What is it that’s being aborted?


Is it a fetus? Is it a baby? Is it a person, a child, or perhaps a human being?

In the ethics debates over abortion, the status of the aborted individual is no small matter. If that entity is a rights-bearing individual then abortion carries greater ethical weight than otherwise. It’s no surprise then that pro-life advocates tend to use terminology with “humanizing” qualities for the fetus while abortion-choice advocates tend to use terms laden with “dehumanizing” qualities.

The effort here is precision. Without delving into the deeper waters of the legal definition of “person,” or “baby,” what can we say about that thing inside the mother’s womb? What exactly is it that’s terminated in an abortion?

What Is It?

It’s human
Despite the apparent controversy over this point, at the popular level, there is no serious controversy about this point among scientists. biological human life is a scientific issue, among other things, and that qualifies experts in the various life sciences to speak authoritatively on this issue. And speak they have. Pediatrician Dr. Maureen Condic explains:

“The conclusion that human life begins at sperm-egg fusion is uncontested, objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other and on ample scientific evidence (thousands of independent, peer-reviewed publications). Moreover, it is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos. Indeed, this definition does not directly address the central ethical question surrounding the embryo: What value ought society place on human life at the earliest stages of development? A neutral examination of the evidence merely establishes the onset of a new human life at a scientifically well-defined ‘moment of conception,’ a conclusion that unequivocally indicates that human embryos from the one-cell stage forward are indeed living individuals of the human species; i.e., human beings.” (“A Scientific View of When Life Begins,” Lozier Institute [2014], pg. 5)

Scientifically speaking, it’s genetic markers and developmental trajectory clearly identify it as a member of the genus and species homo sapiens. As such, it’s a member of the human race, and is biologically identified as “human.” (see also, Whitepaper 1:1 [2008], and Princeton Site). Perhaps popular level discourse gets derailed on the legal or philosophical definition of personhood mistaking that for the more rudimentary issue of human-status (for example, see Sara Zhang, “Why Science Can’t Say When a Baby’s Life Begins,” Wired Magazine, 2 Oct 2015). If you don’t believe these sources, you can peruse a couple dozen more Handout.Conception Definition with Science Quotes which corroborate this conclusion.

It’s a Living Human.
Perhaps someone grants that it’s a “human” but it’s not alive in the normal sense of the word. It’s not alive like you and I are alive, right?

Well, it has all the biological qualities of life, from conception onward, it just manifests them differently with respect to its early stage of development. It a tiny, underdeveloped human still inside it’s mother so we can expect it’s attributes of life to manifest differently from us. But it’s not uncommon for species to manifest radically different mobility, nourishment, adaptations (etc.) relative to their stage of development. Meanwhile, there’s no serious scientific debate as to whether the human in utero is alive or dead. It’s clearly alive, having the attributes of life including (1) organized structure, (2) ingesting nourishment, (3) excreting waste, (4) responding to stimuli, (5) adapting to environment, and (6) it can reproduce (Source: Biology-Online).

It’s a Living Human Organism
Someone might object that “Just because it’s human doesn’t mean it’s human, right?”

Lots of things are “human” without being distinct members of the human race. For example, human hair, human skin cells, a human organ, or perhaps a severed human limb, these are all human but none of these are distinct members of the human race. They aren’t “humans” or “a human,” they are humans in the adjectival sense, where “human” is a descriptor characterizing something else: skin, hair, organ, etc.

But this mode of thinking doesn’t correctly describe the human in utero. Once fertilization has occurred, there exists a new individual human organism. It’s genetically distinct from it’s parents. It has, in itself, all the biological qualities of life (mentioned above). Moreover, it’s cellular composition includes specific specialized organelles, co-operating to achieve these different qualities. It’s a tiny machine. The human in utero is literally a biological organism, and it will remain the numerically same human organism, with the same single lifespan, till it dies even if that’s 100 years later as an old man or old woman.

It’s a Human Being
One of the more controversial terms in this debate doesn’t need to be controversial. “Human being” is a phrase often used synonymously with “person.” And at least since the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973, it’s a debating feaux paus to refer to the child-in-utero as a “person,” or similarly a “baby.” However, human being is a nominative sense of the word “human.” The word “human” can be an adjective, merely describing something else: “this looks like human language” or “these rags have human stitching.” The phrase “Human being” designates a “being” which is human. It’s the normal term for a “human,” whether “man, woman or child,” and for any member of the human race, that is, of the genus and species homo sapiens

Given these features, it is technically precise and judically permitted to call a human in utero a “human being.” But there is a problem. The term “human being” has both a general and a specific usage. It’s more general usage, is the one used here–any member of humankind, the human race, the genus and species homo sapiens. The more specific usage, and the more common use of the term “human being” is in the sense of “person,” i.e., human persons. On the pro-life side of this debate, there is no shortage of arguments offered to justify defining the human in utero as a “person.” But legally speaking, the Roe v. Wade decision has decided that humans in utero are only “potential persons.” It’s not considered a person in the eyes of the law, and therefore does not have the legal (and potentially ethical) protections promised to persons.

