Abortion 7 Essay, Research Paper
All of the arguments against abortion boil down to
six specific questions. The first five deal with the
nature of the zygote-embryo-fetus growing inside a
mother’s womb. The last one looks at the morality
of the practice. These questions are:
1.Is it alive?
2.Is it human?
3.Is it a person?
4.Is it physically independent?
5.Does it have human rights?
6.Is abortion murder?
Let’s take a look at each of these questions. We’ll
show how anti-abortionists use seemingly logical
answers to back up their cause, but then we’ll show
how their arguments actually support the fact that
abortion is moral.
1. Is it alive?
Yes. Pro Choice supporters who claim it isn’t do
themselves and their cause a disservice. Of course
it’s alive. It’s a biological mechanism that converts
nutrients and oxygen into biological energy that
causes its cells to divide, multiply, and grow. It’s
Anti-abortion activists often mistakenly use this fact
to support their cause. “Life begins at conception”
they claim. And they would be right. The genesis of
a new human life begins when the egg with 23
chromosomes joins with a sperm with 23
chromosomes and creates a fertilized cell, called a
zygote, with 46 chromosomes. The single-cell
zygote contains all the DNA necessary to grow into
an independent, conscious human being. It is a
But being alive does not give the zygote full human
rights – including the right not to be aborted during
A single-cell ameba also coverts nutrients and
oxygen into biological energy that causes its cells to
divide, multiply and grow. It also contains a full set
of its own DNA. It shares everything in common
with a human zygote except that it is not a potential
person. Left to grow, it will always be an ameba -
never a human person. It is just as alive as the
zygote, but we would never defend its human rights
based solely on that fact.
And neither can the anti-abortionist, which is why
we must answer the following questions as well.
2. Is it human?
Yes. Again, Pro Choice defenders stick their feet in
their mouths when they defend abortion by claiming
the zygote-embryo-fetus isn’t human. It is human.
Its DNA is that of a human. Left to grow, it will
become a full human person.
And again, anti-abortion activists often mistakenly
use this fact to support their cause. They are fond
of saying, “an acorn is an oak tree in an early stage
of development; likewise, the zygote is a human
being in an early stage of development.” And they
would be right. But having a full set of human DNA
does not give the zygote full human rights -
including the right not to be aborted during its
Don’t believe me? Here, try this: reach up to your
head, grab one strand of hair, and yank it out.
Look at the base of the hair. That little blob of
tissue at the end is a hair follicle. It also contains a
full set of human DNA. Granted it’s the same DNA
pattern found in every other cell in your body, but
in reality the uniqueness of the DNA is not what
makes it a different person. Identical twins share
the exact same DNA, and yet we don’t say that
one is less human than the other, nor are two twins
the exact same person. It’s not the configuration of
the DNA that makes a zygote human; it’s simply
that it has human DNA. Your hair follicle shares
everything in common with a human zygote except
that it is a little bit bigger and it is not a potential
person. (These days even that’s not an absolute
considering our new-found ability to clone humans
from existing DNA, even the DNA from a hair
Your hair follicle is just as human as the zygote, but
we would never defend its human rights based
solely on that fact.
And neither can the anti-abortionist, which is why
the following two questions become critically
important to the abortion debate.
3. Is it a person?
No. It’s merely a potential person.
Webster’s Dictionary lists a person as “being an
individual or existing as an indivisible whole; existing
as a distinct entity.” Anti-abortionists claim that
each new fertilized zygote is already a new person
because its DNA is uniquely different than anyone
else’s. In other words, if you’re human, you must be
Of course we’ve already seen that a simple hair
follicle is just as human as a single-cell zygote, and,
that unique DNA doesn’t make the difference since
two twins are not one person. It’s quite obvious,
then, that something else must occur to make one
human being different from another. There must be
something else that happens to change a
DNA-patterned body into a distinct person. (Or in
the case of twins, two identically DNA-patterned
bodies into two distinct persons.)
There is, and most people inherently know it, but
they have trouble verbalizing it for one very specific
The defining mark between something that is human
and someone who is a person is ‘consciousness.’ It
is the self-aware quality of consciousness that
makes us uniquely different from others. This
self-awareness, this sentient consciousness is also
what separates us from every other animal life form
on the planet. We think about ourselves. We use
language to describe ourselves. We are aware of
ourselves as a part of the greater whole.
The problem is that consciousness normally doesn’t
occur until months, even years, after a baby is born.
This creates a moral dilemma for the defender of
abortion rights. Indeed, they inherently know what
makes a human into a person, but they are also
aware such individual personhood doesn’t occur
until well after birth. To use personhood as an
argument for abortion rights, therefore, also leads
to the argument that it should be okay to kill a
3-month-old baby since it hasn’t obtained
Anti-abortionists use this perceived problem in an
attempt to prove their point. In a debate, a Pro
Choice defender will rightly state that the difference
between a fetus and a full-term human being is that
the fetus isn’t a person. The anti-abortion activist,
being quite sly, will reply by asking his opponent to
define what makes someone into a person.
Suddenly the Pro Choice defender is at a loss for
words to describe what he or she knows innately.
We know it because we lived it. We know we
have no memory of self-awareness before our first
birthday, or even before our second. But we also
quickly become aware of the “problem” we create
if we say a human doesn’t become a person until
well after its birth. And we end up saying nothing.
The anti-abortionist then takes this inability to
verbalize the nature of personhood as proof of their
claim that a human is a person at conception.
But they are wrong. Their “logic” is greatly flawed.
Just because someone is afraid to speak the truth
doesn’t make it any less true.
