My Position On Abortion

Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry

Published 2016.01.16, Updated 2016.09.29

My position: Abortion should be legal and accessible. Restrictions, if any, should be related to the age of fetal viability, which is somewhere around 24-28 weeks, depending on several factors.


Succinctly put, I think abortion should be legal, with common sense restrictions related to the age of fetal viability — anywhere from 24-28 weeks, depending on many factors. Further, it should be a protected right; otherwise a female’s body is held hostage by the law.

On the other hand, no pregnant female should ever be forced to get an abortion, either by her parents, spouse, significant other, doctor, employer, or government.

(I intentionally used “female” instead of “woman” in the preceding paragraphs to avoid a distinction between pregnant minors and pregnant adults.)

Background: As a former conservative Christian, I was “Pro Life” (pro forced pregnancy and delivery) during my teenage years and early adulthood. I attribute this to (1) not having thought through the issue thoroughly, (2) a falsley heightened sense that my own morality was superior, (3) assuming it was the correct position because pastors and other trusted people told me it was the correct position, and (4) being won over by the appeal to emotion — that fetuses are “innocent children” and other faulty arguments.

For years, my position moved incrementally away from that position as I gained new knowledge and experience. The reasons I switched my position to “Pro Choice” are as follows:

  1. Every argument against abortion is wrong.
  2. It is immoral to force a female to be pregnant (and deliver a child) against her will.
  3. Legal abortions are measurably safer than illegal abortions.
  4. There are legitimate, moral reasons to terminate pregnancies.
  5. Reducing unwanted pregnancies (not banning abortions) is the best way to reduce abortions.

(Scroll down to see each argument expanded, or use the More menu to navigate.)

Arguments Against Abortion Are Wrong

What are the arguments usually mounted against abortion? There are numerous and varied ideas floating around, some of them contradictory, but almost all of them based on two simple statements/beliefs:

Official Position: National Right To Life

The National Right To Life organization’s mission statement paraphrases the U.S. Declaration of Independence as saying we are all created equal, and that Life is an inalienable right. Oddly, they also use this to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, which means it’s less about a right to life and more about an insistence that you live even if you don’t want to. The organization insists each person should live until “natural death”. Notably, they do not insist on an end to war or capital punishment. They also do not work toward eliminating the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, stroke, aging, etc. (perhaps dying from sickness is considered “natural death”?) Nor do they work to end legalized medicine or immunizations, which clearly prolong life artificially. It also ignores that every human will die, in which case pregnancy is the leading cause of death.

So, the leading anti-abortion group claims to fight for every human’s right to live, but in reality their position is hypocritical: everyone should be forced to live, unless they are convicted of a capital crime or happen to live in a country we happen to be bombing. In the case of a pregnancy threatening the mother’s life, their position is that the mother’s life is expendable (though on at least one occasion, the organization said they were okay with an exception to protect the mother’s life).

Religious Grounds

Perhaps the primary argument against abortion is that God would consider it a sin.

This is not a useful argument for several reasons.

  1. Not everyone believes in the same god or any god at all.
  2. Not all gods agree on whether or when abortion is a sin.
  3. Our nation isn’t ruled by any god, nor should our laws be based on what people claim various gods want.
  4. There are many things listed as “sins” in various religions that are considered perfectly acceptable and legal in our modern societies, even by these same religious people.
  5. Perhaps most importantly, it’s not clear at all that any god actually considers it a sin.

I will now consider each point separately.

1. Not everyone believes in the same god or any god at all.

If Person A believes in God A, which says abortion is a sin, and Person B believes in God B, who says it’s just fine, then all this shows is that Person A shouldn’t get an abortion while Person B is allowed to — based on their respective religious beliefs. Neither Person A nor Person B should be allowed to violate the other’s beliefs, or the beliefs of others.

If Person C doesn’t believe in any god at all, it makes no sense to impose upon her the restrictions invented by God A or God B, believed in by Person A and Person B, respectively. And, since God A and God B do not agree on whether abortion is a sin, the Person C is free to choose among them or choose to do without them.

This argument alone is enough for me. I do not believe in any gods, nor do I believe any person or organization should have the power to force its beliefs (or lack of belief) on any other person or organization.