It’s Genetically Distinct From It’s Parents
Through the process of fertilization, also called conception, the two gamete cells–egg and sperm–fuse intermingling the genetic heritage of the father and mother. A new individual has begun, biologically speaking, since it has a wholly unique genetic thumbprint from either the mother or the father. Instead it has features of both the father and the mother, together.

In this way, the child may be in the mother’s body, connected to the mother, and perhaps even “part” of her body, yet it’s a genetically different organism from the mother, with a different set of biological blueprints than hers. The human in utero can have a different gender from the mother, different diseases and conditions from the mother, different blood type, and so on. One way to put it is that the human in utero relates to his or her mother in physical continuity but substantive discontinuity. They might be linked into a single chain, so to speak, but the links are made of different metal.

It’s a Child-in-Utero
So far, the terms have been scientific terms which have been vetted and agreed upon in the biological and life-sciences. The next term is a term of art established in legal/judicial discourse. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act (2004) established a legal precedent, only tangentially related to abortion-choice policy, wherein the yet-unborn child is called a “child-in-utero.” Since that law, and the court case history behind it, were not directly addressing abortion the court admitted a legally “safe ground” the phrase “child-in-utero.” Terms like “baby” or “person” might be contentious in a way that’s hard to prove, but the phrase “child-in-utero” is comparably easier to establish.

First, the fetal human stands in a child-to-mother relation with the pregnant woman. It is literally her biological offspring. And the normal term in life science for one’s offspring is one’s “child.” And, second, since that child remains in the womb for the duration of the pregnancy, it is a literally a “child-in-utero.” (Lat. in utero = “in the uterus”). Indeed the word “fetus,” by Latin etymology, means “offspring.”

This phrase, “child-in-utero” might be offensive to some because “child” has connotative force roughly the same as “baby” or “kid.” But the terms remains a part of case law, having legal precedent, and it’s biologically defensible since it’s literally the child of it’s mother and it’s in utero. Moreover, the term “child-in-utero” is a clear descriptor, identifying the relation of the individual (a child of it’s mother), it’s location (inside the mother’s womb), it’s developmental stage (Zygote, Embryo, or Fetus).

It’s Legally Innocent
Obviously, the child-in-utero cannot rightly be held legally responsible for any crimes any more than 10 month old toddler could. It stands legally innocent before the law. And therefore can not qualify for any capital crime whereby, perhaps, a capital punishment could be passed down on a convicted criminal.

It’s Natural
Abortion debates don’t always venture into the wider world of bioethics, but sometimes they do, and so it can be important to remember that the developmental process, from fertilization through child-birth is a natural process. For what it’s worth, some bioethics issues aren’t dealing in natural processes in the same sense as pregnancy is a natural process. Human beings naturally multiply by sexual reproduction, with an intermingling of two parent genomes through a typically 9-month gestation period.

Medical technology, however, has allowed some flexibility in these “natural” conventions. Some premature births as early as 22 weeks. The earliest surviving “preemie”. James Elgin Gill, born in 1988, was born after only 21 weeks 5 days in utero and is a healthy college student today. We owe a great debt to medical technology for raising the survival rates for premature births. But medical technology has also raised some dicier dilemmas at the borders of human life, including human cloning and in-vitro fertilization. These issues raise some difficult questions worth exploring in bioethics, but for our purposes here, we can note that these scenarios aren’t clearly ‘natural’ in the same sense as conventional pregnancy. Conventional pregnancy is a normal human biological process “built into” human physiology and psychology via the reproductive processes of sexual intercourse, insemination, gestation, and eventual birth.

But Is it a Fetus?
One conventional term for children-in-utero is “fetus.” This term is true enough, for most purposes. “Fetus” refers to a developmental stage from week 8 onward. Technically, however, it’s not the proper term for weeks 1-2, after conception (The “zygote” stage), or weeks 3-7 (the “embryo” stages). Hence “fetus” is the wrong term for the child-in-utero during weeks 1-7 but only begins to correctly describe the entity from week 8 onward.

Nevertheless, the term “fetus” has come to be used as a generic reference to the child-in-utero, perhaps, in part because it avoids such terms as “baby,” “human,” or “person.” These other terms might suggest pro-life bias. Granting this colloquial usage is fine for what it’s worth: “Fetus” has some value as a term-of-art because it does point out that thing inside the mother’s womb. And it distinguishes it from things like a “tumor” or some otherwise undeveloped amorphous entity.

However the term “fetus” still lacks precision because it doesn’t distinguish the entity inside of human mothers. Put another way, we may ask, “What kind of fetus is it? Is it bovine? Equine? What?” It’s a human fetus.

In the phrase “human fetus,” fetus is a descriptor signifying a developmental stage of something, but it does not itself point out what that thing is. The supporting word “human” is needed for clarification. We can however use “fetus” in a nominative sense letting the descriptor borrow an implied object, as in, “She wants to abort her fetus” or “He’s no longer a fetus, he’s a full-grown adult.” The descriptor is used in a nominative sense as “[human] fetus,” and “[human] adult.”