And in reality, the Pro Choice defender’s fear is
unfounded. They are right, and they can state it
without hesitation. A human indeed does not
become a full person until consciousness. And
consciousness doesn’t occur until well after the birth
of the child. But that does not automatically lend
credence to the anti-abortionist’s argument that it
should, therefore, be acceptable to kill a
three-month-old baby because it is not yet a
It is still a potential person. And after birth it is an
independent potential person whose existence no
longer poses a threat to the physical wellbeing of
another. To understand this better, we need to look
at the next question.
4. Is it physically independent?
No. It is absolutely dependant on another human
being for its continued existence. Without the
mother’s life-giving nutrients and oxygen it would
die. Throughout gestation the zygote-embryo-fetus
and the mother’s body are symbiotically linked,
existing in the same physical space and sharing the
same risks. What the mother does affects the fetus.
And when things go wrong with the fetus, it affects
Anti-abortionists claim fetal dependence cannot be
used as an issue in the abortion debate. They make
the point that even after birth, and for years to
come, a child is still dependent on its mother, its
father, and those around it. And since no one
would claim its okay to kill a child because of its
dependency on others, we can’t, if we follow their
logic, claim it’s okay to abort a fetus because of its
What the anti-abortionist fails to do, however, is
differentiate between physical dependence and
social dependence. Physical dependence does not
refer to meeting the physical needs of the child -
such as in the anti-abortionist’s argument above.
That’s social dependence; that’s where the child
depends on society – on other people – to feed it,
clothe it, and love it. Physical dependence occurs
when one life form depends solely on the physical
body of another life form for its existence.
Physical dependence was cleverly illustrated back
in 1971 by philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson.
She created a scenario in which a woman is
kidnapped and wakes up to find she’s been
surgically attached to a world-famous violinist who,
for nine months, needs her body to survive. After
those nine months, the violinist can survive just fine
on his own, but he must have this particular woman
in order to survive until then.
Thompson then asks if the woman is morally
obliged to stay connected to the violinist who is
living off her body. It might be a very good thing if
she did – the world could have the beauty that
would come from such a violinist – but is she
morally obliged to let another being use her body to
This very situation is already conceded by
anti-abortionists. They claim RU-486 should be
illegal for a mother to take because it causes her
uterus to flush its nutrient-rich lining, thus removing
a zygote from its necessary support system and,
therefore, ending its short existence as a life form.
Thus the anti-abortionist’s own rhetoric only proves
the point of absolute physical dependence.
This question becomes even more profound when
we consider a scenario where it’s not an existing
person who is living off the woman’s body, but
simply a potential person, or better yet, a single-cell
zygote with human DNA that is no different than
the DNA in a simple hair follicle.
To complicate it even further, we need to realize
that physical dependence also means a physical
threat to the life of the mother. The World Health
Organization reports that nearly 670,000 women
die from pregnancy-related complications each
year (this number does not include abortions).
That’s 1,800 women per day. We also read that in
developed countries, such as the United States and
Canada, a woman is 13 times more likely to die
bringing a pregnancy to term than by having an
Therefore, not only is pregnancy the prospect of
having a potential person physically dependant on
the body of one particular women, it also includes
the women putting herself into a life-threatening
situation for that potential person.
Unlike social dependence, where the mother can
choose to put her child up for adoption or make it a
ward of the state or hire someone else to take care
of it, during pregnancy the fetus is absolutely
physically dependent on the body of one woman.
Unlike social dependence, where a woman’s
physical life is not threatened by the existence of
another person, during pregnancy, a woman places
herself in the path of bodily harm for the benefit of a
DNA life form that is only a potential person – even
exposing herself to the threat of death.
This brings us to the next question: do the rights of
a potential person supercede the rights of the
mother to control her body and protect herself from
potential life-threatening danger?
5. Does it have human rights?
Yes and No.
A potential person must always be given full human
rights unless its existence interferes with the rights of
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness of an
already existing conscious human being. Thus, a
gestating fetus has no rights before birth and full
rights after birth.
If a fetus comes to term and is born, it is because
the mother chooses to forgo her own rights and her
own bodily security in order to allow that future
person to gestate inside her body. If the mother
chooses to exorcise control over her own body and
to protect herself from the potential dangers of
childbearing, then she has the full right to terminate
Anti-abortion activists are fond of saying “The only
difference between a fetus and a baby is a trip
down the birth canal.” This flippant phrase may
make for catchy rhetoric, but it doesn’t belay the
fact that indeed “location” makes all the difference
in the world.
It’s actually quite simple. You cannot have two
entities with equal rights occupying one body. One
will automatically have veto power over the other -
and thus they don’t have equal rights. In the case of
a pregnant woman, giving a “right to life” to the
potential person in the womb automatically cancels
out the mother’s right to Life, Liberty, and the
Pursuit of Happiness.
After birth, on the other hand, the potential person
no longer occupies the same body as the mother,
and thus, giving it full human rights causes no
interference with another’s right to control her
body. Therefore, even though a full-term human
baby may still not be a person, after birth it enjoys
the full support of the law in protecting its rights.
After birth its independence begs that it be
protected as if it were equal to a fully-conscience
human being. But before birth its lack of
personhood and its threat to the women in which it
resides makes abortion a completely logical and
Which brings us to our last question, which is the
real crux of the issue….
6. Is abortion murder?
No. Absolutely not.
It’s not murder if it’s not an independent person.
One might argue, then, that it’s not murder to end
the life of any child before she reaches
consciousness, but we don’t know how long after
birth personhood arrives for each new child, so it’s
completely logical to use their independence as the
dividing line for when full rights are given to a new
Using independence also solves the problem of
dealing with premature babies. Although a preemie
is obviously still only a potential person, by virtue of
its independence from the mother, we give it the full
rights of a conscious person. This saves us from
setting some other arbitrary date of when we
consider a new human being a full person. Older
cultures used to set it at two years of age, or even
older. Modern religious cultures want to set it at