About abortion

When does a cell become human?

Is a human egg cell that has just been invaded by a spermatozoid already a human being?

There are people who feel that the correct answer is “yes”. If you answer yes, then abortion is –of course– a form of murder because the right to life of the unborn child is more important than their parent’s right to avoid problems or troubles. Abortion is usually done because the child disturbs the mother’s life. A murder is when you kill a human being because it disturbs your own life.

And if you feel that the correct answer is “no”, then –of course– you wonder how some stubborn moralizers attack your liberty of doing what you want with your body.

What makes you assume that a fertilized egg cell actually is already a human being? Why not wait until week 6 when its heart starts to beat? Or until week 21 when there is no known case of a premature born baby that actually survived? Or until the first breath after birth, as some biblicist religions say? And why should we stop at birth? But what makes you say that a one-year-old baby is already a human being? After all it can’t even survive on its own. And why not wait until they are 18 years old and legally adult? And do you then agree that people with some disorder are human beings at all?

When does a human become human? There is no scientifically clear answer to the question because “humanity” is not a measurable value.

I’d even bet that scientists will never be able to answer this question because it is not their business, it is out of the scope of scientific research.

A controversial topic

So one thing seems clear: abortion will always remain a controversial topic.

And repeating ever more forcefully that “children in the womb are human beings and members of the human family entitled to the right to life by virtue of their inherent dignity and worth”[1], doesn’t really bring new insight for any decision. Neither does it help to repeat that you believe “in the sanctity and protection of all human life” or to call others to “boldly stand up for the protection of life, against the liberal and destructive spirit of the age, against the attacks on life”.[2]

Vance Morgan[7] describes the abortion topic as an example of idolatry that caused Donald Trump to become president of the United States: “I am willing to turn a blind eye to and ignore any moral failings, even the most obvious and blatant ones, as long as the person in question has the right moral position on this one issue,” the evangelical Trump supporter says. (…) [I]n his evangelical supporter’s estimation, even murder doesn’t occupy the same moral universe as being right about abortion. One issue –being pro-life on the abortion issue– has been raised in status to being the only thing that matters. The abortion issue has become the only moral issue. And that, my friends, is idolatry.”

Civil laws

The fundamental question is unanswered, but reality needs decisions. We need civil laws about questions related to abortion because things happen.

Because the fundamental question has two possible controversial answers, abortion laws vary considerably between jurisdictions, ranging from outright prohibition to public funding of abortion.[3]

These differences are not because pro-choice supporters support murder, it is because prenatal development is a continuum, with no clear defining feature distinguishing an embryo from a fetus.

Late-term abortion is usually prohibited even in countries where early-term abortion is considered a simple routine remedy for “accidents”. So where is the limit between early-term and late-term? When does a human start to be a human? At the beginning of pregnancy (the first day of the last menstrual period, when the mother’s body starts to release an egg)? At the moment of fertilization (when the father’s spermatozoid enters into the mother’s ovum)? Or in week 4, when the the blastocyst implants in the wall of the uterus? Or in week 6, when we can detect its first heartbeat? Or in week 11, when doctors change its name from embryo to fetus? Or in week 14, when the sex of the fetus can be identified? [5] [4]

James Elgin Gill (born on 20 May 1987 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) was the earliest premature baby in the world, until that record was broken in 2004. He was 128 days premature (21 weeks and 5 days’ gestation) and weighed 1 pound 6 ounces (624 g). He survived and became a healthy adult. (via Wikipedia)

What the Church says

The Roman Catholic church teaches clearly and without any doubt: a human exists from the moment where the father’s cell enters into the mother’s cell.

Pope Francis asks: Is it legitimate to take out a human life to solve a problem? Is it permissible to contract a hitman to solve a problem?

These thoughts make sense, but they don’t answer our fundamental question.

It’s about more than abortion

Raising a child means a fundamental change in the private life of a young woman. A human civilization should not give other people the right to decide about your private life.

We are not only discussing about some “right to decide”, it is also about “who should pay for your mistakes”? We love to talk about our rights, but we also need to talk about our responsibilities. Young people happen to enjoy moments of pleasure without worrying about the consequences of their acts. Then they get pregnant, oops! and in the end we are the ones they ask to fix their problem. Young people usually don’t have enough money to pay the full medical costs of an abortion.

“I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.” (Sr. Joan Chittister, from a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers) via patheos

About unwanted pregnancies

Who decides whether a child is “unwanted”? It can be a complex question. Even if it is clear that the mother does not want her child. Maybe somebody else wants that child. Maybe God wants it. Maybe the mother will change her mind later and regret her decision. A therapist can help a pregnant woman to find an answer to that question. But who is going to pay the therapist? Who is responsible for teaching therapists?

Many things in life are “unwanted”. A pregnant woman who does not want her child. A young man who doesn’t want to live any longer. A man in his best years whose wife remains disabled after an accident. I we permit the right to abort unborn children, shouldn’t we also permit the right to suicide, euthanasia and death penalty?

My suggestion

See also More about abortion.

I believe that the best solution would be (1) to give every mother a realistic way to leave her child to public care (i.e. being freed from any duty as a mother) if she decides so, and then (2) to say that abortion, even very early abortion, should never be financed by public money unless the life of the mother is in danger. Abortion should be neither financed nor prohibited. Let people decide for themselves.

Yes, this solution means that a woman who got pregnant without wanting it, would innocently have to suffer during nine months under the natural inconveniences related to pregnancy. An unwanted pregnancy would be for the mother like an accident that needs nine months until you are fully recovered. Even in case of violation. It’s of course a pity to see a woman suffer innocently, and we are tempted to say “We have the medical skills to avoid her these nine months of suffering, so let’s use our knowledge and stop her suffering”. But the right to life of the unborn child is more important than their mother’s right to avoid suffering.

Yes, my solution means that rich people can maybe afford the luxury of abortion where poor people won’t. Life will always be easier for rich people than for poor people. It’s not a government’s business to change this.

Unfortunately (1) is not sufficiently implemented in most countries. Without (1), (2) perverts into a system where males are privileged over females. Some pro-life activists unfortunately demand to implement (2) without demanding to implement (1). In cases of conflict, individual humans should have priority over moral law systems.

In a talk to health care workers, Pope Francis mentions real-life cases where a health care worker is faced to an individual decision. Papst über Abtreibungen: „Sich nicht zum Komplizen machen”.

If I was being asked by a pregnant woman for help with abortion, I would have to first try everything for helping her using (1). And if this turns out to be impossible, I would have a case of conflict and ask advice from a priest. Ultimately I would help her because I believe that individual humans have priority over moral law systems.

Further reading

  • “Kerala teenage girl delivers baby in her bedroom with help of YouTube video, parents find out two days later after they hear baby’s cry. The girl did not receive any outside assistance during the entire childbirth procedure and she cut the umbilical cord herself using YouTube videos as a guide, after being instructed to do the same by her boyfriend.” (opindia.com 2021-10-28)

  • ‘Give me my baby’: an Indian woman’s fight to reclaim her son after adoption without consent. Anupama S Chandran’s newborn child was sent away by her parents, who were unhappy that his father was from the Dalit caste. (theguardian.com 2021-12-09)