In Defense of Abortion

I was surprised to find Strike The Root running a column urging libertarian-minded people to oppose legal abortions, and even more surprised to find that the column was "Recommended" by the editor. Though I do not expect anybody's rebuttal to get the same glowing review, I'll give a stab at responding.

The author, who goes by the single name "Weebies," has spent many words in defense of his stand, yet never manages to get around to considering questions vital for anybody who takes his position. Let's begin with the most obvious: In a perfect society what, according to the author, would be the proper penalty for a woman who gets an abortion? If an embryo is truly a human being, then abortion must be a crime equivalent to the murder of a fully sentient person, right? Then for the "crime" of abortion, the perpetrator should be locked up or at the very least banished from the company of fellow citizens. I would like to hear the author address this point rather than side-stepping it. To my mind, such a punishment is absurd.

We hear repeatedly that the assertion that an embryo is the equivalent of any human life is a "scientific and medical fact." If repetition proved truth, this would be sufficient. It does not, and it is not.

Yes, an embryo is alive. So, for that matter, is a sperm. A man produces about 100 million sperm in a single shot. I doubt very much that the author would claim that it is "murder" to flush a load of sperm down the toilet. Similarly, an unfertilized egg is alive. A healthy young woman releases one approximately every month. Yet, luckily for mankind, not all of those eggs produce an unterminated pregnancy, or else we'd be awash in babies.

So we have sperm that are disposable and eggs that are disposable. Yet, the moment a sperm enters an egg, we magically have a sacred thing, a "human life," the violation of which is an immense crime, according to the author. This strikes me as nonsense.

Infertile couples often pay to have the woman's eggs harvested and fertilized outside the womb, with the goal of implanting one or more within her, ultimately resulting in the birth of one or more living human beings. If this process succeeds, and if there are left-over frozen fertilized eggs, is it "murder" to dispose of them? The author's position makes no sense unless the answer is yes. And yet, again, this position strikes me as absurd. Fertilized eggs are POTENTIAL human beings, not the real article. They are worth, to my mind, exactly double what a sperm or an unfertilized egg are worth, which is to say, double of almost nothing.

Then we have the very curious argument which could be summarized, "Karl Marx supported abortion rights. Marx was evil. Therefore anybody who supports abortion rights is evil (and/or is exactly like Karl Marx)." This makes as much sense as saying, "Hitler urged people to drink milk. Hitler was evil. Therefore milk is evil, and anyone who drinks milk is Hitler's soul-mate."

Do I think abortion is a wonderful procedure for women to practice, as often as possible? No. I think abortion represents a tragedy, and, in my experience from talking with them, one keenly felt by the women who choose it. Women have wonderful imaginations, and picture vividly what the child might have been like, had it been allowed to grow into an actual baby capable of living outside the womb. Anti-abortionists like to portray women who avail themselves of the procedure as being heartless murderers. While I don't doubt that some women get abortions carelessly, I've never met one who described it as anything but a gut-wrenching decision.

The author lectures men and women that if they have sex, they should take precautions to avoid pregnancy. That's all well and good: A pregnancy is better avoided than terminated. But if the precautions fail, what then? I know a woman who has had a "rhythm baby," a "condom baby," a "diaphragm baby," and a "pill baby." The author, in his infinite wisdom, would forbid her, and every other woman, from taking any action once contraception fails, other than to bring another child into the world, whether wanted or not.

I'm sorry, but I think that the lives of actual fully-formed, breathing human beings are far more important than the life of a single-celled embryo. During pregnancy, there is of course a continuous process during which one cell becomes two, then four, then eight and so on, while concurrently tissues begin to differentiate. Once the creature is capable of living on its own, then I think it is reasonable to talk about rights beyond those of the parents. Before that point is reached, I view any attempt to intervene by force to be misguided and, ultimately, a back-door excuse to meddle in others' affairs. I consider such a position to be the exact opposite of "libertarian."

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John deLaubenfels's picture
Columns on STR: 17

John deLaubenfels is a 61-year old native born citizen of the United States, a programmer by profession and music lover by avocation, who is passionate about preserving (and restoring) the basic freedoms of this country, and, if possible, the world.