The Far-reaching Effects of Abortion Ideology
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
Having an abortion affects women in countless ways.
From the physical and emotional, to the social and relational effects of that decision, there are a lot of different possible outcomes At ALIES’ 2022 event, we will have a series
of talks that will cover some of these effects — there are some exciting things brewing for next year, so stay tuned! But this blog will take a wider view. I’m going to be a little abstract and theoretical, but I want to draw out the ways that the arguments used to justify abortion lead to some horrific consequences.
We will start by outlining the abortion argument — the real argument that people are making, whether they realize it or not. We’ll look at how much of it is true (because some of it certainly is) and then we’ll move on to two major results of this type of thinking — the spectrum of personhood and the offloading of responsibility for pregnancy and children onto women.
To the argument!
There are plenty of things that people will say in favour of abortion, plenty of slogans and tough situations people will trot out. But the basic argument for abortion is pretty consistent. It can be formulated in a few different ways, but the basic premises are these:
(1) Women (and their families) suffer from unplanned pregnancies.
Sometimes the “unplanned” children themselves are pitied for their suffering. This suffering can include things from poverty and financial difficulties, to pregnancy woes, to the stress of another child, to changes in life plan, work or education disruptions, and any other thing you can think of that might be inconvenient or difficult.
(2) Unplanned pregnancies are inevitable (or at least sometimes unavoidable)
Sometimes this is brought out as the so-called “hard cases” of rape and incest, but more often it’s a statistical point that some women will get pregnant unintentionally, or a pessimistic view of human freedom that says people (especially young people and teens) are generally and inevitably sexually irresponsible. The main point is that unintended pregnancies happen and that they will continue to happen no matter what we as a society do to discourage behaviour that would lead to them.
(3) The preborn (zygote/embryo/fetus/etc) have a lesser moral value (or do not have moral value at all)
This sounds like a strong statement. And maybe it’s one you’ve never actually heard anyone say out loud, but it underlies most honest arguments for abortion, whether implicitly or explicitly. Generally, this comes from a “personhood argument,” which we’ll talk about more in a moment.
Conclusion: Women are justified (at least under certain circumstances) in sacrificing the preborn by ending a pregnancy to alleviate their own suffering
To state it simply, if women (who have higher moral value) suffer from pregnancies, and their preborn children have little or no moral value, they are justified in terminating the pregnancy. You may have noticed that premise (2) isn’t immediately relevant to the argument, but I’ve included it, because it prevents us from sidestepping the problem of abortion altogether. Otherwise, we could make the point that we should just avoid unplanned pregnancies in the first place. But most people who support abortion don’t believe that that’s possible. To a point, they’re right. Even in a perfect society, people won’t always make the best choice (that’s called human nature).
Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to go over the ways to respond to this argument and all of its flaws, but you’ll probably be able to glean some of the issues with this line of reasoning from the negative results that we’ll get into.
Let’s start by diving into that last premise — that the preborn have a lesser moral value than adult human beings. Often, if you’re speaking with someone who is pro-choice, they will not have a formal argument around this premise, and the idea may just be implicit in their way of thinking. It might not even be something they would acknowledge or say out loud.
Even if they would, though, they may not know the reasons they believe that.
Allotting less moral value to the preborn is an example of a personhood argument. There are lots of versions of this, but essentially, it’s the idea that what gives an individual human moral value is something, or a set of things, other than the fact that they are human beings. That means that to be a person you don’t necessarily need to be human and if you are human, you aren’t necessarily a person. Some common features that people point to as prerequisites for personhood are: self-awareness, agency, intelligence, the ability to experience pain, memory, history, autonomy, future good, and so on.
There are some good personhood arguments. There are some perspectives that are logical and consistent, but they all have the effect of separating humanity from personhood. Almost inevitably, there are some humans who are non-persons under these ideologies. The problem (well, that in itself is a problem, but the further problem) is that this begins to put people on a spectrum of personhood — some have more moral value than others.
For instance, if we look at, say, self-awareness: it seems like the preborn do not have this ability, but it’s also true that people can lose this ability throughout their lives. In diseases like Alzheimer’s this seems to happen, but it can also happen through traumatic brain injuries or developmental issues. So, it would seem that these human beings are not people under that definition. Moreover, some human beings are more self-aware than others, would this mean that they are more persons and therefore have a greater moral value? You can start to see how problematic this type of reasoning becomes.