Grammatically speaking, nominative usage–like “fetus” for “fetal human”–is allowed, but in this setting it risks undue bias by not allowing the demonstrable key feature, which pro-lifers try to emphasize, it’s status as a human.

But Is It a Clump of Cells or Tissue?
Abortion-choice advocates sometimes use phrases like “its’ just a clump of cells,” or “lump of tissue,” etc. This terminology is exclusively used among abortion-choice advocates and pretty clearly ignores the biology and medical knowledge we have about that entity. Perhaps in a tenuous sense we could call a living human organism a “clump of cells” or “lump of tissue,” but that description connotes unorganized or perhaps non-living matter. That’s a poor descriptor for a genetically distinct living human organism. And it risks rhetorically loaded language. After all you and I are “just a clump of cells,” if we are allowing that genetically distinct, natural, living, human organisms qualify as “just a clump of cells.”

But Is It a Pregnancy?
This one might seem unnecessary or even silly, but there’s a valuable distinction worth mentioning here. One of the common definitions of abortion is “terminating a pregnancy.” If abortion terminates something, well, then that terminated something could be a pregnancy right? The child-in-utero is the obvious distinguishing feature proving the mother’s pregnancy. But the entity, the child-in-utero, is not the same as the process of pregnancy. Pregnancy is a natural process, it is not an individual. The child-in-utero is an individual, undergoing a process called pregnancy. But it is not identical with the pregnancy. That definition of abortion–as “terminating a pregnancy”–is a bad definition anyway, since child-birth terminates a pregnancy too. Any definition of abortion which equally suits child-birth is a bad definition. The child-in-utero is the defining feature of a pregnancy but is not identical with the pregnancy.

Clearer definitions, here, add “terminating a pregnancy before the fetus is viable” (i.e., can survive outside the womb). This is a better definition of “abortion,” except that it risks the same problems as the “fetal” definition above. If a human being is killed, by abortive measures, in week 7 it’s not yet a fetus, but still subject to abortion.

But Is It a Product of Conception?
One of the more clever terms of art that has been coined in the age of abortion-choice policy is “product of conception.” This language is technically correct, in that the child-in-utero is a product of conception. But seeing as how you and I are products of conception too, that’s not a great identifying term.

Still, this language has some advantages over the terms “fetus” and “clump of cells.” It doesn’t specify a stage of development, only the results of a stage of development (conception). So it does not misidentify the child-in-utero as a fetus, when it might be an embryo, or a zygote. Also, it’s not committed to any particular identification or marker for that entity. Functionally, this phrase is very useful for abortion providers since it is extremely depersonalized, lacking any humanizing connotations.

However, it’s generality sacrifices precision. Because the phrase is so broad, it include, besides the child-in-utero, other organic results from conception such as the amniotic fluid, the umbilical cord, and the amniotic sack. There’s no abortion debate regarding the destruction of amniotic fluid, unless perhaps that fluid is being tampered with in a way that helps or harms the child-in-utero. To refer to the child-in-utero in the sweeping phrase “product of conception” includes too much in it’s borders. The child is biologically and organically distinct from it’s food source, its feeding tube, and its surrounding environment.

Moreover, this descriptor is only that, a description and not an identifying term. This phrase is a kind of working/approximate definition, where we are referring to things not for what they are but for some process or secondary qualities associated with them. Linguistically this is adequate in some cases, and it might be the best we can do in other cases. But when it comes to children-in-utero it risks duplicity when the phrase neatly avoids admitting just what kind of entity is being aborted, and we have plenty of evidence and knowledge and associated terminology to call it what it is. Linguistically, it’s a poor reference term which exclusively employs round-about descriptors when we have plenty of suitable, established identifiers for a thing.

We can illustrate the problem with an analogy. Suppose we spoke of an individual not by name, or title, or family, but by saying “I mean the one with the Hawaiian shirt and the long hair over there.” We might be able to identify which individual is indicated. But we still don’t know if it’s a corpse? A manikin? A woman? A Man? Or a dressed up pig at a pet parade?

Similarly, with the phrase “product of conception,” we can rightly ask what is the product of conception? Is it a human being? A blastocyst? A cow? A pig? A tumor? By staying intentionally ambiguous, one risks biasing the speaker with ignorance, as if one does not want to know what that thing is which has results from conception.


In summary, we can safely say that the object or entity in question is a child-in-utero, a natural living human organism; it is legally innocent and genetically distinct from it’s parents. Prolifers may be tempted to call it a “baby” or a “person,” but there are plenty of non-contentious and, perhaps, easier to defend terms and qualifiers to choose from instead.

Other terms of art, often used in this debate are problematic and risk misidentifying the child-in-utero: “fetus” (which is only one of several stages of development in utero), “product of conception” (which includes things like the amniotic sack, the umbilical cord, and fluid), and “pregnancy” (which is the biological process, not the entity undergoing that process).