2. Not all gods agree on whether or when abortion is a sin.

In Islam, it is generally agreed that the soul enters the body at 120 days of gestation (sometimes referred to as “four months”). While abortion before that point is discouraged, it is deemed a lesser sin, not prohibited outright. Among other religions, including various Christian denominations, the position varies widely.

A few are against it in any situation. Some grant exceptions when the life of the mother is at stake, or in cases where the pregnancy arose from rape or incest. Others allow exceptions to protect the woman’s physical or mental health, or in cases of fetal abnormalities. Some church bodies think abortion should be allowed up to the point of fetal viability. A few respected church bodies say abortion is a constitutional right. The Jews are split on the issue. The Christians are split on the issue. The Muslims are split on the issue.

It makes zero sense to rule national or state policy based on one or the other of these religions. If we did, would we place each belief in a hat and draw out the one on which we would base our law?

This argument alone is also enough, unless and until one god claim can be proved to be the correct one and its moral claims proved to be superior to all others, to the satisfaction of the entire populace, or at least enough of the populace to change our Constitution into a theocratic mode of government.

3. Our nation isn’t ruled by any god, nor should our laws be based on what people claim various gods want.

It’s very clearly stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that the government shall not “establish” a religion, though there have long been disagreements on what exactly “establish” means. Without getting into a legal debate over that word, I think most people, even attorneys, will agree with this: the government of our nation is not allowed to choose the beliefs of one religion, over all others, and enshrine that one belief into law that keeps other people from exercising their own, different beliefs.

By choosing the belief of a small minority of faiths, that abortion is wrong in every circumstance, and therefore outlawing it completely, the government would be prohibiting the free exercise of all the other beliefs, that abortion is allowed up to a certain point. Therefore, the only way to avoid establishing a religion is to legally allow for the widest possible choice acceptable to all. This means those who believe it’s wrong are still free to exercise their religion, by not getting or performing abortions, and those who believe it’s allowed may still do so.

In other words, prohibiting abortion is the same as choosing one faith over the others. Allowing abortion means every religious belief can be practiced.

Again, this argument alone should be enough, unless and until our nation’s Constitution is either significantly altered or abandoned in favor of a one-religion theocratic form of government.

4. There are many things listed as “sins” in various religions that are considered perfectly acceptable and legal in our modern societies, even by these same religious people.

If our government is to follow the practice of outlawing or prohibiting any activity that any religion considers a “sin”, then it needs to get busy. For example, the Christian Bible says that “haughty eyes” are an “abomination” to God, that he hates them. Shall we outlaw haughty eyes? The Bible further says anyone who is a medium or who “inquires of the dead” should be put to death. Eating pork, getting tattoos, getting remarried, eating too much, women speaking in church, and more are forbidden by this book, and several Christian sects say the Bible is the inspired word of their God. I’m less familiar with other religious texts, but I will assume for now that they forbid many things as well, things that are currently legal.

This is an argument for consistency. Either we should outlaw everything that any religion forbids, just because various people say God wants it that way, or we should not outlaw things just because religions say to.

5. It’s not clear at all that any god actually considers abortion a sin.

Many abortion opponents claim to base their opinions on various holy scriptures, which aren’t clear on the subject, despite assertions to the contrary. As for the Qur’an, we’re told it’s best to read it in Arabic, which I can’t, and in the English versions I find nothing about abortion. I’m very familiar with several English translations of the Christian Bible, however, and still can’t find anything prohibiting abortion.

Yes, there are several Bible verses usually quoted; I will address them below.

One point often made is that the biblical authors used the same Hebrew and Greek words to refer to both unborn babies and post-birth babies. This is to be expected; they didn’t have another word to differentiate between them. We do the same today — expectant mothers say “baby” when referring to their soon-to-be-born child, and “baby” after it’s born. At least after a certain point in the pregnancy, this is true regardless of one’s view on abortion. We also use the same word “god” to refer to Thor, YHWH, Shiva, and Ra, just as the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) uses the same word (elohim) to refer to YHWH, pagan idols, angels, and judges. This point fails, then, unless the Christian honestly believes that using the same word confers the same status. Do they insist that angels or idols are equal to God? The word “car” can refer to part of a freight train as well as a Ferrari. It doesn’t mean both can drive on railroad tracks and the Interstate highway. They’re just words.

