Engage in a conversation with any pro-choice activist and you will likely find yourself confronted with the typical talking points on why a woman should be allowed to kill her unborn baby in the womb: it’s “her body,” an indictment of the foster care system, statistical anomalies such as rape, or the classic “no uterus no opinion!” In other words, anything that deflects from what the core of the abortion debate actually boils down to, and really, the only matter it ought to be about: the life of the child.
Pro-choice activists love to make abortion about the mother, or the father, or about society, or about some extenuating circumstance that would justify abortion. What they fail to realize, however, is that none of that, at all, is relevant. In fact, the only thing that matters when discussing whether or not a right to an abortion ought to be protected is whether or not the child is a human life that has value.
Everyone can likely agree that innocent human life ought to be protected. I don’t think anyone supporting the pro-choice view would justify a mother killing her newborn because it would “interfere with work” (the most common reason for abortion)- or at least, I would hope not. And why wouldn’t this be justifiable? Because an infant, is, clearly, a human life! The question regarding abortion is whether or not an unborn fetus past the point of conception is also indeed a human life. If this is true, there is no circumstance in which its murder can be permitted, just like there is no circumstance in which the murder of an infant can be. If an unborn fetus past conception isn’t, in fact, a human life, then abortion doesn’t matter at all. Abortion should be at will, women shouldn’t feel guilty. Safe, legal, and rare? Why rare? If it isn’t a human life, abortion shouldn’t mean anything but a routine medical procedure.
Given this universally acceptable framework, one may wonder why it is that pro-choice activists never actually seem to make the argument that this unborn child, who they defend the right to abort, isn’t intrinsically valuable nor alive. The answer to that is simple: they can’t. That’s because it isn’t an arguable point, but rather a scientifically proven fact. After the point of conception, a fetus is growing and developing, has its own set of DNA distinct from that of its mother, and literally fits all of the fundamental biological characteristics of any other living, human entity. Within just 6 weeks after conception, the fetus develops a heartbeat, and by 20 weeks, the fetus can feel pain. According to a survey of over 5,000 biologists of all political affiliations by the University of Chicago, 95% affirmed the scientific consensus that human life begins at fertilization. If one were to find an unborn fetus on Mars, it would be a breakthrough for the scientific community as “human life on Mars.” When it’s found in a woman’s womb, it’s a useless cluster of cells with no intrinsic value? Of course not. No one can truthfully claim this.
Pro-choice advocates refuse to discuss the issue of the child’s life because they know they lose on this point. Pro-choicers understand that when the abortion debate is framed around exactly that- the actual abortion- they will lose, because it is virtually indisputable that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life. They do everything to change the conversation, such as bring up the gender of the person making it, present several whataboutisms such as “men getting vasectomies,” or attack the character of the person making the argument by accusing them of not supporting socialist policies like universal healthcare or open borders, and then snarkily asking them “are you really pro-life?”
But this framework also tells us something much more important: what it truly means to be pro-life. Being pro-life isn’t about punishing women. Being pro-life is not about forcing a woman to pay for her mistakes. Being pro-life is about recognizing that every human life, no matter how small, no matter the circumstance from which it was conceived, has value. To take an innocent human life, to kill a human being just as alive as you or I, is immoral no matter how extenuating the situation may be.
One interesting hypothetical I’ve heard about why fetuses aren’t really human lives was proposed by my colleague Rohin Mishra in his piece titled “Choice is Cool.” Rohin asks the reader to consider what they’d do in a situation in which they were at an IVF clinic when a fire started and they were given the choice to save a hundred embryos or a five-year old child, only being allowed to pick one of the two cohorts. Rohin claims that because inherent human nature would be to choose the five-year old, fetuses have no intrinsic moral value and therefore, abortion is justifiable in certain circumstances.
This hypothetical is flawed for multiple reasons: the first is that it doesn’t actually prove what Rohin thinks it does. If you could save 100 ninety-nine year old cancer patients or just one five-year old, most people would also, similarly, pick the five-year old. Does that mean that the cancer patients have no value as human beings? Or more directly, that we should be allowed to kill them? No. Secondly, this hypothetical is incredibly narrow and there are other hypotheticals in which the more rational choice would be to pick the embryos. For example, if you were one of the last humans left on the planet and had this same choice between the five-year old and the 100 embryos, you would most likely pick the embryos as it is the choice that would lead to the survival of the human race. Is this a far-fetched hypothetical? Sure, but no more than the initial one. Finally, Rohin conflates not-saving embryos as equivalent to deliberately killing them. This isn’t an accurate comparison. Just because you would not choose to save the embryos in this example doesn’t mean you can heartlessly murder them, just like you cannot murder the 99-year old cancer patients I described above. All human life has value.
And then there is the argument that places life as secondary to the convenience of the mother. My colleague Rohin Mishra contends strongly for this point in his essay. Rohin gives a fallacious example of a man who is kidnapped and forced to donate blood to a 7-year old named Javier and uses this example to coerce the reader into sympathizing with mothers aborting their children, arguing that “bodily autonomy” is a justifiable excuse in the taking of a human life. He also invokes forced organ donation as another example of how bodily autonomy should supersede the life of a child in the case of abortion. Both these examples are fundamentally flawed because they are not analogous to abortion.