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Research Notes on Abortion

For those of you who attended my talk at the NCCA (2015), here are PDF’s of the (1) Complete Notes, (2) Prolife Arguments, and (3) Prochoice Objections.

Handout.Complete Notes: The Case Against Abortion

Handout.30 Prolife Arguments


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If Men could get pregnant . . .

One of the arguments common in the abortion debate is a thought experiment about male pregnancy.

The theorized scenario goes something like this:

If men could get pregnant, then [insert prochoice outcome, like . . .]

  • birth-control would be given out like tic tacs
  • abortion would be virtually mandatory
  • there’d be 10x’s as many abortions
  • the prolife movement wouldn’t exist
  • etc.

At the heart of this thought experiment there is some semblance of a noble motive. The abortion debate is laden with gender issues, classic and modern, political, societal, local and individual. Men don’t always understanding the plight of women in this day and age, or for that matter, at any age in the past. Perhaps men would be more caring and compassionate towards young mothers, unwed mothers, or otherwise reluctant mothers if men could get married. This point is valid, insofar as it goes. 

This thought experiment, however, has some major limitations which make it an unreliable tool in the abortion debate.

(1) Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.
By using a hypothetical scenario that is very different from the known world and laden with untestable conjecture, it constitutes a logical fallacy called “hypothesis contrary to fact which.” If men could get pregnant then that would be a weird nether-world totally unlike this one, and therefor ethically irrelevant to this conversation.

(2) It’s Invented On the Spot
How could a person gain knowledge of this fictional world? Since this pregnant-male world doesn’t exist, one would have to be inventing it; a fictional world. But being fiction, all logic and reason go out the window. Once principled reasoning goes, then it becomes silly to argue about it, since one can just invent the rules for this alternate world as he or she goes along. This is a fine practice for creative writing or story-telling, but doesn’t get us very far in analyzing the ethics of abortion.

(3) If it’s “similar” to this world, then we can’t assume a pro-choice outcome
If men could get pregnant, and we are trying to somehow stay “true” to the order and reasoning of this world, then we can’t assume that the male sex drive, or men’s approach to family, or their operations in society, or their sense of gender would go unchanged. But if those things changed in keeping with this theorized shift in child-bearing, then the anticipated prochoice outcome wouldn’t necessarily follow either. It could be that conservative approaches to sex, marriage, and family would follow if men assume responsibility for child-bearing. But we can’t really know one way or another because, of #2–this scenario is invented on the spot. 

(4) Non-sequitur.
For the sake of argument, if male pregnancy was the only thing to change, somehow, and let us suppose further that that tweak on the facts would generate a much higher abortion rate, or a much more liberalized abortion policy, or a proliferation of birth-control–then we are still left with the same question we started with. Is abortion ethical? That scenario would result in abortion being common, and a range of related behaviors proliferating, but none of that shows whether or not the child-in-utero has a right to life. Societies have shaped law and policy to suit gross injustice in the past, and we have no reason to assume we couldn’t do it again. If abortion numbers skyrocketed, well that could just be skyrocketing evil.

(5) Ad Populum/Consensus Gentium
In this pregnant-male scenario, where abortion is common, we cannot, from that stipulation assume that abortion would be ethical. Evil can be popular, or even universal. As such, that scenario commits a fallacious appeal to majority, that is, the Ad Populum–if it argues on the basis of popularity, or the Consensus Gentium–if it argues on near universal agreement. Bad ideas and wicked practices can be popular and widely believed

In summary, the male-pregnancy scenario does nothing to prove that a liberal abortion policy is ethical. It does however raise an interesting consideration to help men sympathize better with the plight of women. 

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Is Consent to Sex Consent to Pregnancy?

PregnantOne of the pivotal conceptual keys to the abortion debate is whether and how sex relates to pregnancy. Specifically, are people consenting to pregnancy when they consent to sex? Pro-lifers typically assert a strong and ethically charged relation where consent to sex is a kind of natural invitation to pregnancy. The woman may not willingly or knowingly be inviting pregnancy, especially if the couple is using different kinds contraception, such as condoms and birth-control pills. However, she is still engaging in a sex act, and since contraceptive practices all have a margin of error, she may still get pregnant. If pregnancy should happen, Pro-lifer’s argue, then she now has the responsibility of carrying that child to term–it’s her responsibility which she invited on herself by using nature’s way of making babies. Meanwhile, pro-choicers are liable to argue that sex and pregnancy are divided; having sex is not an invitation to pregnancy. Who is right?

Well, depending on what you mean by “consent” both sides can be right. If consent is understood strictly in terms of knowingly and intentionally desiring non-pregnancy as an outcome of sex, then a woman would not be consenting to pregnancy. We may call that “strict consent.” By this strict sense, consent refers to adult informed consent, that is, reasonably well-informed willful desire for an outcome or against an outcome. This notion entails some combination of expectations, intention, hope or purpose. However there’s another sense wherein consent should either be stretched to include other things than what is specifically desired or the pregnancy should be thought of as a duty-bearing outcome of the consensual sex-act.