Psalm 139:13-16 is often trotted out. It asserts that God knew the writer while he was still unborn, that God made him. Jeremiah 1:5 contains a similar view. Each, notably, is referring directly and specifically to one human, the writer; neither claims this is true of all unborn humans. Perhaps humorously, the Psalms passage says the writer was “woven together in the depths of the earth”, something that is demonstrably not true.

Another scripture said to show that God gives status to the unborn child is Exodus 21:22-25. It says (NIV) if a pregnant woman gives birth prematurely as a consequence of others fighting, “the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows” as long as there is no “injury” or harm. If there is injury, then the punishment is “life for life, an eye for an eye”, etc. Interestingly, there are dogmatic arguments among biblical scholars over whether the “injury” refers to the woman or to the child (or both/either). There also are many English translations using “miscarry” instead of premature birth. Those who support the right to abortion use “miscarry” in this verse and say “injury” refers to the woman. Those against abortion use “premature birth” and say “injury” refers to the child or both. This is an excellent example of (1) how people can easily use scripture to support whatever viewpoint they already hold and (2) how the biblical author could certainly have used more precise phrasing, if only he could have predicted future political and moral arguments.

Other scriptures listed as supporting an anti-abortion view include Proverbs 6:16-17 (YHWH “hates” those who shed “innocent blood”), Deuteronomy 27:25 (anyone who accepts payment for killing “an innocent person” shall be cursed), and several verses (Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:13-17; Gen. 4:25; Jud. 13:3-5) purported to say that God has a plan for all unborn children. Of course, “innocent person” and “innocent blood” are never defined in scripture as including zygotes and fetuses (though assumably an all-knowing God knew about such things), and the same people claim “no one is innocent” to answer other questions (like “why do the innocent suffer?”). The verses referring to God being involved in the womb never refer to all, or even many, people; each verse refers specifically to one person.

We could go on, but it will be plain to anyone who has studied it that the Bible simply does not make the case that anti-abortionists want it to make.

In fact, pro-choice advocates use the Bible too. Numbers 5 mandates that a wife suspected of being unfaithful should be made to drink “the bitter water that brings a curse”. If she isn’t guilty of adultery, the drink won’t harm her. If she did in fact commit adultery, then when she drinks the potion, “her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry”. This sounds like YHWH mandates abortion in the case of unfaithfulness.

Ecclesiastes 6:3-5 is pretty clear that in some cases (if a person cannot enjoy prosperity), it would better to have been “a stillborn child”, which “comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded.”

The entirety of Job chapter 3 is Job (who God himself said was righteous) complaining that he shouldn’t have been born. He says specifically that if he had perished at birth or died while exiting the womb, “I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest.” If he had been stillborn, Job asserts, he would now be in a place where “the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest. Captives also enjoy their ease; they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout. The small and the great are there, and the slaves are freed from their owners.” Job goes on to say that people who suffer in life will be “filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave”.

The prophet Hosea, after God had promised to kill already-born children, asked that God simply “give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry.” Hosea thought intentionally killing fetuses in the womb would be preferable to subjecting children to God’s later judgment.

As I mentioned above, I once held anti-abortion views. Much of this was based on my belief that the Bible held the same view — because I’d been told that it did. But years of further Bible study have led me to zero biblical passages that prohibit abortion. I was also told that the Bible asserted the “sanctity of life”, that every life was sacred. Yet I could find no evidence of this either, and instead found that human life was not at all important to YHWH, who regularly and brutally destroyed human lives, including children both born and unborn.

Human Life Begins At Conception

We’ve all heard this one: “Abortion is wrong because human life begins at conception.”

This a logical fallacy known as a non sequitir — the conclusion does not logically follow from the premise — and adds nothing to the conversation. It is instead just two claims: (1) Abortion is wrong, and (2) human life begins at conception.

When rephrased (as it often is) as “murdering babies”, it becomes an appeal to emotion. Because of our natural strong emotions geared toward protecting the defenseless, it becomes difficult for many to continue thinking clearly once they’ve seen the argument in this light. They think of their own precious, already-born babies, and can’t imagine those lives being taken. Further appeals to emotion occur by using phrases like “dismembering babies”, and more recently “selling baby parts for a profit” (source).

