Abortion is a topic that I do not enjoy writing or thinking about. It's something I prefer to avoid, because this debate always seems to end up unpleasant for all involved. Yet, it is vitally important, so I will give my opinion and try my best to say something useful.
I touched on abortion in The Ethics of Life, which I definitely recommend reading as a prerequisite to this, but I feel the topic warrants an entry all its own. Incidentally, I apologize if I repeat things that I already said in Ethics.
I am pro-choice. Actually, I never cared for the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life", as it's possible to be both simultaneously--one can opt for life but respect the right to choose. Let's call a spade a spade. I will refer to the sides as pro-abortion and anti-abortion. I am pro-abortion. Before going any further, I will grant that, unlike the debate of religion vs. science, the abortion debate actually has reasonable arguments on both sides, and although I disagree with my opponents, I can at least respect the arguments that were arrived at by a path of logic and consistency.
The anti-abortion argument often appears to be the stronger one: "we're not allowed to hurt other people, the unborn fetus is a person, so we're not allowed to hurt it, either." Full-stop, cased closed. It's simple, elegant, has more internal consistency, and therefore is usually easier to debate for. It's a black and white argument that needs not contend with grey areas, and that makes it a very easy argument to defend. Unfortunately, life is almost nothing but grey. Like, a lot of different shades of grey. Like, at least fifty of them Oh, sweet Celestia, I'm horrible. I'm sorry. Seriously, though, a blanket law that bans abortion in all cases cannot work for such a complicated and messy world.
"There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions." -Captain Jean-Luc Picard
My reasons for supporting abortion are essentially twofold. If you read Ethics, then you already know why I believe that the anti-abortion argument comes at the entire issue from the wrong angle, and is built on a faulty assumption, but rather than rehash that, I will try to come at this from another side. I have always been a very compassionate person, and acutely concerned with suffering. I am greatly pained by the amount of suffering in the world, and try to do what little I can to mitigate it. We are all against suffering, granted, but anti-abortion advocates seem to neglect to take into account the greatest source of suffering of all--existence in the first place. They seem to be so concerned with preserving all life at any cost, that they fail to consider whether bringing that life into the world is even ethical in the first place, and whether that life is likely to be a life worth living, or nothing but misery. The cornerstone of the anti-abortion argument at the juncture would be that none of us has the right to decide if a life is worth living, and that the baby deserves their fair shot. Again, it sounds more logical, but I believe that such a policy does much more harm than good. I would never try to argue that the fetus isn't a life (of course it is), or that it doesn't have rights (of course it does), but nevertheless, sometimes bringing that life into the world is a mistake. I wouldn't try to argue that killing the unborn baby isn't a regrettable thing to have to do. Of course it is. But it is often the lesser of two evils.
I've been trying to take a different path through this issue than I did in The Ethics of Life, but I find that no matter which route I take, I inevitably run into my thesis from Ethics anyway. I cannot get around it. So, I will just go through it. In that essay, I argued that it is unethical to create conscious life to begin with. Bringing any life into the world is wrong, due to the non-consensual nature of existence, coupled with the asymmetrical nature of suffering vs happiness: i.e. all lives contain suffering, but non-existence does not equate to a deprivation of happiness, as there is no one to do the missing. If you want the full story on this, you'll have to read Ethics. So, all lives add suffering to the world, most add some happiness as well, but not creating life does not deprive of happiness. In many cases, anti-abortion advocates don't seem to consider the fact that the life in question may result in a net amount of suffering with almost no upside. The idea that we may have a right to decide which lives are worth living and which aren't would seem thoroughly repugnant to most, but I believe that we actually should intervene and terminate a pregnancy when the child is unwanted, would be born into hellish misery, or the parent(s) are unable to care for it. I believe it's more humane and results in less net suffering in the world to terminate lives that would be born into horrendous conditions. No one should be forced to live like that. I realize that the anti-abortion argument is that we don't have the right to make that call, and that even a person living in horrible conditions may be grateful for their life. We could go around in circles forever on this point, but I close the loop on many of these issues in The Ethics of Life, and even some in my previous entry, The Stigma of Suicide. Suffice it to say that I believe that it is the lesser of two evils to prevent unwanted lives from coming into this world in order to mitigate the net amount of suffering.