Consent to a Forest Fire

Suppose a woman named Elle does not want to start a forest fire, does not expect to start a forest fire, and does not think she will start a forest fire with her actions, yet, she nevertheless applies a lit match to a dry tree along the highway beside a dense Northern Californian forest. She fully understands how fires work, and how that part of California has a propensity for forest fires. She was playing a trick on a friend, Jay, pretending to start a fire but secretly expecting that the match would be blown out by the stiff winds before it touched the wood. She likes playing tricks on her friend Jay. They play tricks on each other, and have fun doing so. She was acting purely for innocent pleasure motives. Unfortunately, despite her intentions, the match did not blow out and the tree immediately caught spark and lit up like a torch. Other trees ensued in the blaze.

Did Elle start a forest fire? Yes. Did she start it knowingly? Yes. Did she intend to start it? No. But is she still legally and ethically culpable for starting that fire? Yes. The responsibility for starting the forest fire falls on her. Her intentions were betrayed by her actions. Put another way, she physiologically consented to the forest fire even if mentally she did not consent to it. She enabled what she did not want. She is morally responsible for enabling it, and it is of secondary importance whether she wanted that outcome or not. She gave a kind of consent.

Consent to Heartburn

Perhaps another illustration would help us understand consent in terms of free consequences. There is a consequential aspect of freedom. People may have the legal and ethical right to conduct themselves in at least a generally “free” way. People may choose their activities, their words, their lifestyle, their vocation, their lovers. But they do not have the liberty to choose whether to accept the consequences (including subsequent responsibilities) of their free actions. No one’s liberty has been violated if they eat a chili cheese dog and receive heartburn, without consent. Heartburn may still occur for people who are prone to acid reflux, and it may even occur for people who take preventive medicine.

In the case of heartburn, no human life hangs in the balance so there’s no ethical quandry about whether to “kill” the heartburn. But there’s still a relevant parallel. No one’s freedom has been violated, nor injustice committed, if the consequences are natural outcomes of freely chosen acts.

Consent to Mothering an Infant

Likewise, a woman may not want her infant child because she stopped consenting to motherhood after the child’s 2nd birthday. But that ship has already sailed. She has no rightful freedom to kill her infant child. Never mind whether she consents to motherhood or not. Birthing a child and being a mother to that child–even if she later refuses consent–is sufficient for establishing a legal duty to care for that child or see that it is surrendered to be cared-for by someone else. Killing the infant is clearly overkill. Consent to the cause is consent to the effect.

Furthermore, even if she never consented to mother the child, she still has a natural consequence and it is not clear (beyond a reasonable doubt) that killing the child (in utero or ex utero) is an ethical option. The human child in utero is now an interested party, whose personal future hangs in the balance. Had this child been the product of rape (an unchosen consequence), or otherwise unjustly introduced, say, through some mad scientist’s experiment, then this line of argument might not follow.

However, as it stands, anyone advocating for some “right” to kill morally and legally guiltless human beings on the basis of someone else’s consent has clearly not satisfied the burden of proof when it comes to deliberating over and administering death sentences.

Physiological Consent

Returning then to the notion of physiological consent, the sex act can be thought of as physiological consent to pregnancy. When two people, capable of conceiving and bearing a child, engage in heterosexual intercourse they are partaking in a physiological invitation for pregnancy. One might say that our bodies are designed or made to make babies this way. Adults should not be surprised if intercourse generates pregnancy. Frankly, this is how people across human history have thought of sex and pregnancy. Sex is the normal, natural, and well-known way for making babies so that if one does not want to make a baby, one should not have sex. If one wants to have sex without making babies, he or she is still responsible if an accidental pregnancy ensues. More recent contraceptive measures and abortion, since 1973, have given people a host of ways to try to divide sex from pregnancy. But if two consenting adults engage in heterosexual intercourse and the sperm and egg meet, and a child is conceived, they have consented to the outcome in the sense of extending the natural means of inviting that consequence.

Thus, the pro-choicer is left with a strict sense of “consent,” consenting to sex does not entail consenting to pregnancy. A person can want one of these and not the other. But this objection isn’t sufficient to discredit the other type of consent. It doesn’t clearly achieve the degree of evidence needed to satisfy the burden of proof (for administering a death sentence). Plenty of doubts remain before one can conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it’s ethically permission to intentionally kill the fetal human being. Meanwhile, this other sort of consent, “physiological sense” remains as a plausible pro-life alternative. Having sex is itself the consent, the invitation, to pregnancy. One can want either or both, but the sex act itself constitutes physiological consent to pregnancy at least insofar as a moral duty ensues as the act itself is a kind of consent irrespective of one’s strict intentions. Likewise, a person who lights a tree on fire has given the relevant kind of consent to starting a forest fire, even if it was an accident.

Pro-lifers, therefore have a few options. Pro-lifers can ague that consent is either not necessary or consent can be physiological such that if a woman gets pregnant because of consensual sex, she is morally culpable for that outcome (i.e., she is morally responsible as a mother to her child). The pro-choicer has to object to the analogies and consider this “physiological consent” either illicit, inadequate, or inapplicable, while doubling down on the more commonly accepted sense of “informed adult consent.”

