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Abortion access

Overview of abortion: An
apparently unsolvable dilemma?

Part 2 of 3:

Opposing beliefs about when human personhood
starts. Conflicting beliefs about abortion access.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Opposing beliefs about when human personhood starts:

Many, but not all, pro-lifers and pro-choicers believe that once human personhood starts -- i.e. when human life becomes a human person -- the person's life must be protected where possible. Many religions, organizations and individuals have passionately held conflicting beliefs about when this happens. This naturally leads to opposing beliefs about when and under what conditions the state should intrude and deny a woman access to abortion.

  • To most pro-lifers, human personhood begins at at some point in the process of conception. Thus, they view each abortion as a form of murder. They often support this argument by noting that, at conception, a human life with its own unique DNA comes into being which is a combination of the DNA of her or his mother and father. The platform of the Constitution Party expresses this clearly. It:

    "....is the only national political party that advocates a 100%, no-exceptions pro-life position in its platform. The Constitution Party platform states, 'The pre-born child, whose life begins at fertilization, is a human being created in God's image. The first duty of the law is to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. It is, therefore, the duty of all civil governments to secure and to safeguard the lives of the pre-born'." 8,9

    Many pro-lifers generally view an abortion clinic as a place where babies are murdered. Some pro-life groups and individuals consider abortion clinics the ethical equivalent of Nazi death camps.

  • To many pro-choicers, human personhood begins later in gestation or at birth. They note that a pre-embryo -- a just-fertilized ovum -- consists of a simple grouping of undifferentiated cells. The pre-embryo has no human shape, skin, brain, or other organs; it cannot sense the environment. Since it has no brain, it is not sentient, nor is it conscious. Carl Sagan wrote an essay supporting this position. 4

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The pro-life and pro-choice movements:

These two groups differ about abortion access. Generally speaking:

  • Pro-lifers feel that abortion access should be restricted to special cases, or prohibited completely. Most are motivated by their belief that human personhood begins at during the process of conception -- perhaps when a unique DNA is formed or when the single cell divides into two. Thus, all surgical abortions murder a baby.

    Also, most pro-lifers believe that some devices like the IUD and some medications like emergency contraceptives prevent the implantation of the zygote -- the pre-embryo -- in the wall of the uterus. They regard such devices as abortifacients.

  • Pro-choicers believe that each woman should be relatively free to follow their own ethical and spiritual beliefs concerning the termination or continuation of a pregnancy. Many recognize that there is a diversity of beliefs about abortion access, and that the state should not attempt to enforce a common belief system on all pregnant women. Many pro-choicers believe that human personhood does not begin during the process of conception but starts later in pregnancy or at birth.

Both groups would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions performed. Many pro-lifers promote support services for women in crisis pregnancies and/or seek legal restrictions on abortion access. Many pro-choicers promote better comprehensive birth control education in schools and greater access to contraceptives and emergency contraceptives.

The two groups find it difficult to cooperate. They expend enormous energy fighting each other. If they were able to collaborate, they could make major reductions in the abortion rate, perhaps lowering it below the rate of most other developed countries. 

Within each movement there is a range of beliefs concerning restrictions on abortion, as described below.

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Conflicting beliefs about abortion access:

In spite of what the media might imply, there are not just two conflicting positions on abortion access -- pro-life and pro-choice. A spectrum of beliefs exists:

  • A minority of the public believes that a woman should be free to terminate her pregnancy at any stage and for any reason that she feels to be valid. A series of national polls by CBS, Los Angeles Times, CNN, USA Today and the Gallup Organization during 2005 reported that 23 to 41% of American adults hold this position. The actual poll result tends to heavily influenced by the precise wording of the question, and what prior questions were asked during the survey. The percentage has not changed much since that time.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 ruling "Roe v. Wade" determined that a woman and her physician can decide to terminate a pregnancy during the first three months gestation. This is normally measured from the date of the start of the woman's last menstrual period (LMP). That is typically two weeks before conception. Later in pregnancy, states can restrict abortion access with laws but only if they allow abortions if needed to protect the woman's health. Once the fetus is viable, an abortion must still be available if the woman's health or life are at risk. More details.

  • Canada currently has no law restricting abortions. Regulations are set by medical associations in each province and territory.

  • Most adults in North America believe that a pregnant woman should be able to choose to terminate the life of the pre-embryo, embryo or fetus for any reason up to a certain point in gestation, but not afterwards. This is often the point in gestation when the person believes that the zygote, embryo, or fetus becomes a human being or human person.

    This might be:

    • When the newborn has been born and started to breathe.

    • When the newborn has partly or fully emerged from the body of her or his mother.

    • About 26 weeks gestation -- the point when higher functions of the the fetus' brain are first activated. This is when the fetus first becomes sentient and is able to sense her or his surroundings.

    • About 24 weeks gestation when a fetus has a 50% survival chance in a hospital with the modern equipment.

    • At 21 weeks and 4 days gestation when the earliest premature baby in the world survived. She was born in a San Antonio, TX hospital during 2014. At age 3, she was smaller than most kids her age, but healthy.

    • At 20 weeks gestation when many pro-lifers believe that a fetus can feel pain.

    • At quickening, when the woman first feels the fetus move. This occurs as early as about 13 weeks gestation.

    • As an embryo, when:
      • It begins to look human, or

      • It loses its tail and gill slits, or

      • Its heartbeat can be detected, or

    • As a pre-embryo when it becomes attached to the inner lining of the woman's uterus.

    • At conception.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Notes and references used:

  1. American statistics are listed by Baptists for Life, Inc. at: http://www.bfl.org/stats
  2. Canadian statistics are listed by Action Life (Ottawa) Inc. at: http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/
  3. Bob Enyart is an extremely conservative talk show host. He has a "Bob Enyart Live Abortion Clock" on his web site. It lists the total number of legal abortions that have been performed since 1973. See: http://www.enyart.com/
  4. Carl Sagan, "Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium: Chapter 15" Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Chapter 15 has been reprinted at: http://www.2think.org/
  5. S. Boyd, "Give us liberty: The approval of RU-486 isn't about morals, it's about options," Salon.com at: http://www.salon.com/  (This may be a temporary posting)
  6. A.T. Hyman, "The 'A' Word." This is an essay on the legal aspects of the abortion debate. See: http://members.aol.com/
  7. Nellie Gray, president of March for Life, at the 28th annual March for Life, 2001-JAN-22.
  8. "Constitution Party supports statewide abortion ban," Stop Abortion in Ohio, undated, at: http://www.ohioabortionban.com/
  9. "Sanctity of Life," Platform, Constitution Party at: http://www.constitutionparty.com/
  10. Marci McDonald, "The Armageddon Factor," Random House Canada. Released 2010-MAY-11.
  11. Ashley May, "Mom pleads with doctor to resuscitate baby delivered at 21 weeks. 'Miracle' daughter is now a healthy toddler," USA Today, 2017-NOV-14, at: https://www.usatoday.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated 2018-AUG-02
Author: Bruce A Robinson

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