What would be nice is if people simply didn't get pregnant accidentally in the first place. Then we wouldn't even need to worry about most of these issues. That'd be the day, wouldn't it? Perhaps we'd get a little closer to that utopia if religion stopped preaching the sinfulness of birth control. But for now, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies will continue to happen, and in some extreme cases, abortion truly is the only ethical choice. Imagine the case of a single mother in an impoverished, starving village in the third world. Now, imagine that she gets pregnant, but already has one five-year old child, and she can only manage to get just enough food to feed her child and herself. A second child would cause all three of them to starve to death. Now, obviously it was very foolish of her to get allow herself to get pregnant (unless of course it wasn't her fault!), but what's done is done. At this point, which is more ethical and humane? To abort the unborn child, (let's pretend that she has access to a method to do that), or force one or more of them to slowly starve to death? This is an extreme example, but there are plenty of people right here in the civilized world who are living such poor and horrible lives that another child would devastate the whole family. Abortion is kinder to everyone involved in these cases. Furthermore, abortions of unwanted babies would prevent children from being poured into orphanages. There are so many people who are unwilling or unable to care for the children, and all end up with miserable lives. It seems to me that anti-abortion advocates often care little about what happens to the children after their born, or what the quality of their lives are, so long as they are born. Life at all costs, no matter how miserable. This is what we call "quantity over quality". This couldn't be further from my philosophy of quality over quantity. I believe that, if we bring children into the world at all, we should only do so under good conditions--only if the parents are eager, willing, and able to provide proper care. Forcing life to come into a world that cannot adequately support it is unethical, and just makes life worse for everyone. The altruism argument that the value of the universe is the net sum of all happiness is wrong. Adding more and more conscious beings ad-infinitum to the world that may feel some happiness doesn't make the world a better place. The mitigation of suffering is more important. If we create life at all, we should only create an amount that can thrive, and no more.
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My other reason for supporting abortion has to do with whose rights I believe come first. I would never argue that the fetus isn't a person, or isn't a life. Of course it is. Anything else is unscientific nonsense. The debate over when life begins or when the fetus should be considered a person isn't the one we should be having. That's the wrong question. The question we should be asking is whose rights come first: the mother's, or the fetus's? They both have rights, and unfortunately, it seems to me that in order to fully grant one party their rights, someone else's have to impeded at some point. And also, unfortunately, I'm not convinced that either side here is anything but an intuition-based opinion that can never be proven, which is why I greatly fear that the abortion debate will never see a clear end, like the issue of slavery did, for example (an issue that has objective correct answer), but instead will continue to rage on, tipping one way and then back the other, for as long as our species survives. Of course, if you share my antinatalistic perspective, then the answer is quite clear, but I don't expect many to be sympathetic to that view. Therefore, all I can do is try my best to convince you of my opinion.
I have always firmly believed that the rights of the mother trump the rights of the fetus. (Curse that orange menace for ruining one of my favorite words. "Trump" is actually a very useful word that I use quite often.) I believe that the person who already has an investment in life, opinions and feelings on the matter, and whose life (not to mention body, in some cases) could potentially be ruined by having a baby, supersedes the other, always. The mother comes first. Now, I fully realize where the arguments from the other side come from, and that the reasons I've laid out are, from a certain point of view, the exact reason why someone would come to the exact opposite conclusion as me. The argument would go something like this:
"But that's just it: the mother already has a life. She got to experience this much already, but the baby hasn't even had their chance yet! Isn't giving a whole new person their shot at life worth more than sparing the mother some inconvenience, just because she'd rather not have a baby? Even if she had to die for the baby to live, at least she had some life. The baby hasn't had any, yet! And the baby can't say whether they want to live or not! Someone has to speak for those who can't!"