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Can children-in-utero feel pain?

20_weeks (1)The Pain Capable Act (HR 1797, “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”), effectively banning abortion after 20 weeks, just passed the house this May (2015) and is set to go before the Senate. As of today it’s being reviewed in a judiciary committee. If it passes the Senate, it will likely be vetoed by President Obama. If children-in-utero do feel pain, then most (perhaps all) senate democrats and the President consider that a worthwhile cost in protecting late-term abortion as a right (20+ weeks).

Advocates for this bill have been accused of duplicitous motives, namely, an incremental attack aimed at abolishing abortion. Instead of seeking to reduce fetal pain or support women’s interests, so it is said, the aim is to repeal Roe vs. Wade and get rid of abortion-choice in America.

That accusation may be true or false but in targeting motives instead of laws and actions, it misses the mark. That tactic can be called the “motivational fallacy” for treating motives as if they, by themselves, are sufficient to decide the wisdom, truth, or goodness of a claim. While motives can matter, it’s not clear that they count for very much here. It is sufficient for the purposes of congress to seek to limit needless pain inflicted willfully and aggressively against innocent human beings. Psychoanalytic conjecture about people’s motives is not the proper job of congress. Instead, their job is to pass and repeal laws. In this case, the law concerns the alleged pain of children-in-utero. This pain is, relatively, easy to legally prohibit thus discouraging, reducing, and perhaps ending it for the vast majority of endangered children-in-utero.

Pain is Abstract
There are some roadblocks to this legislation however, not the least of these being the abstract nature of “pain.” Children in utero allegedly feel pain as early as 8 weeks gestation and at least by week 20. “Alleged” is the proper term here because the nature of pain is private, and there are some problems with quantifying pain as an object for legal analysis. One cannot extract pain, measure it out in a beaker, and divide it into parts. It’s not a public object like that. It’s deeply private, being a subjective state of experience. There’s no amount of scientific analysis that can ever bridge the medical doctor or the lab technician into another person’s felt experience of pain.

Being a subjective experience, people can rationally doubt it’s existence for anyone besides themselves. This position would be extreme. But one is at liberty to doubt any other person’s pain. Some people exaggerate, imagine, or lie about their pain. It is rationally justified to doubt “the boy who cried wolf.” In other cases, people may experience real pain, but it’s private nature leaves it’s unverifiable in the public’s eye. A friend of mine suffers from chronic pain. Her pain has defied medical diagnosis and yet it persists in a punishing debilitating way. Her own father remains skeptical to this day. He thinks it’s “all in her head.” Pain operates like this. It can be very real yet forever defy objective analysis. People can question each other’s pain and be perfectly rational in doing so.

When it comes to children-in-utero one can rationally doubt whether it feels pain since it’s felt experience of pain sensations is intrinsically private.

The Burden of Proof
This manner of objection, however, is deeply problematic. If we concede that it’s okay to cause what might be pain in a gestating fetus because we aren’t sure it actually feels pain then we have shifted the burden of proof the wrong way. The safe default position is to refrain from harming other human being unless otherwise justified beyond a reasonable doubt. The heavier burden of proof lies on those who want to harm human beings. This is why we are to approach warfare with such reverent trepidation, and why some parts of the world have banned the death penalty altogether. It is not enough to think that humans probably aren’t being harmed; no, we must be sure that they aren’t being harmed. This is the measure we use for administering punitive judgments against criminals. They are considered innocent until proven guilty. Before inflicting pain/harm/suffering on a criminal, we must prove that it is justified beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Philosophy, there is a skeptical problem termed the “Problem of Other Minds.” This problem refers to the difficulty, among hyper-skeptical theorists, in identifying whether and how other minds exist besides one’s own mind. While this problem plagues some philosophers, it doesn’t bother non-philosphers much at all. Why is that? We have common sense knowledge that other people, who live and act in roughly comparable ways to our own experience, are probably real people. We do not start with universal doubt, rejecting everything that we can’t prove with 100% certainly. Instead, we start with a basic and common sense awareness of things. We can even allow that there’s a possibility that reality is radically different from how it seems, but we don’t abandon our preliminary assumptions about other minds, or their experience of pain, unless some overwhelming reason is offered for doubting that operating assumption.

Now no one is asserting that children-in-utero have “minds” in any sophisticated sense, nor do we even need them to have a”mind” in any useful sense at all. If children-in-utero have the physiology correlate with pain, and if their behavior is known to mimic that of pain sensations, then we have sufficient reason for thinking that they can feel pain. The burden of proof, remember, is on those who intend to permit inflicting pain on them. If they cannot show that the fetuses apparent pain is illusory then we are justified in assuming they actually feel pain.

Fetuses Have the Features for Feeling Pain
As it turns out, children-in-utero do have the material and active features corresponding to pain reception.