It compares and grades people on the grounds of certain features. This can lead to feeling of resentment and impatience with the needs of others, who may not be as strong in these characteristics. Autonomy is one of the best examples. Our culture values autonomy as an intrinsic good, something that makes people impressive or admirable. It’s necessary quality for adults to have. Human flourishing, to many, looks like an autonomous individual. If autonomy is the mark of a true person, those who are more dependent and less able to care for themselves, are seen, ironically, as less worthy of the care of others.
Which leads us to the first result of the abortion mindset to be wary of — eugenics. If some human beings are not really people, then it stands to reason that not only can we eliminate them, in some cases we should. For example, in Iceland, there are only a handful of babies with Down Syndrome born each year. Not because they have done something to prevent children from developing the disorder, but because upon prenatal diagnosis, the majority of mothers opt for abortion.
When you add (1) the idea that those with Down Syndrome have a lesser quality of life, or that they are in some sense a burden to their parents and society (which is, I think, an unfortunately common misconception) to the idea that (2) it is fine to end the life of the preborn, abortion in these cases quickly becomes a strongly pressured choice. Some people (e.g. Peter Singer, Christopher Dawkins), will say it’s a moral imperative to abort babies known to have genetic anomalies like Down Syndrome. Basically, not only can women have abortions in these cases they should.
This is how easily the idea that preborn humans are disposable, devolves into full-blown eugenics. All it takes is adding the idea that disabilities are bad.
If we add the idea that girls are bad, we see a similar phenomenon. Unfortunately, as we all know, in many cultures and countries, to varying degrees, women are marginalized in one way or another. In the familial structures, hierarchies and traditional cultures in many countries there is a strong preference for boy children. If there is nothing wrong with terminating a human fetus, and women feel strongly pressured to have sons, then abortion in the case of a female fetus is the obvious choice. Not only are the girl babies that are killed before birth affected by this, but every girl in the society is affected. The issue of sex-selective abortion has become so prevalent in some communities that there is a marked gender disparity, as far more boys are being born than girls.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to serious issues in a society. The Washington Post did a series in 2018 talking about the societal fallout of the skewed sex ratio in China and India. In those countries, sex-selective abortion and infanticide have led to a shortage of women and this, in turn, has led to an epidemic of loneliness and depression among men, human trafficking for brides and prostitutes (further degrading women), and an increase in violent crime and sexual violence. You get this strange effect where, when abortion is brought into cultures where women are marginalized, women and girls are marginalized even more.
The idea that some humans (specifically the preborn) have a lesser moral value is, simply, an opportunity to marginalize subsets of the population. The only way to be truly for human rights, is to be for human rights for all humans. This can’t be based on traits that make humans different from other animals. Human rights must be grounded in our shared humanity. It’s enough that we are all part of the same, human, family.
It’s the “personhood arguments” that we’ve talked about in this first half, and it’s the personhood argument that leads to eugenics, discrimination and the gradation of human beings based on sometimes transient characteristics.
However, women themselves are more directly impacted by another odd effect of abortion ideology. If we accept the conclusion that abortion is morally permissible, something truly strange happens. A biological state, in which women find themselves, becomes a choice. This is the flip-side of the “my body, my choice,” mentality. If a woman is free to choose an abortion, when she does not have an abortion, she is choosing to be pregnant. Prior to abortion being socially and culturally accepted, pregnancy was something that a woman undertook, but also something that happened to her, sometimes without her knowledge or full consent. If the natural result of pregnancy is seen as childbirth and parenthood, there is a lot of responsibility expected. However, it’s a shared responsibility. If a pregnant woman must (barring miscarriage), remain pregnant, give birth and likely parent, there is strong social pressure upon her family, loved ones and especially the father of the child to step up, support her and care for their new family member.
If, however, she is presented with the option of abortion, then in not having an abortion, it is her choice to be pregnant. If it’s her choice, it’s her responsibility.