I’ve seen many claim that “it’s scientific” that human life begins at conception, but that is very misleading. It is true in the sense that the actual definition of conception is “the fusion of gametes to initiate the development of an individual organism”. It is not true in the sense that a rights-having human suddenly exists when the sperm and ovum collide. That would be like saying a new oak tree exists as soon as an old tree begins building an acorn.

Just as not every acorn results in a new tree, not every human zygote results in a new human.

Further, due to science, we now know for a fact that life does not begin at conception. There is no point at which an individual life begins. Before you were conceived, both the sperm cell and the ovum were both already alive, held as cells inside your parents. They continued to be alive as they followed their various natural paths through your parents’ bodies, and both continued to be alive as they contacted one another. These living pieces do not magically “die” and then “become alive” when they join. They were living the entire time. When they join together, they continue to live, as they always were alive. They swap DNA at this point, combining in unpredictable ways to form a uniquely identifiable DNA strand, but at no point do any of these cells “begin to live”. This is not disputable, and it has been verified repeatedly.

(If, at this point, the right-to-lifer moves the goalpoasts [engages in a special pleading fallacy], no longer arguing that “life begins at conception”, but rather that “a new life begins when the zygote has unique human DNA”, he/she can be reminded that cancer cells also have unique human DNA, distinguishable from the host’s DNA, yet indiputably human.)

Estimates very, but many pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion (“miscarriage”) — as few as 10% or as many as 50%, depending on the source. Even for the 50-90% of pregnancies that do survive until birth, about 10% are born preterm, which means prior to 37 weeks. Preterm birth is the greatest contributor to infant death, especially those born very early. Many of the babies who do survive a preterm birth do so only because of modern medical marvels. Preterm birth is a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children, and contributes to other issues that — until the advent of modern medicine — often led to early death — high infant mortality rates. And further, even for a healthy, full-term, live child, no nation on Earth confers onto children the same set of rights as it confers to adults.

This argument becomes even less sensible when combined with the religious idea that only “God” has the authority to determine which pregnancies should result in a live human birth. Asserting such is an explicit statement that God is killing all the zygotes that don’t eventually make it to live birth — in other words, it means God is the abortionist. If abortion is “murdering babies”, then miscarriage is God murdering babies. It means he’s an immoral monster. I’m relieved I no longer believe in or worship such a despicable being.

Other, Less Sensible Arguments

There are other arguments used, each appearing less sensible than the last.

One of them involves speaking of a person who is living, or who has lived, and saying “what if they had been aborted?” Most often, this line of spurious reasoning mentions the classical composer Beethoven, but I’ve also seen it reference current public figures such as football player Tim Tebow or musical sensation Justin Bieber. The idea is to convince the reader/listener that the world would be a sadder, darker place, if only those awesome people’s parents had decided to abort instead of continuing a pregnancy. One website using this argument concluded with: “Every abortion robs the world of someone who could have made a real difference to the lives of others.”

Of every million live births, I wonder, how many turn out to be a Beethoven, or even a Tebow or Bieber? Is it one in a million? Ten of every million? Of the seven billion humans living today, how many hold the status in human pop culture mythology that these men do? Twenty? A hundred? A thousand? No, the chances that your abortion will erase the future career of the next Tim Tebow are next to zero. In fact, you’re much more likely to give birth to a future prison inmate, drug addict, and/or high school dropout — and infinitely more likely to create another boring, normal person whose name no one knows.

These odds aren’t an argument in favor of abortion, because that’s not what my purpose is here. My purpose here is to show the absurdity of the argument against abortion.

Another anti-abortion argument I read recently was that abortion is the source of embryonic stem-cells that researchers are using, hoping to aid the living, and thus abortion must be stopped. First, this just isn’t true — stem cell lines for research come from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization procedures. Second, even if it was true (it’s not), this sounds like an argument for abortion — a chance to help researchers cure diseases?