“At 20 weeks, the fetal brain has the full complement of brain cells present in adulthood, ready and waiting to receive pain signals from the body, and their electrical activity can be recorded by standard electroencephalography (EEG).”
Dr. Paul Ranalli, neurologist, University of Toronto

“An unborn baby at 20 weeks gestation “is fully capable of experiencing pain. … Without question, [abortion] is a dreadfully painful experience for any infant subjected to such a surgical procedure.”
Robert J. White, M.D., PhD., professor of neurosurgery, Case Western University

Many more medical professionals could be cited in support of this growing concensus. That is, children-in-utero have the neurology to receive pain signals through a comprehensive neural system linking to the thalamus (where pain reception occurs) as well as respond to those signals through their endocrinology  (hormonal release) and muscular systems (responding to environment, avoiding injury). All of these are present at least by the 20th week of development.

Specifically, children-in-utero are known to avoid forcepts, resist poking and prodding, squirm under the knife, and in the case of fetal surgery they have to be anaesthetized because they move as if they felt pain. Indeed fetal surgeons are required to administer anesthesia for fetuses 18 wks or older.

Moreover, we have reason to think that the fetal experience of pain is worse than comparable acts on neonatals.

[20 weeks development is a] “uniquely vulnerable time, since the pain system is fully established, yet the higher level pain-modifying system has barely begun to develop.”
Dr. Ranalli

At a common sense level, everyone seems to feel pain at some point in their life, and we understand that it should not be inflicted needlessly on other human beings. We have a vast scientific knowledge about the material features of pain in the human body. The whole medical industry turns, in large part, on its ability to understand and treat pain. Generally speaking, pain is a problem to be solved, not a solution to be administered. The essence of medicine is to reduce pain and harm and foster health and life where possible. These are the the complementary Medical principles of beneficence and non-malfeasance. It’s medically self-defeating to inflict pain unto death on a healthy human being with no medical benefit to that human being.

Given these reasons, it’s unethical and, perhaps, should be illegal, to cause pain unto death in innocent human beings where no medical benefit is intended for that human being. We have every common sense reason to believe that fetal human beings can feel pain at least by 20 weeks development. It is our duty as a society to enact laws to minimize or abolish practices which intentionally inflict pain on otherwise innocent human beings. Such evidence would certainly weigh against slavery, or rape, or child abuse. In the same way, abortion after 20 weeks gestation violates the societal duty to not harm innocent human beings. Therefore, abortion at 20 weeks is unjustified with respect to fetal pain.

* https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1797
* https://www.congress.gov/congressional-report/113th-congress/house-report/109/1
* http://www.doctorsonfetalpain.com/answering-the-pain-deniers/#.VWZ6kE_BzGc
* http://www.doctorsonfetalpain.com/fetal-pain-the-evidence/5-documentation/#.VWZu-E_BzGc
* http://www.mccl.org/unborn-babies-can-feel-pain.html
* http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=%22Glover%20V%22%5BAuthor%5D [Glover has several articles showing the apparent experience of pain in fetuses]

Posted in Abortion Laws, Abortion Practices, Ethics of Abortion, Philosophy of Abortion, When does Life Begin? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Abortion Safe?

Some pro-choice advocates suggest that abortion should be “safe, rare, and legal.” But what if it’s not safe at all?

Well, the abortion-choice advocate can point out that maternal deaths have gone down significantly in the history of abortion. Medically “safe” practices have expanded to give more options and methods to reduce undue risks. That said, it is naive to suggest that abortion is a safe, neutral or even a good option.

Death isn’t safe.
The child always dies in an abortion, and that’s hardly safe. And in those rare cases of botched abortions where the baby survives, there are still abortion-rights advocates who think that infanticide is permissible.

Intrinsic Risks
Because of intrinsic risks in abortion procedures, the sheer number of injuries and deaths has risen, in spite of advances in medical technology and safety practices. Legalized abortion has fostered a much higher abortion rate than anyone in the early 1970’s could have imagined. What was thought to be in the order of 10,000 or so abortions ballooned up to over 1,000,000+ per year, a 10-fold growth. Even with relatively “safe” practices, there is always some incidence of malpractice and accidents so that injuries and death occur. The percentages have lowered for botched abortions, maternal injury, and maternal death, but because of the swollen numbers abortions, the sheer amount of injuries and death have gone up.

Moral Harms
Morally, it’s not safe to one’s conscience to conduct willful killing of human life. The human conscience is a malleable thing, and it’s risky to stretch and tear at it with such morally questionable practices like abortion. Such practices invariably involves playing God, determining death for another innocent human being. Cultural Corruption Culturally, the abortion industry has been a major step towards a “culture of death.” We compromise our moral character as a culture when we treat willful convenience killing like its justified and good. Similarly, sympathies have grown for active euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, and the “sanctity of life” view has waned as the “quality of life” view has grown.

