“Pro-life” Arguments Against Abortion are Fallacious
If frozen embryos are “persons”, then that’s a perversion of the concept of rights, because philosophically and in reality, rights pertain only to actual human beings. If we grant rights to “frozen embryos”, then it follows that our tonsils or appendix is also entitled to the same rights. A “potential” is not an actual person. The rights of the “living” is far more superior to the condition of the “potential”.
I was engaged in a discussion with a blog commenter on the issue of abortion. I started the discussion by stating that the 1987 Constitution is a departure from the American Constitution that does NOT protect life “from conception.” I believe that this anti-abortion provision in our charter was inserted by the religionists and anti-abortion activists.
In a previous blog I wrote the following:
“I believe that every human being is responsible for his/her own body. Any woman who has no capacity- physically, financially, emotionally, intellectually or psychologically- to deliver and/or raise a child has the right to demand abortion. An embryo is not a person. This means that any society has no right to deprive any woman of her right to undergo abortion. To deprive any woman of such a right is to condemn her to carry an un-chosen obligation all throughout her life. I believe that abortion is a moral right, which should only be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved. An embryo has no rights simply because rights do not pertain to a potential, but only to an actual being (the woman). An embryo cannot obtain any rights until it is born. The living (the woman) take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”
First, abortion is a philosophical issue. What the anti-abortion advocates try to do is criminalize abortion. Our anti-abortion law regards fetuses as fully developed human beings. We must understand that we have this concept of rights, and rights are important because they are a condition to man’s existence. Rights, which specifically and fundamentally means freedom of action or the right to act, pertains only to individuals. Rights pertain only to actual human beings, not to “potential” human beings. A fetus is a “potential” human life. Therefore, it is wrong to ascribe rights to a fetus or to a “potential” because “freedom of action” pertains only to an actual person.
A pregnant woman is an actual individual who’s entitled to her rights. As a human being, that woman has all the rights to do what she’d like to do with her own body. We all have the right to do with our own body. Not even our society could dictate to us how we should conduct ourselves or how we should exploit our bodily energy. That pregnant woman has all the rights to undergo abortion if she wants to simply because she has free will. A society or a mob of anti-abortion advocates doesn’t have free will because there’s no such thing as a collective mind.
What if that pregnant woman were raped? What if she’s suffering from some serious physical condition that requires her to undergo abortion? Or what if she knew she wouldn’t be able to financially, intellectually and physically raise her child? By what right can a society or any person tell that woman to sacrifice herself for the sake of some oppressive societal control?But according to anti-abortion activists and insane moralists, that woman must be deprived of her right to think and to decide on her own. So they passed an anti-abortion law that prohibits that woman from seeking abortion even if she’s raped, or suffering from serious physical condition, or won’t be able to raise her child. In this case, that woman is condemned by society to carry a heavy, lifelong obligation against her will. Bearing and raising a child is a long-term obligation. Under our criminal law, abortion is a crime that could incriminate both the woman and her abortionist.
Second, it’s a scientific issue. The question is: Should a “potential” be considered a human being? Is fetus a human being? Certainly it’s not because that fetus is, in reality, part of the woman’s body and able to grow unimpeded by the latters’ internal organs. Rights and personhood begin at birth.
The whole issue then is a moral issue. Rights only pertain to an actual human being, not to a potential. If you deny that woman her right to undergo abortion, that means you’re trying to control her mind and life by means of some legalized social control.
Now there’s an online source that tries to refute pro-abortion arguments. One of the refutations is as follows:
“There is substantial scientific reason to believe frozen embryos are persons, and should be granted the same rights as older, larger and less vulnerable persons.”
If frozen embryos are “persons”, then that’s a clear perversion of the concept of rights, because philosophically and in reality, rights pertain only to actual human beings. If we grant rights to “frozen embryos”, then it follows that our tonsils or appendix is also entitled to the same rights enjoyed by actual human beings. A “potential” is not an actual person. The rights of the “living” is far more superior to the condition of the “potential”.
If we follow the illogic and mystical reasoning of these anti-abortion mystics, then both the woman and her fetus stand on an equal footing when it comes to “rights”. What if the woman could not possibly give birth without sacrificing her life? Does the potential’s rights precede the rights of the living? If that’s the case, then these anti-abortion mystics condemn every woman of the same physical illness to die for the sake of collective good.
Granting arguendo that LIFE begin from conception, the contention that RIGHTS also begin from conception must fail. The “rights” issue here must be dealt with properly using the science of LOGIC.