Few people are so cold and calculating as to abandon a pregnant woman publicly, saying it was her choice, but this mentality has become startlingly prevalent. It is what enables us to make fewer accommodations for pregnant women. It was (and is) her choice, so we don’t need to support her.
A 2018 article from the New York Times outlined ways that pregnant employees suffered working at Planned Parenthood in the US. Aside from the reality that (at least at the time), they did not offer any paid maternity leave, several lawsuits “accused managers of denying workers rest periods, lunch breaks or overtime pay, or retaliating against them for taking medical leave.” This was part of a series of articles published that year in the Times about the ways in which major employers in the US discriminate against pregnant employees. The types of discrimination described lead to all kinds of health problems, including miscarriage.
This isn’t surprising from a perspective that accepts abortion — if a woman chooses to get (and remain) pregnant, it is her responsibility, not her employer’s. Pregnancy accommodations become a luxury. They’re something we can offer, something nice to do, but something which employers are by no means obligated to provide. If the woman doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to stay pregnant.
A further extension of the offloading of responsibility to pregnant women is a lack of accountability from fathers. It becomes very easy when abortion is accepted for men to see a pregnancy and the child resulting from that pregnancy, as the “fault” and the responsibility of their mother. Abandonment follows. Or, indifference, pressure, anger… the list is endless.
We once had a woman call The Back Porch, who was pregnant and wanted to go over her options. We talked for a few minutes over the phone about the abortion procedures available. She told me a little bit about her situation — she and her husband had planned not to have children together. After a short conversation, she asked if we were a pro-life organization. I told her, yes, we are. I explained that we offered accurate information on pregnancy options, but that we do not refer for, or participate in abortions. It was only at that point that she felt safe enough to confess that she didn’t believe in abortion. She said she didn’t want an abortion, but didn’t know what to do, because her husband was pressuring her to have one. He threatened to leave her.
I assured her that we would be able to help her find the support that she needed, and that if she wanted to come in, we could go over the options with her and her husband in an environment where she would not be pressured and we would not “take his side” and say that she should just go ahead and have the abortion.
The couple did come in, and a staff member spoke with them. He would not be swayed, insisting that abortion was not a big deal and that she couldn’t have the baby. She refused to get an abortion, but we were not able to follow up with her beyond providing her with resources. Her husband didn’t support the decision and promised to follow through on his threat to divorce her.
Aside from the fact that this incredibly strong woman chose life against extraordinary pressure, this was a horrifying situation. And it would not have been possible, except in a context where abortion was an option. The argument for abortion opens up the possibility of situations like this — I would argue, because they place the “choice” of the pregnancy and thereby all the responsibility, on the mother. Not only is that unfair, it’s unrealistic. The simple fact is, that conception takes two. Whether a new human organism comes into existence, cannot be offloaded to the whims of a single person. And the responsibility for that life cannot be shrugged onto the shoulders of the one who can’t just walk away, the woman who is physically tethered to her child.
Now, there are many other consequences of abortion ideology — the argument I outlined at the beginning, leads to further conclusions and effects that I wasn’t able to get into — but it should be clear that, because the argument for abortion creates a culture in which some humans are denigrated as being of lesser value, it leads to a world that I think few of us, if we’re honest, would want to live in. From eugenics, to the further marginalization of women in sex-selective abortion and the abandonment and coercion of pregnant women, the ideology of abortion commodifies children, burdens women with undue responsibility, and weighs all of humanity on a spectrum of value that is unjust.
But we have an alternative. We can choose to say that a human being has value, simply because she is part of the human family. We can choose to respect human life at all ages and stages, in all levels of ability, independence and self-awareness. We can choose to care for one another, to support women experiencing unanticipated pregnancies, and to share the work of bringing up the next generation to be better than our own.
That is the prolife response. This is the prolife cause. We are the ones who believe that a human is a human no matter how small. We believe that you aren’t worth more or less depending on how competent, or self-sufficient, or sentient you are. We don’t believe it matters if you’re strong or weak or “contributing to society” — if you are a living human being, you are worthy of care and attention. You are one of us.
We can choose this way, the prolife way. We can choose the way of selfless giving, the way of communal and familial responsibility.
We can choose the ideology of love, over the ideology of abortion.