Yet another one employs the “slippery slope” fallacy. This argument wonders, slyly, whether abortion is eroding our respect for human life so much that we will someday allow “euthanasia and other forms of murder and brutality”. Well, let’s be clear, euthanasia — as usually meant by supporters — is not murder. You’d have a better chance convincing me that abortion is murder than euthanasia. Voluntary ending one’s own life is suicide, not murder, and it’s a discussion for a different day whether it should be illegal. (Since you wondered, I firmly believe persons should have the right to end their own lives, and have always thought so. No one should be forced to continue living against her or his will.) Also, euthanasia and abortion are dissimilar in almost every way. One ends a “life” before it begins; the other ends a life that has already occurred and will soon end anyway. One likely causes some quick bit of suffering, while the other is guaranteed to cut short long-term suffering. I think it would be fairly easy to argue that euthanasia is more moral than abortion.

Some compare the number of abortions since Roe v. Wade to numbers of people killed in concentration camps or in the most deadly of wars. Sorry, but this is not an argument against abortion; it is simply comparing sets of numbers. The intent of this comparison is to convince us that abortion is a war, a “war on the unborn”. Again, this is an appeal to emotion, but it is also a false equivalence fallacy (killing a fetus is not equivalent to killing a soldier during war). Further, it takes away authority from their other arguments, such as the “abortion is murder” one, because a wartime casualty is, by definition (“unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another”), not the victim of murder. In the same way, abortion is not murder, if abortion is legal.

One of the most pointless I heard was within the past year: “What if you had been aborted?” Of course, this also isn’t an argument. Perhaps it might turn into one if I provided the response they were hoping for (I have no idea what they expected me to say). What I said was: “Then I wouldn’t have existed.” I also wouldn’t have existed if a particular spermatozoon hadn’t met a particular ovum. Or if the fertilized egg hadn’t attached correctly to the uterine lining, or if the pregnancy had spontaneously aborted at some point. And, of course, I didn’t exist for billions of years before I was born, and I won’t exist for billions of years after I die.

“What if the father wants to keep the baby?” is another one I’ve heard. It’s a question intended to confuse the discussion. They know you’ll respond that only the mother gets to choose, so then they can turn the argument into one about reverse-sexism — a red herring. In truth though, a man cannot possibly make a decision to be pregnant and carry a child to term. At least not with today’s medical technology. Perhaps someday it will be a simple matter for a medical technician to transfer a baby from the woman to a man. Currently it is not. Biologically, only the woman can be forced to act as an incubator for nine months.

There are other, sillier arguments that I won’t list here. As I noted above, I was once anti-abortion, and I once fell for most of these arguments. Perhaps the primary thing that changed my stance on this issue was examing each of these arguments in detail and realizing that not a single one holds any water.

Forcing Pregnancy/Childbirth Against Her Will Is Immoral

This one is simple:

By banning all abortions, a government forces some females to be pregnant and give birth against their will.

Our entire modern idea of human rights revolves around the idea that all of us have certain rights, unless exercising those rights tramples on someone else’s. For example, you have the right to live, unless whatever you require to live causes me to die. This is why so many, even conservatives, will often include exceptions such as “when the health of the mother is at stake”, when talking about abortion. It’s why the rape exception is included, even by many conservative and religious groups — because without that exception, a woman who was the victim of rape would be forced to incubate the rapist’s baby. It is generally understood that she has a right not to do that.

But what if the mother’s health isn’t at risk? What if she wasn’t the victim of rape or incest? What if she and her consenting sexual partner were simply thoughtless about the consequences of their actions? This is where progressives and regressives take different paths. The regressives want the woman (and notably only the woman) to suffer the consequences of those thoughtless actions, punishing her for at least nine months. This hearkens back to a time when women were considered the property of men, either not citizens at all or at best second-class citizens with an entirely different set of inferior rights.

The “it’s my body” argument isn’t whether the zygote is part of a woman’s body, but whether the rest of her is her body to rule as she pleases. To my knowledge, it is impossible to cause a man to be pregnant and give birth — and even if it was possible, no law would ever require him to carry a baby as a consequence of having sex — so his body remains his own, inviolate.

I have a sneaking suspicion (actually a very strong conviction) that if men could get pregnant as easily as women, then abortion would be completely legal and without restriction. Of course this is conjecture.

It remains that women are not respected as equal citizens with men if they are forced to be pregnant and deliver babies against their wills. Treating women as property or machines (incubators) is immoral.

