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Abortion 7 Essay, Research Paper

All of the arguments against abortion boil down to

six specific questions. The first five deal with the

nature of the zygote-embryo-fetus growing inside a

mother’s womb. The last one looks at the morality

of the practice. These questions are:

1.Is it alive?

2.Is it human?

3.Is it a person?

4.Is it physically independent?

5.Does it have human rights?

6.Is abortion murder?

Let’s take a look at each of these questions. We’ll

show how anti-abortionists use seemingly logical

answers to back up their cause, but then we’ll show

how their arguments actually support the fact that

abortion is moral.

1. Is it alive?

Yes. Pro Choice supporters who claim it isn’t do

themselves and their cause a disservice. Of course

it’s alive. It’s a biological mechanism that converts

nutrients and oxygen into biological energy that

causes its cells to divide, multiply, and grow. It’s


Anti-abortion activists often mistakenly use this fact

to support their cause. “Life begins at conception”

they claim. And they would be right. The genesis of

a new human life begins when the egg with 23

chromosomes joins with a sperm with 23

chromosomes and creates a fertilized cell, called a

zygote, with 46 chromosomes. The single-cell

zygote contains all the DNA necessary to grow into

an independent, conscious human being. It is a

potential person.

But being alive does not give the zygote full human

rights – including the right not to be aborted during

its gestation.

A single-cell ameba also coverts nutrients and

oxygen into biological energy that causes its cells to

divide, multiply and grow. It also contains a full set

of its own DNA. It shares everything in common

with a human zygote except that it is not a potential

person. Left to grow, it will always be an ameba -

never a human person. It is just as alive as the

zygote, but we would never defend its human rights

based solely on that fact.

And neither can the anti-abortionist, which is why

we must answer the following questions as well.

2. Is it human?

Yes. Again, Pro Choice defenders stick their feet in

their mouths when they defend abortion by claiming

the zygote-embryo-fetus isn’t human. It is human.

Its DNA is that of a human. Left to grow, it will

become a full human person.

And again, anti-abortion activists often mistakenly

use this fact to support their cause. They are fond

of saying, “an acorn is an oak tree in an early stage

of development; likewise, the zygote is a human

being in an early stage of development.” And they

would be right. But having a full set of human DNA

does not give the zygote full human rights -

including the right not to be aborted during its


Don’t believe me? Here, try this: reach up to your

head, grab one strand of hair, and yank it out.

Look at the base of the hair. That little blob of

tissue at the end is a hair follicle. It also contains a

full set of human DNA. Granted it’s the same DNA

pattern found in every other cell in your body, but

in reality the uniqueness of the DNA is not what

makes it a different person. Identical twins share

the exact same DNA, and yet we don’t say that

one is less human than the other, nor are two twins

the exact same person. It’s not the configuration of

the DNA that makes a zygote human; it’s simply

that it has human DNA. Your hair follicle shares

everything in common with a human zygote except

that it is a little bit bigger and it is not a potential

person. (These days even that’s not an absolute

considering our new-found ability to clone humans

from existing DNA, even the DNA from a hair


Your hair follicle is just as human as the zygote, but

we would never defend its human rights based

solely on that fact.

And neither can the anti-abortionist, which is why

the following two questions become critically

important to the abortion debate.

3. Is it a person?

No. It’s merely a potential person.

Webster’s Dictionary lists a person as “being an

individual or existing as an indivisible whole; existing

as a distinct entity.” Anti-abortionists claim that

each new fertilized zygote is already a new person

because its DNA is uniquely different than anyone

else’s. In other words, if you’re human, you must be

a person.

Of course we’ve already seen that a simple hair

follicle is just as human as a single-cell zygote, and,

that unique DNA doesn’t make the difference since

two twins are not one person. It’s quite obvious,

then, that something else must occur to make one

human being different from another. There must be

something else that happens to change a

DNA-patterned body into a distinct person. (Or in

the case of twins, two identically DNA-patterned

bodies into two distinct persons.)