A compelling sounding argument, and one that appeals to emotions, which again is why anti-abortionists tend to look better in debates. But emotions are not a good tool with which to govern. Here's the way I see it: if a particular woman gets pregnant, and having a baby would ruin her life, then the woman will care if she's forced to carry to term. The fetus won't know or care if it's terminated. Promise. I know that sounds cold, callous, evil, and "heartless", but it's the truth. If the pregnancy is terminated, then the fetus will never know or care, and the mother who didn't want to be pregnant will be better off. So, we have one happy person. If she's forced to carry to term, then we have two miserable people: a mother who didn't want this, and an unwanted child who may not be cared for properly. It's that asymmetry that makes the answer clear to me--I will always support the path of quality of quantity. Now, I realize that evidence suggests that many mothers who abort regret it, and feel anguish and guilt, and many who keep it are glad they did. Fine--then look at the evidence, weight the decision carefully, and then make it for yourself. That's the point. You wanna keep the baby? Then keep it. Doesn't mean that it should be illegal to abort. No one is forcing you to abort. That's the difference.
I think that the adult who already has the investment matters more. Unfortunately, as I said at the outset, I'm not sure that this is anything more than a subjective opinion. I can't prove to you that this is the correct view, but I believe that it's the better view.
Ultimately, what horrifies me the most is the idea of woman's life being derailed, and her control over herself and her reproduction being taken away at every possible turn, with no point at which she could ever make a choice. Freedom is one of the master values that is most cherished by humanity. Seldom is there something more compelling to fight and die for than freedom. The thought of imprisonment and loss of control over one's life and choices is more than most could tolerate. The idea of a woman's control being completely taken away is intolerable to me. That is why, as much as I strongly believe that abortion should always be legal (at least early in the term), I think I could manage to live with it if abortion were outlawed in all cases of consensual sex. It has to be legal in rape cases. You cannot take away a woman's autonomy to her own life and body so completely. A full ban would mean that someone could take away her choice of whether or not to have sex (i.e. rape), and then take away any choice over reproduction (via the state). It cannot be so absolute. If abortion were only legal in rape cases, and even if it was only legal for a narrow window afterwards, then there would still be one place, just one place, where the woman can take control--one spot along the road where she can pull the brakes and say, "this isn't what's going to happen to me." If abortion were illegal in all consensual cases, then, much as I'd still disagree, I could at least rest with some ease knowing that the woman still has some amount of control ultimately in her hands. She could use birth control, or if she's unwilling to take the 1% chance of that failing, then she could always choose not to have sex. She'd have that power at the very least, and if she made the choice and got pregnant, then the onus would be on her. But there has to be one place where she still has control. To take all control away at every point along the road is monstrous.
Some people argue that having a baby is but an inconvenience--a small sacrifice, and it is horribly selfish for any woman to not be willing to endure it. This is untrue and unfair. Pregnancy and childbirth vary wildly--it can be a relatively inconsequential thing for some, and very dangerous and traumatic for others. It often has permanent effects on the body. Many women can't deliver normally, and require C-sections, which is major surgery. It's cruel and unethical to force such a thing on someone, and, as I have argued, the greater of two evils. I care very deeply about the women for whom having a baby would be a devastating trauma, and there certainly are those people, as well as those who shouldn't be parents, or for whom parenthood would be a nightmare. I would be one of them, had I been born female. My being male does little to quell the horror I feel at imagining being forced to go through having a baby or being a parent. If you've read The Ethics of Life, then perhaps you understand why, if I was female, raped, impregnated, and forced to carry to term, then I would feel exactly as you would if I put a gun in your hand and forced you to murder a child. And that is why, if I was in that situation and unable to find a rogue doctor willing to help, I would resort to drastic and dangerous measures. I've read the saying that "there is no such thing as no abortions; only such thing as no safe abortions." I believe that to be true. The anti-abortionists need to accept the fact that they cannot create a world where no one terminates a pregnancy, ever. It cannot be done. There will always be people who feel as strongly as I do, and will find a way. That way can either be illegal and dangerous, or legal and safe.
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I am pro-abortion because I think that the mother's rights come first, and I believe that there has to be at least one place along the road where women can grab the wheel and take control of this vehicle we call our bodies. I am pro-abortion because forcing unwanted children into the world who aren't properly cared for only adds needless suffering, and no amount of arguments that the baby deserves their chance and may yet rise up out of the misery and have a great life is adequate justification for forced existence in my book. Hypothetical, potential happiness means very little to me. I am more concerned with the prevention and mitigation of actual suffering. I am pro-abortion because I am anti-suffering, and if you are too, then so should you be as well.