U.S., Canada, & the rest of the world:
Laws restricting/allowing abortion access, etc.
Conflicts concerning personal access and freedom:
At any given time in the U.S. and elsewhere, there seem to be at least two very active religiously-motivated conflicts.
Back in early 2016, there were two such battles. Both involved personal access and equality. They were:
Marriage equality: Whether loving, committed same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
Abortion access: Under what conditions, if any, should a state or federal government veto a woman's personal decision to have an abortion. This conflict continues with little or no evidence of resolution.
When does human life begin?
The morality of abortion access is tightly linked to the concept of when "human life" and "human personhood" begin:
One scientific definition of life requires that for an organism to be considered alive it must:
- maintain homeostasis -- have the ability to maintain an internal balance in spite of changes in its external environment,
- be composed of cells,
- undergo metabolism -- internal processes that maintain life,
- be able to grow,
- adapt to their environment,
- respond to stimuli, and
This means that, according to this definition:
- A human ovum is not considered a form of life because it cannot divide and produce two ova.
- A spermatozoon is not considered a form of human life because it cannot divide and produce two spermatozoa.
But at conception, when an ovum and spermatozoon merge and produce a human zygote -- a.k.a. a just-fertilized egg -- it meets all of these criteria and is generally considered a form of life. Its ability to reproduce is rarely acted upon. A single zygote can split into two zygotes. This is the way in which monozygotic (identical) twins are produced. Further, since a zygote contains human DNA, it is recognized as a form of human life by the scientific, pro-life, and most of the pro-choice communities. Similarly, human embroyos, fetuses and newborns are viewed as human life.
- A newborn human baby is not only a form of human life, but is almost universally recognized as a human person.
When does human personhood begin?
Unfortunately, there is no consensus on when human life becomes a human person:
- Most pro-lifers believe that it happens at conception. That is, when the process of conception is complete, and a zygote is formed, it is both a form of human life and a human person.
Pro-choicers have different beliefs about when personhood is first attained. Examples are:
- When the embryo's heart beat can be detected.
- When an embryo loses its gill slits and tail, and resembles a human.
- About 23 weeks gestation, when the fetus is viable -- capable of surviving outside her or his mother's body. At the current level of medical expertise, 20 to 35% of fetuses born at this age will survive.
- About 24 weeks gestation, when the fetus' higher brain functions first turn on and the fetus becomes sentient -- able to sense its environment.
- When the fetus is half-emerged from her or his mother's body. (This is also the traditional Jewish belief).
- When the fetus has fully emerged.
- When the umbilical cord is cut and the baby is separated from his or her mother.
- Some aboriginal groups believe that a human life becomes a human person during a special ritual after birth when the newborn is given a name.
Positive factors in the battle over abortion access:
One near concensus does exist: when a person believes that personhood has been attained, they generally feel that abortions becomes unethical unless the mother's life is threatened, or health is seriously threatened. That concensus offers hope, because if more people agree on when human personhood begins, then a compromise over abortion may be possible.
Battles over abortion are typically caused when a woman -- after consultation with friends, family, her physician, perhaps her spiritual advisor, etc. decides that to have an abortion is the least worse option for her, but the government has vetoed her decision by making an abortion unavailable to her.
There is one positive aspect to the abortion conflict. Both pro-life advocates and pro-choice advocates agree that they would like to see the number of abortions and the abortion rate reduced. There are two main ways to do this:
- By making abortions unavailable. Pro-life groups have concentrated essentially all of their effort in this area. Pro-choice groups have concentrated essentially all of their effort to keeping abortions available, and safe.
By noting that the vast majority of abortions are not caused by medical necessity; they are caused by an unwanted, unplanned for and unexpected pregnancy. In excess of 40% of such pregnancies end in intentional abortions. A study in Toledo has shown that if women are supplied with free contraceptives, their abortion rate is drastically reduced. The Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate which would allow almost all employed women to obtain free contraceptives through her health insurance would go a long way to reducing the abortion rate to a small percentage of its current rate. Unfortunately, many employers are resisting this mandate. An even greater reduction in abortion rate could be achieved by making contraception available to all unemployed women of childbearing age.
The logical groups to press for such a change are the pro-life and pro-choice organizations. Unfortunately, that would require cooperation and dialogue, and very little of either is happening.
Topicscovered in this section:
|Abortion access in North America: |
|Laws affecting abortion access elsewhere in the world:|
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
"Life," Wikipedia, as on 2017-NOV-13, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
Copyright © 1996 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published: 1996-DEC-20
Last updated 2018-FEB-05
Author: B.A. Robinson