There is, and most people inherently know it, but

they have trouble verbalizing it for one very specific


The defining mark between something that is human

and someone who is a person is ‘consciousness.’ It

is the self-aware quality of consciousness that

makes us uniquely different from others. This

self-awareness, this sentient consciousness is also

what separates us from every other animal life form

on the planet. We think about ourselves. We use

language to describe ourselves. We are aware of

ourselves as a part of the greater whole.

The problem is that consciousness normally doesn’t

occur until months, even years, after a baby is born.

This creates a moral dilemma for the defender of

abortion rights. Indeed, they inherently know what

makes a human into a person, but they are also

aware such individual personhood doesn’t occur

until well after birth. To use personhood as an

argument for abortion rights, therefore, also leads

to the argument that it should be okay to kill a

3-month-old baby since it hasn’t obtained

consciousness either.

Anti-abortionists use this perceived problem in an

attempt to prove their point. In a debate, a Pro

Choice defender will rightly state that the difference

between a fetus and a full-term human being is that

the fetus isn’t a person. The anti-abortion activist,

being quite sly, will reply by asking his opponent to

define what makes someone into a person.

Suddenly the Pro Choice defender is at a loss for

words to describe what he or she knows innately.

We know it because we lived it. We know we

have no memory of self-awareness before our first

birthday, or even before our second. But we also

quickly become aware of the “problem” we create

if we say a human doesn’t become a person until

well after its birth. And we end up saying nothing.

The anti-abortionist then takes this inability to

verbalize the nature of personhood as proof of their

claim that a human is a person at conception.

But they are wrong. Their “logic” is greatly flawed.

Just because someone is afraid to speak the truth

doesn’t make it any less true.

And in reality, the Pro Choice defender’s fear is

unfounded. They are right, and they can state it

without hesitation. A human indeed does not

become a full person until consciousness. And

consciousness doesn’t occur until well after the birth

of the child. But that does not automatically lend

credence to the anti-abortionist’s argument that it

should, therefore, be acceptable to kill a

three-month-old baby because it is not yet a


It is still a potential person. And after birth it is an

independent potential person whose existence no

longer poses a threat to the physical wellbeing of

another. To understand this better, we need to look

at the next question.

4. Is it physically independent?

No. It is absolutely dependant on another human

being for its continued existence. Without the

mother’s life-giving nutrients and oxygen it would

die. Throughout gestation the zygote-embryo-fetus

and the mother’s body are symbiotically linked,

existing in the same physical space and sharing the

same risks. What the mother does affects the fetus.

And when things go wrong with the fetus, it affects

the mother.

Anti-abortionists claim fetal dependence cannot be

used as an issue in the abortion debate. They make

the point that even after birth, and for years to

come, a child is still dependent on its mother, its

father, and those around it. And since no one

would claim its okay to kill a child because of its

dependency on others, we can’t, if we follow their

logic, claim it’s okay to abort a fetus because of its


What the anti-abortionist fails to do, however, is

differentiate between physical dependence and

social dependence. Physical dependence does not

refer to meeting the physical needs of the child -

such as in the anti-abortionist’s argument above.

That’s social dependence; that’s where the child

depends on society – on other people – to feed it,

clothe it, and love it. Physical dependence occurs

when one life form depends solely on the physical

body of another life form for its existence.

Physical dependence was cleverly illustrated back

in 1971 by philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson.

She created a scenario in which a woman is

kidnapped and wakes up to find she’s been

surgically attached to a world-famous violinist who,

for nine months, needs her body to survive. After

those nine months, the violinist can survive just fine

on his own, but he must have this particular woman

in order to survive until then.

Thompson then asks if the woman is morally

obliged to stay connected to the violinist who is

living off her body. It might be a very good thing if

she did – the world could have the beauty that

would come from such a violinist – but is she

morally obliged to let another being use her body to


This very situation is already conceded by

anti-abortionists. They claim RU-486 should be

illegal for a mother to take because it causes her

uterus to flush its nutrient-rich lining, thus removing

a zygote from its necessary support system and,

therefore, ending its short existence as a life form.

Thus the anti-abortionist’s own rhetoric only proves

the point of absolute physical dependence.

This question becomes even more profound when

we consider a scenario where it’s not an existing

person who is living off the woman’s body, but

simply a potential person, or better yet, a single-cell

zygote with human DNA that is no different than

the DNA in a simple hair follicle.

To complicate it even further, we need to realize

that physical dependence also means a physical

threat to the life of the mother. The World Health

Organization reports that nearly 670,000 women

die from pregnancy-related complications each

year (this number does not include abortions).

That’s 1,800 women per day. We also read that in

developed countries, such as the United States and

Canada, a woman is 13 times more likely to die

bringing a pregnancy to term than by having an


Therefore, not only is pregnancy the prospect of

having a potential person physically dependant on

the body of one particular women, it also includes

the women putting herself into a life-threatening

situation for that potential person.

Unlike social dependence, where the mother can

choose to put her child up for adoption or make it a

ward of the state or hire someone else to take care

of it, during pregnancy the fetus is absolutely

physically dependent on the body of one woman.

Unlike social dependence, where a woman’s

physical life is not threatened by the existence of

another person, during pregnancy, a woman places

herself in the path of bodily harm for the benefit of a

DNA life form that is only a potential person – even

exposing herself to the threat of death.

This brings us to the next question: do the rights of

a potential person supercede the rights of the

mother to control her body and protect herself from

potential life-threatening danger?

5. Does it have human rights?

Yes and No.

A potential person must always be given full human

rights unless its existence interferes with the rights of

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness of an

already existing conscious human being. Thus, a

gestating fetus has no rights before birth and full

rights after birth.

If a fetus comes to term and is born, it is because

the mother chooses to forgo her own rights and her

own bodily security in order to allow that future

person to gestate inside her body. If the mother

chooses to exorcise control over her own body and

to protect herself from the potential dangers of

childbearing, then she has the full right to terminate

the pregnancy.

Anti-abortion activists are fond of saying “The only

difference between a fetus and a baby is a trip

down the birth canal.” This flippant phrase may

make for catchy rhetoric, but it doesn’t belay the

fact that indeed “location” makes all the difference

in the world.

It’s actually quite simple. You cannot have two

entities with equal rights occupying one body. One

will automatically have veto power over the other -

and thus they don’t have equal rights. In the case of

a pregnant woman, giving a “right to life” to the

potential person in the womb automatically cancels

out the mother’s right to Life, Liberty, and the

Pursuit of Happiness.

After birth, on the other hand, the potential person

no longer occupies the same body as the mother,

and thus, giving it full human rights causes no

interference with another’s right to control her

body. Therefore, even though a full-term human

baby may still not be a person, after birth it enjoys

the full support of the law in protecting its rights.

After birth its independence begs that it be

protected as if it were equal to a fully-conscience

human being. But before birth its lack of

personhood and its threat to the women in which it

resides makes abortion a completely logical and

moral choice.

Which brings us to our last question, which is the

real crux of the issue….

6. Is abortion murder?

No. Absolutely not.

It’s not murder if it’s not an independent person.

One might argue, then, that it’s not murder to end

the life of any child before she reaches

consciousness, but we don’t know how long after

birth personhood arrives for each new child, so it’s

completely logical to use their independence as the

dividing line for when full rights are given to a new

human being.

Using independence also solves the problem of

dealing with premature babies. Although a preemie

is obviously still only a potential person, by virtue of

its independence from the mother, we give it the full

rights of a conscious person. This saves us from

setting some other arbitrary date of when we

consider a new human being a full person. Older

cultures used to set it at two years of age, or even

older. Modern religious cultures want to set it at


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