Section Seven: The Case Against Abortion

Whatever the opinion of the individual humanist about abortion itself, the humanist position is a clearly pro-abortion rights one, and it is supportive of the main bodies that campaign for reform in present government legislation concerning abortion. But there are those who oppose abortion under any circumstances, the “pro-life” or “anti-abortion rights” groups.

Much of the antipathy to abortion centers around the issue of fetal sentience, the claim — disputed by pro-choice campaigners — that the fetus is capable of experiencing pain at ten weeks. Any attempt to remove the fetus from the womb is thus inflicting a painful death and, since it is ending life, is tantamount to murder. Those opposed to abortion also object to partial-birth abortion, a method that has to be used for late terminations when the fetus — which, in some countries, cannot legally be killed outside the womb — is partially born and then aborted.

But apart from the issue of fetal sentience, those opposed to abortion believe that life begins at conception. Any attempt at interfering with that life is believed to be wrong. Since life is accepted from the moment of conception, such opponents also condemn the use of abortifacients, the so-called “morning-after pill”, the post-coital pill that is designed to prevent successful implantation of a fertilized ovum in the uterus during the first days of development. They maintain that this is not contraception but illegal abortion.

Some campaigners against abortion also believe that physical or mental disability is no grounds for abortion, pointing out that the later terminations for handicaps are sometimes for minor reasons of harelip, clubfoot, even impaired hearing, and sight. They are opposed to what they consider a fostering of a mentality of lethal discrimination against the disabled. With the advance of genetic technology, they fear a “search and destroy” attitude, particularly since care of the severely disabled child and adult can make great demands on the health and social services.

Opponents of abortion also fear the acceptance of infanticide of those severely handicapped at birth, a practice that does obtain occasionally in hospitals. But the cases of abortion because of a potentially handicapped child are very few compared to those on grounds of harm to the mental and physical well-being of the mother, or to her existing family. In Britain, women must gain authorization from two medical practitioners before termination is permitted, yet campaigners against abortion claim that reasons given are social reasons and amount to “abortion on demand”. They are opposed to any reform in the abortion law that might allow women to terminate a pregnancy through their own choice. The unborn child is always seen as a separate human being from its mother, with a potentially unique and separate personality, having a right to life both before and after its birth.

Underlying these ideas is a religious ideology that only God has the right to give and take life. The Roman Catholic position, for example, is staunchly anti-abortion (and officially anti-contraception), as is the Muslim position. In Muslim religious law, life is given by Allah right from the beginning as a nuftah, a drop of fluid in the mother’s womb. This drop of fluid, Muslims believe, is planned, programmed and cared for by Allah, and should not be terminated. The “soul” is believed to enter the fetus at 120 days. But even Islam, as Anglican Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, accepts that termination is essential if the mother’s life is in serious danger.

These, then, are some of the views put forward by those who oppose abortion. It is worth reiterating that humanists are pro-choice: while not favoring abortion in itself, they recognize the need for each woman to choose her own path in the face of pregnancy. When a woman first knows that she is pregnant, she will hardly react passively. Whether the knowledge is accepted with happiness or despair, her life is radically affected and changed from that very moment. Advice, counseling, care, and dialogue are essential at such a time, but only the woman herself can make the ultimate decision whether her pregnancy is wanted or unwanted and if the latter, it asks a great deal to deny her the right to terminate what will affect her radically thereafter.

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