Opposing beliefs about when human personhood starts:
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 many, if not 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.
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 have considered abortion clinics the ethical equivalent of a
Nazi death camp.
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
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 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.
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.
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 between 23 and 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 over the following years.
Some feel that she 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 might be before:
About 26 weeks gestation -- the point when higher functions of the the
fetus' brain are first activated. This is when the fetus first becomes a sentient
being and is able to sense its surroundings, or
At 20 weeks gestation when may pro-lifers believe that the fetus can feel pain.
At quickening, when the woman first feels the fetus move, or
It begins to look human, or
It loses its tail and gill slits, or
Its heart begins beating, or
The pre-embryo becomes attached to the inner lining of the
Unfortunately, few if any polls ask questions with this degree of
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/