Legal Abortions Are Safer Than Illegal Abortions

It is further known that prohibing abortion does not mean no abortions will occur. It means only that no legal abortions will occur. Studies have shown that abortion rates are about the same in countries where it’s legal as they are in countries where it is banned — about 31 abortions for every 100 live births.

Studies also show that, globally, you’re far more likely to encounter an “unsafe abortion” in countries where it’s illegal than where it’s legal. About ten times more likely. Women getting abortions are thirty-four times more likely to die when it’s illegal than when it’s legal.

I suppose a very extreme, hardline regressive might say “she got what she deserved”, but I can’t imagine anyone I know holding such an immoral, misogynistic stance. No matter what I think of a person’s decision-making skills or moral compass, if they decide to get an abortion, I want them to do it in a safe, clinical environment.

There Are Legitimate, Moral Reasons To Terminate Pregnancies

Nothing I say in this section will convince anyone who still believes “abortion is murder”; all I can do for them is redirect them back to the above section about the arguments against abortion. But for the rest of us, it should not be difficult to conceive of situations in which abortion is the more moral choice.

Even if you can’t think of such a reason, can you imagine that someone else might be able to think of such a reason? If they can, would you presume to impose your moral beliefs upon them?

To Save The Life Of The Mother

Probably the easiest one to consider is to save the life of the mother. Even the National Right to Life Committee has said it would allow for abortion in this circumstance, which is admittedly rare — anti-abortion groups claims it’s less than 1% of all abortions; others say it’s as high as 3%.

In The Case Of Rape

Another moral reason, with which most seem to agree, is when the pregnancy resulted from rape. In this case, admittedly, the pro-choice crowd often depends on an appeal to emotion, but there is more to it than that, if phrased as a moral question: “Is it moral to force a woman to bear the child of a rapist?” I know some women who probably would carry that baby to term, keep the child (not give it up for adoption), and love and protect it as fiercely as they would any other child, if not more so — to overcompensate for its origin. And I would not think any less of them for that. But those aren’t the women in question, are they? They would do that regardless of the legality of abortion. The question is whether someone should be forced to be pregnant with that child, and give birth to it (whether or not they later give it up for adoption), if she doesn’t want to. Most would view it as immoral to “punish” a rape victim in this fashion.

Other, More Ambiguous Reasons

There are many other reasons a female might choose to abort her pregnancy, reasons which could be argued are moral, though they often depend on conjecture and guesswork.

For example, some question whether it is moral to bring a child into certain poverty, where childhood mortality rates are much higher and those who survive are incredibly likely to remain poor — with all the risks that poverty entails, including, notably, a much higher chance of unwanted pregnancies. If a female living in abject poverty discovers she is pregnant and decides to terminate the pregnancy on the grounds that it will save the potential child from the rigors of such a life, it can certainly be argued that she is making a moral decision. Some, of course, insist that the moral thing to do is to bring the child into poverty and then just hope that it will be okay. (ddly many of those same people argue against social welfare programs designed to help those in poverty — I cannot fathom what their reasoning is. Perhaps it is my emotion speaking, but I don’t think I can agree with those people.

Poverty isn’t the only scary thing a potential child can face that make potential mothers consider abortions on moral grounds. Today, we can often know before a child is born whether they will suffer from particular disabilities or birth defects. Some have argued that in some of these cases a pregnant female makes the right decision to abort. Others argue that children born with disabilities or defects can have happy, fulfilling lives, and that considering abortion denies the dignity of living disabled people. This rebuttal doesn’t ring true for me, since no one is considering killing already-born people. Their dignity and rights are a separate matter. In the context of abortion, the female is considering the potential hazards a child might face if carried to term.

Reduce Unwanted Pregnancies Rather Than Banning Abortions

My last reason for advocating for legal abortions is that there is a better way to reduce abortions besides banning them. As I noted above, we know that abortion numbers stay about the same when they’re banned or legalized, and that they are about the same in various countries despite differing laws. Making abortion illegal does not prevent abortions.

On the other hand, it is known that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies does reduce the number of abortions. So, for someone who is anti-abortion, the clear answer is to work toward reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. Oddly, anti-abortion advocates generally are against that too, which seems like a clear case of hypocrisy. “I hate abortion but I also hate all the things that can reduce abortions” doesn’t leave you in a defensible position.

