, maiming, giving someone a disease, etc.
It will do no good for someone to reply that, while a new human life necessarily entails harm, it also necessarily entails pleasures. Remember that we have a duty not to create harm, but no duty to create pleasure. So the pleasures of life cannot be a good reason to start a new life, but the harms of life are a good reason not to start a new life.
This is one of the standard antinatalist arguments. You can read more about this and other arguments in my entry The case for antinatalism [part 1].
How does this translate into the abortion issue? If it is a priori wrong to start new human lives, then we should prevent human lives from coming into full personhood, through abortion, or we should prevent human lives from existing at all, through contraception. When the latter fails, the former becomes our duty.
Through this perspective, let’s now review the development process, keeping in mind that I have already refuted the “right to life” and “reproductive rights” concepts which both sides use for their own interpretations.
First, nothing incredible happens “at conception.” Life does not start at conception: the sperm and egg were just as alive as their result. No soul penetrates the zygote at conception, as there is no such thing as a soul. While the fetus develops, it is of no ethical interest until it start becoming a person. Until that time, abortions are no different from any other form of amputation. It is therefore ideal to eliminate the potential person as early as possible.
Once the fetus enters the realm of personhood, around 28 to 30 weeks, ethical considerations enter the picture. As I discussed in part 1 of the Pakaluk Q&A, we then have two conflicting principles:
(1) The harm of killing the new person is wrong.
(2) The harm that will be created by continuing this new life into full personhood is wrong.
Furthermore, we have to consider, why is murder bad? This seems like an easy question, but it does require some thought. From our individual perspective, a crime is a crime because it hinders the expression of our conscious values (not just values, otherwise killing a plant would be murder); in the case of murder, this hindrance is permanent. We are more vexed by the murder of a younger person than by the death of an older person, even though both are horrible, because we surmise that the former lost more than the latter. Likewise, we consider it wrong to kill someone in a coma if ey might come back from it, but we don’t consider it wrong to kill a body that is already brain dead.
From the ethical perspective, a crime is a crime because it breaks someone’s rights. But since, in this case, the fetus has no right to life, the issue is moot; abortion never breaks anyone’s rights.
I’ve already pointed out in the entry linked above that, while the harm of starting a new life is enormous, the harm of abortion is zero, insofar as the fetus is concerned. But I also want to point out that the fetus lives in a sleep state, unconscious, and as such has not formed conscious values. Therefore the murder of a fetus is, in terms of individual harm, no different than killing a body that is brain dead.
In that regard, there is no substantial difference between a fetus at 30 weeks and a fetus at 40 weeks. Personhood is not an on/off switch, but a very gradual process which takes place over years. Not only does the fetus never gain conscious values, but at no point does the fetus make any leap in personhood that would justify a re-evaluation of its status.
Given all these facts, our conclusion should be that there is no reason not to perform abortions, no matter what the stage of development of the fetus, and that abortions should be performed. At no point does the crime of killing the fetus provide an adequate ethical or experiential counterweight to the duty of not sustaining the fetus to fuller personhood by bringing it to term.