In their policy paper entitled The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception, Hsieh and Armstrong established an unassailable argument, to wit:
“These truths about the origin of rights have been obscured by the facile semantic arguments in favor of “personhood,” as well as by the inadequate and misguided arguments of today’s typical defenders of abortion rights. In fact, rights are neither grants from God, nor favors from the Supreme Court. In particular, abortion rights, properly understood, are not based on a woman’s supposed “right to privacy,” nor subject to limitation by “state interests,” as ruled in Roe v. Wade. And embryos and fetuses cannot be granted rights based on their potential to develop into human persons. The proper view of rights during pregnancy is based on fundamental facts about human nature. Those facts dictate that only pregnant women–not embryos or fetuses–have rights.”
Rights come with responsibility. That is, as an actual human being, you have the responsibility to protect your self-interest and respect the rights of others. Why? Because a person is a rational animal. A human being is a living biological being with the distinctive characteristic of a kind of “consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason.” An embryo has no consciousness, thus it does not have any capability to know and understand its interests and responsibility. And this responsibility is embodied in the doctrine of “non-initiation of force.” Failure to act on that responsibility, as when you violates the rights of others, makes you liable for a crime, or any legal or moral obligation. Of course, a baby or a child is still under the custody and responsibility of his/her parents due to the fact that she/he does not yet have the physical, intellectual and physiological capability to deal with reality and the world. But once that child comes of age, he can then be held responsible for his/her actions.
A fetus or an embryo, being entirely dependent upon the life and sustenance of the woman’s body, has no responsibility at all. It has no rights. Thus, that piece of human tissue cannot have any responsibility at all. Its potentiality cannot justify the anti-abortionists’ fallacious contention that it is also entitled to the same rights given to persons.
In relation to this issue, Gina Liggett published an excellent article in SecularGovernment.us entitled “Pro-life” Atheist Arguments Against Abortion are Fallacious.
Here’s what Liggett wrote:
A reader of Politics Without God calls himself a “pro-life atheist,” and has commented that “there are plenty of atheist pro-lifers who oppose abortion on the basis of science and reason.” But such arguments against abortion are just as irrational as those of religious “pro-lifers.”
The “pro-life” atheist position is irrational because it does not adhere to the law of identity and it misapplies the concept of rights.
By the Law of Identity, a Human Being and Embryo Are Not the Same Thing
The “pro-life” atheist assertion that “abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent human being” violates the law of identity, which Ayn Rand explains as: “To exist is to be something….it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes.”
What is a human being? A common secular dictionary definition defines human as: “of, belonging to, or typical of man (Homo sapiens)… [and] having or showing qualities, as rationality or fallibility, viewed as distinctive of people.”
Ayn Rand defines a human being as a living biological being with the distinctive characteristic of a kind of “consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason… [A human] is a rational animal.” Ayn Rand further explains that reason is a human’s fundamental means of survival, it is how an individual forms values and it must be exercised by one’s own volition. This is the essence of the human being, qua human (despite when things go wrong, like head injuries, birth defects, Alzheimer’s disease).
To further elucidate the distinctiveness of the human being, it is through this uniquely human process of reason that knowledge about reality is not only sought, but communicated to others across time. We don’t have to wake up in the morning, discover electricity, manufacture a coffee pot, and discover how to cultivate and harvest foods to make fresh hot coffee. In contrast, every generation of animal, such as a wolf or squirrel, repeats the same cycles of reproducing, obtaining food and fighting predators according to the natures of their species — by the law of identity.
What is an embryo? In the same vein, an embryo is not a human being. While an embryo possesses DNA just like the plant Botrychium lunaria, the quality of having DNA is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to meet the identity of a human being. An embryo, beginning with one cell containing a complete set of human DNA then developing into a fetus, has its own characteristic identity, like every other entity in the universe.
The distinctive and essential characteristics of an embryo are that it is potential human life, it is physiologically attached to the human mother, and it undergoes embryological cell division and differentiation according to DNA “instructions.” Its survival and growth are entirely passive and autonomic, and completely dependent upon the biological viability of the mother it is attached to. It has not yet entered the world as an autonomous, singular, separate entity.
An infant is a human being and so is a pregnant woman. But once it is born, even as a day-old infant, he is forced to interact with the world at large and begins the process of developing a capacity of reason that will enable him to survive — as human qua human. The infant begins with perceptual-level reasoning–he wails and screams when perceiving hunger or a wet diaper. In contrast, an embryo functions entirely autonomically, passively receiving nutrients via the umbilical cord attached to the placenta. A pregnant woman, whose faculty of reason has developed beyond the infantile perceptual level, has learned that she can meet her need for pickles and ice cream by going to the store. A different woman with an unwanted pregnancy decides that having a baby is not in her best interest according to the values she holds by choice, by reason.
