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Contention I: Inconsequential differences
The lives of newborn children are protected by the law. The lives of fetuses are not. This inductively suggests that there is some point between conception and birth that conveys moral agency. However, a comparison of fetuses and newborns reveals that their differences are not so drastic, in fact, they only differ in the four categories; size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. Let us inspect each of these differences. It should be clear that size is not a good criterion for converting rights. Smaller people are no more or less human than those who are bigger. Fetuses are smaller than newborns, just as newborns are smaller than toddlers, just as toddlers are smaller than adults, yet no one argues that the killing of a baby is more justified than the killing of a toddler. What about level of development? It is true to say that fetuses are less developed than newborns, however, it is unclear why this is morally significant. Children are generally less developed than adults yet this does not mean that children are morally inferior to their parents. Some people with developmental disabilities are also less developed than children, yet society never argues that these conditions are a reason for them to be executed. Environment does not seem to be a satisfactory answer either. Where someone lives surely has nothing to do with the essence of who someone is. Just as how moving from the garage to the bedroom does not affect one's moral worth, moving from inside the womb into the delivery room shouldn’t either. The last difference between a fetus and a newborn is degree of dependency. Pro-choicers often state "as a fetus is reliant on a separate entity, it has no serious right to life”. However, this argumentation can be applied to all human beings. No person isn’t reliant on some external entity, whether it is food, water, or oxygen, it just so happens that fetuses are also dependent on their mothers. Fetuses which rely on an umbilical cord in the womb should be as human as those who rely on a feeding tube outside the womb. Thus, it can be seen that the differences between a fetus and a newborn are nonconsequential. There is no stage between conception and birth that allows for people to prescribe moral agency. It appears that the only appropriate time to establish the rights of a human is the moment it comes into existence, i.e conception.
Contention II: Scientific testimony
The argument from scientific data takes the form of the following syllogism.
P1: Murder involves the intentional killing of a human being.
P2: A fetus is a human being
C1: Abortion is murder.
Ergo. Abortion is immoral.
Premise 1 is true via tautology. Almost all recognised sources stipulate that murder is the killing of a human being. [1
"Human development begins at fertilization… when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cell, the zygote... marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."
- The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 10th edition.
"Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote."
- Langman’s Medical Embryology, 13th edition.
“Human life begins at fertilization”
- The developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition
Thus the conclusion follows. Abortion is murder.
Contention III: Uncertainty principle
Advocates of abortion are not onboard with the above conclusion. Though they admit that fetuses are human-beings, they argue that there is a distinction between the terms human-being and a human-person. A human-being, they say, is simply a Homo sapien whilst a human-person is someone deserving of human rights. The term used to describe this transition of rights is known as personhood. The first observation that can be made is that this term has no bearing on the scientific world. Unlike terms such as human-being which can be objectively studied, the term personhood seems to have been conjured up with the sole purpose of justifying abortion. It hasn’t come from scientific observations, nor does it further our understanding of biology. Its lack of a scientific foundation renders it discardable via Occam's razor, which stipulates that entities should not be multiplied without necessity. As our understanding of biology and embryology function perfectly without personhood, the word is nothing more than an ontological burden. Moreover, even if the term personhood were granted as legitimate, there are still difficulties in using it in practice. As alluded to above, the metrics for measuring personhood are indistinct and inconsistent. Take, for example, Mary Warren’s personhood criteria;
- Self-motivated activity
- The capacity to communicate
The existence of temporarily unconscious people who are most certainly deserving of human rights nullifies all 5 criteria. However, even if these criteria were sound, there is no way to say for certain that abortion does not kill a human being, as assessed by Ms. Warren. How exactly can one know for certain that a being has acquired the ability to reason? How can you say for certain that a being has consciousness?
One fact that both pro-lifers and pro-choicers can agree on is that in order for abortion to be justified, there must be absolute certainty that it does not murder a human person. Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, points out that there are only four possibilities concerning abortion and personhood. They are as follows:
- The fetus is a person and this is known.
- The fetus is a person and this is not known.
- The fetus is not a person and this is not known.
- The fetus is not a person and this is known.
The ramification of abortion in each of these situations are:
- You have intentionally killed a human being.
- You have unintentionally killed a human being
- You have intentionally risked killing a human being.
- You have done nothing wrong.
Notice how all the above scenarios either involve criminal activity or are simply impossible. Scenario 1 is plain first-degree murder. Scenario 2 is akin to shooting toxic chemicals into a building which you believe, wrongly so, that there is no one in. Scenario 3 is comparable to fumigating a building without knowing whether there are residents inside. Scenario 4, as aforementioned is the only morally permissible situation however is impossible to recreate in reality, due to the indistinct measurements used to assess personhood. As it is there is no way to determine with absolute certainty that abortion does not kill a person, abortion at best requires its adherence to commit criminal negligence, and at worst is 1st-degree murder. Thus, as established by the uncertainty principle and Occam's razor, the term personhood is not sufficient in justifying abortion.