Is Abortion Really Wrong? A Secular Look

This was written by my friend Arthur Khachatryan

There’s no doubt, one of today’s most polarising issues is abortion. The two sides of the abortion issue have never been further apart. While the folks on the one side of the issue keep pressing for personal liberty at all cost and blame religion for attempting to trample on those freedoms, the folks on the other side stare blindly at the radicalization of the self over against what appears to be an intuitively basic knowledge that life is to be protected. Many in this camp will say that we can know that abortion is wrong simply through our intuition, and while this may ultimately be true, it does no work in resolving the issue as a matter of an objective moral law or public policy because it is unable to bridge the gap between the two sides.

Now, it should first be noted that the issue of whether or not abortion is morally permissible is not necessarily a religious one. Though there are obvious religious insights that can help us navigate the difficult issue, we can actually arrive at a logically sound conclusion about what side of the argument is more valid by simply examining the issue in some depth without the aid of religion. So, it is especially fruitful to find arguments based on the common shared experience of simply being human and thinking logically within a moral landscape.

So then, which position is more valid and why? Should personal choice triumph? Should life be spared at all cost? When is it permissible to end a human life? If I may put it more bluntly, when is it permissible to kill a human being?

What is Abortion?

Since people often use words in different ways and understand them differently, it’s helpful to be on the same page about our understanding of abortion. It’s practical and important to define what we’re talking about when we’re discussing abortion. So, what exactly is abortion? Abortion is taking the life of an underdeveloped, innocent human being. I realize there may be those who would challenge this definition of abortion, and we will get to those objections in a moment. For now, the definition can simply be gleaned from our uniform experience as human beings.

It is true that various civil justice systems have the power (and arguably should have) to end the life of another human being, but it is never done to an innocent human being who has not provoked it. What do we call the act of one person or people ending the life of another human being? Well, we generally call it murder.

Let’s be clear – we’re not simply talking about killing. It’s important to distinguish between simply killing and murder. Though there are obviously similarities between murder and killing, murder does not simply mean to kill. For example, if someone were to break into a house, and the resident in self defense were to kill the assailant, the resident would not be guilty of murder. The resident is guilty of nothing – he is wholly innocent since all he’s doing is protecting his own life and that of his family. It is the assailant who has instigate the exchange and were he to kill the resident, it is he who would then be guilty of murder.

It is the same with civil law – some states have implemented judicial power of capital punishment for extremely dangerous criminals who are a threat to its citizens. Though some may argue that this also should be impermissible, we can all agree that this is fairly different also in terms of being defined as murder, since the state has not instigated the conflict. It’s clear that not all killing is murder. What differentiates murder from killing is that murder is an act of aggression without adequate instigation by the victim and proper justification by the agent(s) carrying it out. Killing can be done to exact justice. Murder implies ill intent and cannot be justified!

Since a human being, in whatever stage of development (embryo, fetus or baby) has done nothing to instigate a conflict, the abortion of that life means ending of the life of an innocent human being. In fact, generally (unless pregnancy is the result of rape) the catalyst for the pregnancy and the human life is the mother herself. Now, is this killing that can (with the possible exception of the rare occasions in which the mother’s health is in jeopardy) be understood to be something that is being done in self defense? Not at all. In the vast majority of cases abortions are not the result of any possible health crisis of the mother. It’s fairly easy therefore, to establish that abortion is ending innocent life of a human being and is generally not in self defense. Thus, abortion qualifies as murder – the taking of the life of an innocent human being.

And so we have to ask – is it right to take the life of an innocent human being? Under normal circumstance, the easy answer to that question is a resounding ‘No!’ and since we’ve already established abortion is the taking of an innocent human being, the conclusion logically follows that it is wrong to do so. In fact, the logic of the argument is undeniable (If the premises of the syllogism are true, the conclusion follows logically):

  • Premise 1 – It’s wrong to take the life of an innocent human being without proper justification.
  • Premise 2 – Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being.
  • Conclusion – Therefore, abortion is wrong.

Generally speaking, no one will contend (moral relativism answered ahead) that Premise 1 is not true. Most people who are pro-choice will contend Premise 2 – that abortion does NOT take the life of an innocent human being. What is generally contended is not the guilt or innocence of the baby, but whether or not the baby is actually alive, is a human being, or is an actual person.

Defending Abortion?

1. Pro-Choice Argument: The Aborted is Not Alive

Some arguments in support of abortion are quite antiquated by modern science, as happens to be the case with the notion that the thing we’re aborting is not really alive. Modern science has clearly demonstrated that from the point of conception, there are processes taking place during the development of the embryo and fetus that are clearly only found in living things. Shortly after conception, human beings have their full DNA determined, and begin the quick development cycle.

If the supposed “non-living” object inside the mother’s body is not alive, then what exactly is abortion supposed to accomplish? It’s alive. It’s growing. That’s the reason why people want to get rid of it. It’s not just the mother that is alive because there is already another set of human DNA that is unique from that of the mother inside the mother, which identifies him/her as a unique individual, albeit small and inside the mother’s body.

Abortion is the means by which the life inside the mother’s body is exterminated. The very act of abortion presupposes that life exists inside the mother’s body, and is growing. If it weren’t alive and growing there would be no need for abortion.

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