Economic Damage
Economically, it’s not safe to link killing and profits. The abortion industry is literally in the business of death-profiteering. Sure it’s normally okay to make lots of money through legal measures, but, in the long-run it’s a self-defeating venture to make money off of killing millions of future employees, future tax payers, and future family members. Who will take care of the present baby booming generation? With 1-2 children to each household there are fewer family options to turn to. More often than not, that role has to be farmed out to nursing homes. That’s expensive. And of course, it’s immoral to put a profit incentive on baby-killing. If the argument against monetizing death ever worked regarding “war for oil” accusations, the abortion industry has amped it up ten fold (in the order of 58 million abortions).

Social Risks Socially, an “abortion climate” continues to ease and affirm sex outside of marriage–which is unsafe to society. How is it unsafe to society? The sex industry has skyrocketed ever since the “free-love” sixties raising divorce rates, raising the rates of sex slavery, raising the profitability and lowering the inhibitions about pornography, raising the incidence and varieties of VD’s, not to mention causing a whole lot of naive young ladies heartbreak when they’ve “put out” only to find that the boy lost interest in them after using them for sex.

Legal Dangers
Legally speaking, abortion is a rapists best friend. Rapists and sex traffickers don’t have any need for babies. Pregnant victims carry around DNA evidence (the baby) for at least 9 months and get into conversations about the father. But sex offenders want silent victims and no evidence–abortion serves both purposes.  One would think that abortion clinics would anticipate this potential problem and never let it happen. But unfortunately Clinics have been known to comply with those crimes.

Medical Dangers
Medically speaking, and with some disputation, its not even safe for the mother. Maternal mortality has declined in the 20th and 21st centuries, but given the heightened incidence of infertility, and suicide rates among abortive mothers suggest it’s not safe for them either. Psychologically, with abortion, the chances of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder skyrocket for women who’ve had an abortion. Likewise increased are such social problems as abuse and divorce. We can’t say that the social factors are “caused” by abortion, but they seem to be found together suggesting something like, “Women who have abortions are more likely the people who get in abusive relationships and who get divorced, whether or not the abortion causes those things.” Many studies have sought to mitigate other studies claiming that abortion generates mental health problems. This facet of the “safety” issue is not settled but there do remain current, vindicating, sources pointing towards the widely admitted fact that having an abortion is traumatic. By self-report, women are known to turn to drug and drink, and escalate prior mental health issues, all correlating with their abortion. Given these facts one cannot honestly say that abortion is safe. The best case one can make, while being honest about the facts, is that it is a necessary evil in regards to some really tough cases.

*Originally posted May 13, 2015 at IntelligentChristianFaith.com

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The Injustice Argument Against Abortion


Courtesy of QEDFoundation

Pro-choice advocates are known to argue for abortion access on the basis of sexism in history, namely, women have been oppressed and marginalized over the ages and chief among these are traditional role expectations in patriarchal (male-centered) societies. Abortion, in that case, represents a means of liberating women from that stricture so she can pursue education, employment, property ownership, business management, and various outlets that are hard to access for pregnant women and mothers.

This avenue of argument, however, works both ways. Injustice is not unique to women. To be sure, there have been many injustices foisted on women over the ages. It would be too involved here to attempt to identify whether that array of injustices are overwhelmingly caused by men specifically, by nature, by God, country, religion, or culture. But, there are many injustices in the world, and women, as such, are not the only victims. Children-in-utero are also subject to victimization. No child-in-utero has ever been guilty of a capital crime hence no child-in-utero ethically deserves the equivalent of capital punishment–i.e., willful prescripted killing. It may be legal to have an abortion, but many injustices have been legal before too. The injustice argument is not restricted to considerations of legality or illegality.

For every injustice women have suffered, there is liable to be a child-in-utero that has been comparably harmed or worse. For the sake of argument, however, let us suppose that the plight of women is so unique that it does not admit comparison to the plight of children-in-utero. By this supposition, oppression against women is not considered better or worse than the plight of children-in-utero. Their oppression/suffering/harm is just different.

Now comes the crux of the argument: Injustice is no cure for injustice.

Admitting that women have endured injustice, it does not seem like a viable solution to extend to them the option to commit injustice against their own children-in-utero, namely, to kill their offspring. The plight of women can be horrible, and pro-life advocates should never diminish or dismiss that fact. Women endure higher numbers of rape than man, lower pay in the workplace, and are exclusively burdened with child-bearing. Not to mention there are countless ways that society and culture can burden them with unreasonable expectations and restrictions too subtle to measure or prove. But granting all of that, we are left then wondering if abortion is a viable option to help “equalize” things.

If injustice is no cure for injustice, then it appears that we need to find other solutions besides abortion if we are to achieve even an approximate equality for women. Stated formally, the argument is that:

Premise 1) Abortion is unjust towards children-in-utero
Premise 2) Injustice (against children-in-utero) is no cure for injustice (against women).
Conclusion) Therefore, the fact of injustice against women fails to justify abortion.

To sum up, abortion is injustice. And the victimization of women, however real and pronounced it may be, is no excuse to multiply injustice in the form of abortion. It does not vindicate women to complicate their injustice by complying with, participating in, or even advocating for further injustice.

Posted in Ethics of Abortion, Philosophy of Abortion, Sex an Sexuality, Uncategorized, Women's Issues | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment