The Pro-life versus Pro-choice Assumptions and Responses

(None of the following assumptions or responses is original, although it is uncommon to find them collected together in this way.   Much of the debate is normally presented from one side or the other and hence the two sides normally talk past one another. It should go without saying that the two groups are motivated by different concerns. Identify the assumptions that you have not encountered and ask yourself if the suggested answer seems convincing enough to cause those with the assumptions to change their mind.)
Pro life assumption: Life begins at conception with all the information needed in the fertilised egg to produce a fully functioning human being, therefore abortion is equivalent to murder as it is the act of taking human life. Abortion is in direct defiance of the commonly accepted idea of the sanctity of human life.
Pro Choice answer. In fact each cell in the starting embryo is theoretically capable of development but in practice many of these cells break off the embryo and do not implant. We are not expected to mourn their passing because like the millions of cells we lose later eg dead skin etc the separate cells are not functioning human beings. Many early miscarriages are not even noticed by the potential mother to be if they occur naturally near the beginning of the development process.
Pro Choice Assumption Nearly all abortions take place in the first trimester, when a fetus cannot exist independent of the mother. As it is attached by the placenta and umbilical cord, its health is dependent on her health, and cannot be regarded as a separate entity as it cannot exist outside her womb.
Pro Life answer When we know the developing foetus is going develop to a fully functioning child without outside intervention, to impose that intervention is morally unacceptable. The child-to-be has rights just as the functioning child will also deserve rights.
Pro-life Assumption A civilized society prevents one human from intentionally harming or taking the life of another human and punishes those that deliberately harm or murder, and since abortion is no different in intent to the developing baby those responsible should receive the same sort of judgement.
Pro-choice answer. Regardless of what might or might not be desirable, it is a fact that civilised societies often do permit abortions under some circumstances, suggesting that the lawmakers definitely do not see the direct parallel. The Jews for example did not regard the baby alive with human right until it was half way through the birth canal. There is no penalty for abortion mentioned in the Bible or the laws of the Jews in Bible times
Pro-choice assumption: The concept of personhood is different from the concept of human life.  Potential Human life occurs at conception, but fertilized eggs used for in vitro fertilization are also potential human lives and those not implanted are routinely thrown away. Is this murder, and if not, then how is abortion murder?
Pro-life answer: Without implantation, there is no genuine possibility of life being produced. Abortion is performed on the implanted fertilised egg or subsequent stage of development.
Pro—life assumption: Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion and accomplishes the same result. And with millions of families wanting to adopt children worldwide, there is no such thing as an unwanted child.
Pro-choice answer: In practice there are many children for whom there is a distinct shortage of potential adoptive parents. For example children of unpopular minorities, deformed and retarded children, children with AIDS, children with foetal alcohol syndrome, severely autistic children etc. Some parents in practice ask for children from the same or similar background as their own, some even specifying intelligence of parents, race, skin colour etc. (even religion of birth parents)
Pro-choice assumption Teenagers who become mothers are recognised as having a future of being much more likely to leave school inadequately qualified; receive inadequate prenatal care; rely on public or extended family assistance to raise a child (typically the teenager’s parents) ; develop health problems; or end up either as a solo partner or one with a difficult family security.
Pro-life answer Killing the unwanted child is a worse alternative.
Pro-life assumption Abortions can result in medical complications later in life. For example there is a measureable risk of ectopic pregnancies. Similarly the chances of subsequent miscarriage and inflammatory disease of the pelvis increases.
Pro-choice answer. Most abortions carried out in modern facilities by trained personnel result in no complications. Although there might be some risk for parent and child, there are also risks if the child is unwanted, or poses a known genetic or health risk to the mother.
Pro-life assumption In the instance of rape and incest, proper medical care can ensure that a woman will not get pregnant. Abortion punishes the unborn child who committed no crime; instead, it is the perpetrator who should be punished.
Prochoice answer: In practice there is often extreme emotion harm to the mother if she is forced to carry a child from rape or incest to full term. Many theoretical alternatives like the morning after pill are often unavailable at the time, particularly as many women or girls are unaware at the time they are pregnant, and on occasion the distraught victim of rape is reluctant to report the incident. In the real world often the perpetrator is unknown or protected from identification by the family.
Pro-life assumption: Abortion shouldn’t be used as another form of contraception. For women who demand complete control of their body, control should include preventing the risk of unwanted pregnancy through the responsible use of contraception or, if that is not possible, through abstinence.
Prochoice answer. In an ideal world, no doubt abortion would not be needed and in most instances this is not the case. But for real life human encounters, wisdom after the event is no protection against pregnancy. Pregnancy can occur even with responsible contraceptive use. Less than 10% of women who have abortions do not use any form of birth control, and from interview responses, this is probably due more to individual carelessness than to the availability of abortion.
Prochoice assumption The ability of a woman to have control of her body is one of the essential human rights. Her reproductive choice needs to be safeguarded because otherwise by the same reasoning other choices too like whether or not to be forced to use contraception or even be sterilised might similarly fall under state control.
Pro-life answer: If she has control of her body, then she choses whether or not to risk pregnancy. However if she choses the possibility ofpregnancy, since human life is important she has no right to endanger the rights of the unborn child.
Pro-life assumption Many citizen who pay taxes are opposed to abortion, therefore it’s morally wrong to use tax dollars to fund abortion.
Prochoice answer. The cost of looking after unwanted children with subsequent problems is many times the cost of the abortion. Should those who accept abortion pay the tax component of abortion, and those who don’t accept abortion bear the entire tax-payer cost of looking after the mother and unwanted child and consequent problems. Remember that for example a severely brain damaged child will cost the heath system many thousands of dollars.
Pro-choice assumption: Abortion is a safe medical procedure. The vast majority of women – 88% – who have an abortion do so in their first trimester. Medical abortions have less than 0.5% risk of serious complications and do not affect a woman’s health or future ability to become pregnant or give birth.
Pro-life answer: Those who choose abortions are often minors or young women with insufficient life experience to understand fully what they are doing. Many have lifelong regrets afterwards. Abortion frequently causes stress and psychological pain.

NOW QUESTIONS FOR THE READER
Thinking of those you know associated with the two lobby groups, pro-life and pro-choice do you believe they have sufficient common ground to be able to hear and understand the others’ reasoning?

Who are typically represented in the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies?

Looking at the above questions and answers do they raise issues which deserve more attention?
What more might be done to reduce the areas of concern and dispute?

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9 Responses to The Pro-life versus Pro-choice Assumptions and Responses

  1. You presented a thorough and balanced presentation of the views of these two groups. It seems to me that the two groups start at polar opposite points of view regarding the fertilized egg. The pro-life group as you stated so well see it as the first stage of development in the life of a unique human being. The pro-choice group sees it as a potential human being. To pro-lifers to abort the embryo is murder. To the pro-choicers abortion is simply a surgical procedure. Both groups have invested a great deal of emotional energy (not to mention time and money) into presenting their views. You may think I’m a pessimist but neither group seems open to understand the other. They both seem to fear admitting the other has a point for fear of losing the entire argument. As long as both groups are so deeply entrenched we will continue to watch an ongoing “culture war.”

    • Bill Peddie says:

      I fear you are probably right. However it would be good if both sides were to ask firstly – what is it that prevents our opponents from hearing our concerns? and secondly – how can we show that we have attended to their concerns in our position? After all if their intention is to win their opponents to their way of thinking, they first must recognise where their opponents currently stand. Is there any way of drawing some of them into this discussion? I would be surprised if any of them have even heard of this website!

  2. dave says:

    I suspect the abortion debate will not reach a conclusion soon because it is focused on the wrong aspect of the pregnancy. The debate has been incorrectly framed by the emphasis on when the fetus is considered a human life. The debate should be concerned with the circumstances of the pregnancy itself. The current abortion debate is a strike against the foundation of our social structure.

    Human beings have similarities to our close genetic relatives, the bonobo and the chimpanzee. All are social creatures but the social framework is different among the three. Chimpanzees are marked by an alpha male who dominates the tribe and through intimidation and violence maintains control over his chosen females to mate with. Bonobos have a peaceful community with such a loose framework that typically it is not possible to determine the father of any baby.

    Human beings have a two-tier social framework, with a monogamous couple responsible for raising their children. This recognized family unit (so the parents do not fear others taking their spouse or children) enables labor specialization for the most effective contribution to the larger community.

    Our culture relies on the family unit to make the decisions involving its children. For example, there are studies that breast feeding is the best practice for long term health and initial development of the infant but there are no laws to force that method. The circumstances for the mother, such as her career demands, might prevent it and the alternative methods can still result in a healthy child. There might be a very popular local religion but there are no laws to force any type of indoctrination on the children. Our culture has typically not infringed on a family to the extent seen with this abortion situation.

    The decision whether to carry a fetus to term (or not) must always involve the mother. Human society has the family unit as the foundation and it is a significant contradiction for an entity outside of the family to force a mother to deliver an unwanted baby.

    There is widespread concern among religious groups whether statistics like higher divorce rates imply unidentified cultural changes are weakening the family unit. The abortion debate, when denying the birth decision to be within that family unit, could certainly be a negative influence.

    Allowing families to have the necessary control over when a baby is added to the family will strengthen not weaken our society because then each family unit has the authority to match its responsibility.

    Denying a family the authority for this decision conflicts with its capacity to fulfill its responsibility. Denying a family access to an abortion procedure when necessary is similarly harmful to the family’s well being – so by extension the society in general.

    Legislation preventing access to abortion is nothing but an attempt by those in power to inflict their inconsiderate demands on the expectant mother. The responsibility on child bearing must remain with the mother and the family unit, not in a some monitoring/prosecuting legal entity that is in no critical way involved in the family decision making process. Otherwise expectant mothers are just baby factories for those in power even though these mothers are ultimately responsible for the care of those babies.

    I recognize and appreciate that abortion should be a last resort, since it removes a possible person. However the consequences when that option is prevented must be recognized as well. The essay above has a good comparison between the two sides of the current debate. I found no mention that the mother/family is the critical participant in the decision. The debate can be concluded only, like any academic debate, when both sides can accept a resolution. That acceptance is apparently a nearly insurmountable hurdle so far – but is it because the debate is improperly framed?

    For a longer essay, please see
    Family decision on abortion

  3. Bill Peddie says:

    You have made some good points. If I could just make some brief comments to suggest some slight qualifications to some of your comments. For example when you distinguish between the chimps, bonobos and humans I would have to say that your human family is idealised. I have met human families where there is an alpha male controlling “his” females, and even the odd human family with your mentioned characteristics of the bonobo.
    I also wonder if there is more variety in terms of mothers. For example I have come across families where a pregnancy is regarded as a mere casual inconvenience to be terminated by abortion, which may be why the right to life people are saying there appear to be far too many abortions, particularly when each life is potentially precious.
    I would be interested to hear whether on not the right to life folk feel they have a good answer to the points you have made.

    • dave says:

      Of course I used an idealized family. I bring up the topic of other primates just to point out aspects of this debate should be recognized as part of our human nature, rather than part of our learned behaviors. During childhood development and maturation, some are apparently unable to tame their ‘wild’ side which can have unfortunate consequences for society.

      I also agree among all the expectant mothers there will certainly be varying levels of maturity.

      The important point I wished to make is: who should decide?

      The debate seems to be simply whether an abortion should be allowed or not – always ignoring that important question as to who should make that decision. Legislation covers everyone. There can be no maturity test but if one was created for evaluation, who would be the judge? Again, the decision is pushed outside of the family unit (and who would select the judge?). Why is the family unit not the correct decision point?

      While I portrayed the ideal circumstances there will always be outliers. If the legislation is most concerned with the minority then the majority suffers the consequences. The ‘life begins at birth’ rule is simply intolerant of conditions in real families. The competence of a particular family might be of concern but that is not the important issue (just a distraction tactic in a debate), just whether our culture can accept the family unit is the correct place for the decision.

      I hope I did not improperly detour the initial discussion but I remain convinced the controversy over when a fetus becomes a human being is less important – to the family and to society (laws are passed for the benefit of society) – because it ignores the important consequences for the mother/family unable/unwilling to carry a baby to birth. The mother has to survive the pregnancy/delivery and is the primary care giver during infancy. She should be the critical decision maker here.

      A side topic is dealing with adolescents and the age of ‘adulthood.’ An adolescent by definition is under the responsibility of her parents, with the important decisions still made within her family. That topic should not derail this question.

      Our culture relies on the family to make all the other critical decisions on child rearing. Why not this one too? Is our culture unwilling to accept the consequences of whatever decision about birth will be made by any family? Why?

      • dave says:

        An appalling mistake above. It should have read: The ‘life begins at conception’ rule is simply intolerant of conditions in real families.

  4. alekswashere says:

    I agree with pretty much everything Dave said. I firmly believe the decision belongs to the family in general and the woman in particular. I also think that there is a very slim chance that the pro-life and pro-choice people will agree on anything as long as the discussion revolves around establishing when fetus becomes a baby.

    There is one point I’m missing in the discussion here. Abortions will happen regardless of the law. I come from a country where abortion is forbidden by law, but it doesn’t really stop it in any way. Instead there is a huge underground world of illegal, expensive and often unsafe abortions. Girls risk their health and ability to have children in the future.

    Similarly, forbidding and punishing prostitution doesn’t really stop it, does it? Where there is demand there will be supply.

    Now I live in a country where early abortion is allowed and free. (Health care here is free.) The pregnant girl is offered specialist help with making the decision. The procedure takes place in a clean, well equipped hospital under careful care of nurses and doctors. Afterwords the state even pays for the taxi home and provides the girl/woman with sick leave from work.

    Girls will try to terminate pregnancies anyway. I have friends who did it both legally and illegally. I think if the pro-life and pro-choice people shifted their focus from the fetus to the safety of the woman, maybe it would be a bit easier for them to agree on something.

    Finally: the first country has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, while the latter has one of the highest. So allowing abortion doesn’t mean women stop having children.

    just my 2 cents…

    • peddiebill says:

      I suspect you are correct yet the impasse will remain until the supporters in both camps feel their concerns are being met. It is an over-simplification I know, but it seems to me that many in the anti abortion camp are from the very conservative Christian lobby – and because what they are really focussing on is the soul, regardless of what we might think, the moment of conception is all important to them as the start of that soul. Some of their arguments in debate are designed to appeal to those outside the Conservative religious camp – but may not in fact be the issue they really care about. Although I basically agree with you and Dave I suspect our case does not address what the anti abortion group consider to be most important.

  5. dave says:

    I feel something is being missed here, when seeking what is most important.

    The conservative Christian argument against abortion might be centered on the time of conception but clearly that focus is not what is so important during the debate. The ‘soul’ is only for the sake of the argument, to ‘sell’ the overall package. This debate is just part of an apparent pattern here in the US.

    The pro-choice stance rests on the assumption the decision to have a baby (or not) rests with the pregnant mother and her family. The opposition wants that decision set by a law defining the particular criteria to be applied in all cases and the criteria are defined in this case by the religious conservatives to be as limited as possible, perhaps allowing only when the mother’s life is in danger (where some number of conservatives even wish to prevent an abortion in such traumatic cases as rape and incest). This debate is about control of the decision point, not about when a fetus becomes viable or when a soul arrives.

    The move to approve non-heterosexual marriages rests on the assumption the decision to form a legally binding union rests with the two partners. The opposition wants that decision set by a law defining the criteria to be applied in all cases and the criteria are defined in this case by the religious conservatives to be narrowly restricted to only a man and a woman. This debate is about control of this decision point, not about whether any couple will be good role models for their children.

    The opposition to teaching intelligent design in public schools rests on the assumption that teaching religion should be in religious institutions, not in publicly funded schools. The religious conservatives want the public schools to teach religious concepts, just as they wish to get teachers to foster prayer in public education classrooms and activities. The debate is about control not about content.

    The push for school vouchers will get public school funding to pay for students attending religious schools (so funds from taxes will be paid to a church for those who wish to be taught in a religion-based system). Recent initiatives to provide funding to faith-based charities seek public funding for religious organizations.

    I cannot consider the abortion debate as unrelated to the other simultaneous efforts at getting particular religious teachings applied to everyone (not just those who follow a particular religion) and getting funds sourced from all taxpayers (not just those of a particular group or region) funneled to religious groups.

    If all the members of a church wish to follow a rule where every pregnancy must be carried to term (regardless of conditions), I am concerned about the consequences of such a rule but that is their conscious decision so of course I would not interfere. When expectant mothers die or unwanted children suffer under parental abuse, I expect those outside of the church could become alarmed by such a callous attitude by the church leadership – but in this scenario the critical decision was still made by the parents to conform with the church rule (it was not a law). It is most disturbing when an important decision is pushed on everyone else by someone uninvolved.

    The debate will not reach a conclusion until there is a true separation of church and state. These debates are becoming so emotional because that boundary is being dissolved.

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