Topical Controversy Abortion Issues Part 1

About the major controversy surrounding abortion, a look at the issues of a woman's right to choose versus fetus's right to live from both sides.




Issue: Which comes first--the woman's right to free choice or the fetus's right to live?

Pro Abortion: A woman has the right to control her own body; she is not just a walking incubator. Her decision to abort or not to abort is a private one. Government has no right to interfere.

Anti Abortion: In civilized societies, people don't have total control over their own bodies. It is against the law to abuse your body with drugs, for example. Some invasions of privacy are legal and acceptable; consider child-abuse laws and control of communicable disease.

Anti-abortion Witness Juli Loesch, Feminist: "Each woman has the right [to use birth control].... But once a woman has conceived, she can no longer choose whether or not to become a mother. Biologically, she already is a mother.... The woman's rights are then limited, as every right is limited, by the existence of another human being who also has rights."

Anti-abortion Witness Jesse Jackson, Black Leader: "You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to be concerned."

Pro Abortion: In most Protestant and Jewish denominations, the fetus is considered a potential person, not an actual one. According to Talmudic law, for example, a fetus is not a person until born; before its birth, the mother's welfare is primary. Just because the fetus will be a person doesn't mean it is one.

The fetus is dependent on the woman's body--the placenta and umbilical cord; without her, it would die. Consider Judith Thomson's analogy, given in the article "A Defense of Abortion": A person wakes up to find that he or she has been hooked to a comatose violinist with a kidney ailment. Without the host's blood, the violinist would die. Is the individual morally obligated to stay hooked up to the violinist for nine months? No, says Thomson. In comparison, the fetus has the right to its mother's body only if she grants it.

Pro-abortion Witness Joseph Fletcher, Episcopalian Priest: "There is no such thing as an unborn baby." The fetus is "gametic material."

Pro-abortion Witness Alan Guttmacher, Planned Parenthood: "My feeling is that the fetus, particularly during its early intrauterine life, is merely a group of specialized cells that do not differ materially from other cells."

Anti Abortion: The zygote (fertilized egg) is a masterpiece of God, already a human individual because of its unique genetic code, which came into being when the egg and sperm united. At 4 to 5 weeks, a baby in the womb has a heartbeat. By 8 weeks, all limbs and organs are formed. By 10 weeks, it makes faces. A premature baby, born only 17 weeks after fertilization, has lived outside the womb. It won't be long before artificial wombs will nurture very tiny fetuses. Some aborted babies have survived abortion only to be strangled by physicians.

Anti-abortion Witness Bernard Nathanson, a Physician Who Changed Sides: "Human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy."

Pro Abortion: It is not so simple as that. Twinning occurs between the 7th and 14th day following fertilization. Can a unique person be split in two? When do we assign the fetus full value with full rights? Philosophers, religious authorities, and physicians disagree on the criteria--social and mental development and other factors--used to determine personhood. As for the horror stories of babies that survive abortions, such babies are extremely rare because 96% of abortions are performed in the first trimester. Later abortions usually involve saving the life of the mother, or severe deformity of the fetus.

Pro-abortion Witness U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, in His Opinion on the 1973 Abortion Decision: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."

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