How can we reduce the number of unwanted or dangerous pregnancies?

Access to (and use of) contraception is known to be a huge difference between populations that have fewer abortions and populations that have more. No, contraception is not entirely effective, but it is incredibly and measurably more effective than not using contraception. In the past, some argued that abstinence was the most effective way to avoid pregnancy, so abstinence-only sex education was introduced in several states. Now, it is known that those states continue to have the highest rates of teen pregnancy (“teens in states that prescribe more abstinence education are actually more likely to become pregnant” and “states with comprehensive sex education have lower teen pregnancy rates”.)

It is also known that unwanted pregnancies are far more common among poor women than among affluent women, partly because they can’t afford contraception. Therefore, fighting poverty would be an excellent tool in reducing the number of abortions (and of course, might help solve other large issues, like... poverty).

Why The “Age Of Fetal Viability”?

Once we get past the “abortion is murder” nonsense, an obvious question is where do we draw the line? Should we allow abortion up through birth? After birth? All the way up to adulthood?

One obvious place to draw the line is at birth. After that point, the female is no longer required to be an incubator for the baby; she is at that point free to give it up for adoption.

But birth, especially today and especially in modernized countries, is not always natural. In many cases, labor is induced artificially. In many other cases, C-sections are scheduled. With these medical marvels, we prove that a baby can survive happily before it was ready to exit the womb naturally. Without these modern techniques, we know that the birth date is a moving target; after a certain point in the pregnancy, labor could begin at any time and result in a live birth.

We also today have a high rate of survival for babies born early, sometimes due to intense medical care but sometimes due to the baby’s natural ability to survive. This is why abortion rules often center around fetal viability. In the U.S., the Supreme Court has said the age is “about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks”, and defined viability as “potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid”. It is conceivable that medicine might advance someday to be able to keep alive even less developed infants.

(Important note: In real life, seven months is 30 weeks, not 28, but pregnancy and Supreme Court rulings are often not reflective of real life.)

This is the point at which a mother, who doesn’t want a baby, but who has chosen to carry it thus far, could give it up for adoption. Before this point, the chances of survival are slim, regardless of how it exits the womb. After this point, the chances of survival rise dramatically, regardless of how it exits the womb.

Considering all this, I don’t like to draw a hard/clear line, because circumstances differ for every pregnancy — “gestation isn’t an exact science”, someone once said. A very few babies have survived at a gestational age as young as 22 weeks, while some do not survive after gestating much longer. Naming an exact limit such as 24 weeks or 28 weeks would invariably cut off outliers on one side or the other. Much like I’m not a fan of exact age cutoffs in other laws (driving age, for example), I think there can be a range here, with doctors and parents making individualized decisions based on each case’s specific circumstances.

Final Notes

This “position paper” supercedes anything I’ve written or said in the past on this topic. If my position changes again, I will update this page and note the edits below.

My past writings on this topic go back as far as 2002, when I wrote “I do not fall into either the ‘Pro Life’ or the ‘Pro Choice’ category”. In that piece, I obviously misunderstood the “woman’s body” argument, and went on to show that I misunderstood other pro-choice arguments as well. Much of my phrasing was still stuck in my earlier anti-abortion view.

Three years later, I mentioned it again, but only in the context of a larger discussion. There, in 2005, it is clear I think that I fell somewhere in the middle of the argument.

By 2012, the next time I discussed abortion, my position had clearly changed. I referred to conservatives as “they”, and then declared there could be no middle ground. Two days later, I clarified that there are more than two possible positions on the issue, but that only two positions “make sense to me”. At the time, I was still grappling with the morality of allowing a woman a choice and hadn’t yet understood how forced pregnancy basically holds a woman hostage for several months.

Because my position on this issue has changed over the years, I assume it might change again, but I can’t currently conceive of how it could change. As with my past changes of mind, I assume that any changes in opinion would be spurred by gaining new knowledge and/or experience.


Edit, 2016.04.05: Added two paragraphs to the Life Begins At Conception section, clarifying that we know for a fact that this is not true, and referencing the “moving of the goalposts” that might occur when this is pointed out. Added this edits section. Added link to “Edits” into the More menu.

Edit, 2016.09.29: Added links to other position papers into the More menu.

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