|Notes:||Abortion: the termination of the life of a foetus after conception, but before birth. Many abortions are naturally occurring, but we are not, for the moment concerned with those, but rather with intentionally induced abortions.
Radical anti-abortionists,"right to lifers," as they style themselves, consider that an unborn child at any stage of development is a human being, and to kill it is murder, pure and simple. Nothing can justify murder, so all abortion should be banned. Less radical Right to Lifers would permit abortions under a very restricted set of circumstances, such as where the life of the mother is in immanent danger because of the pregnancy, and so forth.
"Pro-Choice" supporters with liberal attitudes suggest that abortion is a legitimate option in any case where the mother wishes an abortion. Moderates restrict the number of permissible cases.
The debate is fascinating. Issues arising include (but are not limited to): the nature of humanity and personhood and their beginning; the extent of the right to life; the fragile notion of the sanctity of life; the way in which conflicting rights should be treated; and the political and social issues of who has the right to decide moral and legal policy and to enforce it.
Much of the popular and grass-roots abortion debate focuses around the humanity of the unborn foetus/baby. Right to lifers argue that the foetus/baby is human from the moment of conception, and therefore should be accorded the same protections under law as any other individual (presumably these are the protections of U.S. law, and not, say, the law of China). Many pro-choicers, on the other hand, for a variety of reasons, do not consider the foetus/baby to be fully human until birth, and as such, killing a foetus while perhaps regrettable, has little moral significance.
In short, the abortion debate has in many respects been reduced to the question: "When does a human life begin?"
Many philosophers and moralists believe this to be the wrong question to ask because it suggests that there might be a factual answer that we can somehow discover through advances in science.
Instead, these philosophers think we need to ask what it is that makes killing a human being wrong and then consider whether these characteristics, whatever they might be, apply to the foetus in an abortion. There is no generally agreed upon answer, yet some philosophers have presented surprisingly strong arguments to the effect that not only the foetus but even the newborn infant has no right to life. This position has been defended by Jonathan Glover in Causing Death and Saving Lives (1977) and in more detail by Michael Tooley in Abortion and Infanticide (1984).
Such views have been hotly contested, especially by those who claim that all human life, irrespective of its characteristics, must be regarded as sacrosanct. The task for those who defend the sanctity of human life is to explain why human life, no matter what its characteristics, is specially worthy of protection. Explanation could no doubt be provided in terms of such traditional Christian doctrines as that all humans are made in the image of God or that all humans have an immortal soul. In the current debate, however, the opponents of abortion have eschewed religious arguments of this kind without finding a convincing secular alternative.
Attempts to find secular arguments against abortion, have included the "Women Exploited by Abortion" (WEBA) campaign, the "Litigation Project," and "Victims of Choice". As Sarah Diamond notes in Spiritual Warfare:
The gist of the WEBA argument is that abortion is a huge, money making industry and that, therefore, abortion practitioners deliberately do not inform women that they run a high likelihood of lifelong physical and emotional problems - including infertility, frigidity, marital discontent, depression, anxiety and so on - if they go through with an abortion. "All of us who have been through the abortion process are now rising up and saying: you never told me the truth," says Nola Jones of Victims of Choice.[ref]
To account for all of the problems reported by women who also happen to have had an abortion, WEBA relies on the concept of "post-abortion syndrome," which pro-lifers say is similar to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suffered by many Vietnam War veterans years after their combat experiences.[ref] Aside from war veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder has, indeed, been found in people who have suffered other violent experiences in their past. However, one of the reasons that PTSD is considered to be more prevalent among Vietnam era veterans as opposed to veterans from earlier wars is that Vietnam veterans had a uniquely difficult time readjusting to a society that was largely opposed to the actions they committed. World War II and Korean War veterans returned home as welcome heros and were better able to integrate their nightmare experiences with a reason or justification for why they had to endure hardships.
Like the Vietnam vets who returned to find many of their peers condemning them for their actions, born-again Christian women are continually reminded of their guilt as TV evangelists, their own pastors and fellow believers continually harp on the sin of abortion. IT is no wonder that large numbers of fundamentalist women are plagued by nightmares over their pre-salvation decisions to "kill their own child".
Sarah Diamond, "Spiritual Warfare" pp97-8.
Oddly, out of 16 million women WEBA understands to have had an abortion, only several thousand are members of WEBA.
Despite the attempted secular twist, the abortion debate has, and continues to be, a focus for the fundamentalist, evangelical and Roman Catholic activism in the United States, and elsewhere:
The Army of God cowered for 40 days before David came along. But we have shrunk back for over 10 years. God has been humiliated long enough. It's time to move! [...] When you become a Christian you're automatically drafted into God's Army, flat feet and all. We must fight for what is right.[ref]
The issue of violence in the struggle against abortion has put the pro-life movement in a difficult position. As Thomas Klasen notes in A Pro-Life Manifesto:
If armed aggression were the answer, it would have to be done on a large scale, and more than a few abortion clinics would have to be destroyed. To succeed, it would require the destruction of all hospitals or clinics that performed abortions. Heroes who would lay down their life for the cause would have to come forth. Armies would need to be organized. Companies producing abortifacient would have to be bombed and they employees terrorized. In short, we would have to be willing to plunge ourselves into civil war.[ref]