First of all, the first hypothetical regarding Javier implies that women who get abortions are usually forced into pregnancies (parallel to Javier getting kidnapped and forcefully attached to the blood transfusion mechanism), when in fact abortions as a result of rape are extremely rare. Only 1% of all abortions are due to rape, per the Guttmacher Institute. While the circumstances of conception have no effect on the value of the child, and therefore, no relevance to whether or not abortion is justified, it is important to note that some evil force is not actually taking away the bodily autonomy of women, but rather they are largely taking it away from themselves by making the decision to have unprotected sex. Furthermore in both cases, bodily autonomy is being sacrificed for the purpose of SAVING another life. Refusing to donate organs or leaving Javier are both examples of choosing NOT to save a life. As I stated in my previous response to Rohin’s hypothetical about the fertilization clinic, there is a stark moral and legal difference between not saving someone and deliberately killing them. For example, if a man is trapped in a burning building, not risking your life to go save them isn’t the same as lighting the building on fire in the first place. Rohin falsely conflates murder and not-saving someone as morally equivalent, which they are not.
The question regarding abortion is not whether or not bodily autonomy is more important than life, but whether or not it can justify the murder of (what even Rohin later concedes) is an innocent human life (though Rohin claims it has no “humanity”). The answer to that question is no, as the murder of an innocent person is not justifiable in any circumstance. Furthermore, since a fetus is in fact a human life, doesn’t it have the same right to bodily autonomy as Rohin applies to its mother? And why wouldn’t abortion violate that? I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure dismembering someone and disfiguring their limbs, as abortion does, probably infringes on someone’s bodily freedoms more than carrying a child for nine months.
Finally, there’s the practical argument, which claims that even if abortion was made illegal, it would still occur, and therefore, abortion should stay legal. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that this premise is literally true of anything that is illegal and isn’t unique at all to abortion and focus on the implications of this argument. Rohin cites a statistic from the Guttmacher Institute that shows that more abortions occur per-capita in countries where abortion is banned than countries where it is legal. Aside from the facts that abortion bans aren’t black and white, and many countries have restrictions without bans, this is a classic example of correlation not equating to causation. There are several factors that can explain this, such as abortion being banned in poorer countries, or literally the fact there are just more pregnancies in more religious countries that restrict abortion, that muddy the pro-choice talking point that abortion bans lead to more abortion, a contention that has no logical basis whatsoever. If something is prosecutable by law, the general public will be less likely to do it. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, unsurprisngly, the rate of abortion among women went up. Additionally, studies of countries that have banned abortion have found that the abortion bans are indeed effective in making women carry their babies to term. In sum, the practical argument that women would get illegal abortions at the same rate as if they were legal, just with more medical consequences, is fundamentally false. Rohin then makes the argument that better sexual education could help mitigate the need for abortion, to which I absolutely agree it could, just as better financial education could help discourage robbery. But this also begs the question of why abortion should even be discouraged. If it’s just a harmless medical procedure, if the child isn’t a human life who has value, why are we trying to discourage it? It’s because deep down, pro-choice activists understand that the procedure that they so zealously defend is every bit as grossly immoral as it seems, but choose to turn a blind eye.
It’s this thinking that leads to the argument that one can be pro-choice without being pro abortion. Unfortunately, you can’t. That argument works a bit like this: “I personally don’t agree with abortion because I think it’s murder, but if you want to abort a baby, even though I think that’s murder, I have no issue.” This isn’t a question of imposing your morals onto someone else. If you think that abortion is murder, and you support the right of others to murder their children although you claim wouldn’t do it yourself, you are pro-abortion. Plain and simple. This is akin to saying “I’m personally not a pedophile, but if you want to abuse children, that’s your choice. It’s your body! Laws shouldn’t stop you!” In fact, the position that acknowledges abortion is murder and yet supports it staying legal is arguably even more egregious and immoral than the one that unapologetically supports abortion without believing it to be murder. The “anti-abortion, pro-choice” argument is another mere facade used by the pro-choice crowd to distract and deflect from the gross immorality of the actual procedure they defend: the dismemberment of an innocent human life.
In summary, abortion is not the hyper-complicated, multi-layered controversial issue pro-choice advocates make it out to be. The pro-life position isn’t some serial conspiracy by the patriarchy to control the every action of females. The abortion debate really all hinges on one question, which is whether or not the fetus is a human life. And this isn’t even really an open question either; it has a clear, scientifically founded and affirmed answer: yes. Therefore, save for when the mother’s life is medically in danger, abortion is always immoral. There is not a single exception to this. And if America would defend a practice so barbaric as this, if it shall abandon its duty to the most vulnerable among her, then what, truly, does she even stand for?
*The author does not claim to represent all the opinions of all the members of the Postpartisan in this essay.