The atheist “pro-lifer” is dispensing with the law of identity which distinguishes a human being from an embryo when he says: “..it is ludicrous to then go on to say that ‘it is the woman’s choice’ (to have an abortion). It is as ludicrous as saying that you believe slavery is wrong, but that people should still have the choice whether they buy a slave or not. Science tells us that abortion kills a human being.”
This statement muddles two different entities. Science and the law of identity tell us that a slave and a pregnant woman are both human beings — but an embryo is not; it is an entity called “a potential human being.”
A Human Being Has Rights, an Embryo Does Not
Since I have established by the axiomatic law of identity that an embryo is not a human being, an embryo does not have the “inalienable right to life” written in our Constitution by the Founding Fathers, as some “pro-life” atheists claim. This becomes clear when you integrate the law of identity with a proper application of the concept of rights.
Ayn Rand succinctly clarifies what the right to life is:
“right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life…Individualism regards man–every man–as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature as a rational being.Because of the law of identity, there is a distinct difference between a born human being and an embryo. They are as distinctively unique by identity as a brain cell (with its full complement of human DNA) is to a malaria-transmitting species of the Anopheles mosquito (also with a full complement of its DNA).
The inescapable truth is that human rights apply only to humans, qua humans, not to embryos—anymore than rights apply to Anopheles.
Simply put, “[an] embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”
So there is no difference between religious and atheist (aka “scientific”) positions against abortion. Both dismiss with the law of identity and erroneously claim that an embryo is a human being with a right to life.
One is Anti-Abortion Only By Accepting the Moral Code of Altruism
“The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.”
Atheist anti-abortionists are just as altruistically-minded as religious anti-abortionists: both uphold the idea that a woman who does not want to keep a pregnancy must do so anyway, despite her right to exist for her own sake. In order for the atheist anti-abortionist to say an embryo has an “inalienable right to life,” the human mother must surrender her rights for the duration of the pregnancy with complete disregard for her own life, values, and rational self-interest.
But in a free society, individual rights do not just come and go or float about. They are not temporary depending upon a medical condition. A woman doesn’t suspend her right to life and self-determination when becoming pregnant! In a free society, she must not be compelled to surrender to an imposed morality of altruism and self-sacrifice against her will because of pregnancy. Even a born human in a vegetative state retains the right to life (even though he requires a proxy spokesperson to act in his or her behalf).
In a repressive anti-abortion society, a woman keeps her status as a human being with that society’s cultural rules only as long as she is not pregnant; but loses that status like a sacrificial animal when she’s pregnant. If you extend the illogical, then men should lose their rights every time they have sex, because that could possibly cause a pregnancy (even if birth control is used, because of course birth control sometimes fails).
The Anti-Abortion Position Cannot Resolve the Inherent Conflict of Altruism
Some anti-abortion legislation deigns to permit abortion “if the life of the mother is threatened.” Well, just how far does that go? On the brink of death when CPR and resuscitation are required in the case of a complicated pregnancy? When the mother is bleeding out and needs multiple blood transfusions? When she’s past the point of no return on full life-support?
The correct answer in a non-sacrificial society is: Abortion should be allowed when the woman decides as a volitional human what constitutes a threat to her life, her values, her existence as a rational being.
Never can the “interests” of a fetus override the right to life and liberty of a born human. Only by the morality of altruism and the use of force can a society allow an embryo to hijack a woman’s uterus and compel her to sacrifice her life and values to ensure the completion of a pregnancy. Only under dictatorial laws where individual rights do not prevail (such as in theocratic countries like Saudi Arabia or communist societies like Soviet-era Romania, for example, is a woman a fleeting human being.
The Right to Abortion is Absolute Because the Law of Identity and Individual Rights are Absolute
At all times, from the point of birth, a woman retains the right to life and the right to her body. At all times, from the point of birth, the woman’s right to life is enduring, and does not fluctuate according to her fertility status.
The choice to retain a pregnancy is foremost predicated upon a woman’s consent to incubate potential life. And it is nobody’s right — atheist or religious — to deny her this choice.
By the law of identity; by the morality of individualism as against altruism; by the science of reason and individual rights, the right to abortion must not be abrogated.