I recently sent a letter to the Zambia Daily Mail in which I commented on two articles concerning abortion (links at the end). The author (Emelda Mwitwa) was soliciting views from the Zambian public over the issue. I am not sure my letter will be published so I decided to post it here (with some minor edits). I have added further commentary at the end.
With reference to your articles in the Daily Mail Online on 25 and 30 January 2013 concerning the subject of abortion, I was disappointed at how one-sided the discussion is so far and how simplistic the arguments being given are, on an extremely complex subject. Allow me to give some alternative views to balance the debate. These views do not necessarily represent agreement or disagreement with abortion on my part.
No one is arguing that life does not begin at conception and moreover, it is an irrelevant argument. Depending on how you define “life” (there are no less than 14 definitions), a sperm cell or red blood cell can also be considered as “life”.
2. THE HUMAN BEING:
The worst leap of logic is to equate the zygote (the union of a spermatozoon and ovum) to a human being. By definition, a “person” or “human being” is “any member of the family Hominidae characterized by superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage”. A zygote or human embryo is not a human being, just like a caterpillar is not a butterfly. Equating a zygote to a human being violates one of the three fundamental axioms in Philosophy, the Axiom of Identity (“A = A” as some philosophers put it, identified brilliantly by Aristotle). Something cannot be itself and something else at the same time.
The fact that the zygote develops into a human being with “superior intelligence, articulate speech, and erect carriage” does not make it (the zygote) a human being, just like a caterpillar (which develops into a butterfly) is not a butterfly. A zygote is at best a “potential” human being. The extremely complex question of when exactly the developing foetus becomes a human being is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Why does a zygote or foetus have “rights”? What about the right of a woman to her own body? Why does the supposed right to life of a foetus over-ride the woman’s right to use her body as she pleases? Should a raped teenager be forced against her will to take a pregnancy to full term? The right to life has exceptions (eg when you kill someone in self-defence). Similarly, why can’t the right to life of a foetus also have exceptions? There are also the bigger issues of why rights are necessary to begin with and the conditions under which rights apply (eg a mental patient in an asylum cannot exercise all his rights).
4. ANTI-ABORTION LAWS:
These are premised on the idea that the act of removing a foetus from the uterus is murder, since it normally results in death. But suppose we invent an artificial uterus and are able to transfer the foetus into it and we get a healthy baby? Therefore, abortion in and of itself cannot be equated to murder since even in law, you have to prove intent, which is not necessarily applicable in an abortion. Furthermore, “murder” by definition is “the unlawful premeditated killing of a human being by a human being”. Is the foetus a “human being” (see point 2 above).
I shall end with a thought experiment. Suppose someone has an illness that requires them to be hooked up to a machine that pumps blood through them that is taken from another healthy person who is also hooked up to the same machine. If the healthy person decides to leave (for whatever reason), with the consequence that the patient will die, should we pass a law to force the healthy person to stay hooked up to the machine?
Most people think the abortion debate is simple. After reading many arguments on this, I have found myself on the fence, unable to commit one way or the other. From a purely practical point of view, banning abortion simply does not work. Banning anything just creates an underground black-market.
While I prefer that any healthy baby goes to full term and is delivered, I think it is being rather presumptuous to decide for a woman (by law) what she should do when she wants to terminate a pregnancy. It is a very hard decision with huge ramifications and we are simply not wise enough to fully know what any woman in that situation should do. We should get the law out of this issue and leave it up to each individual woman to decide. The best we can do is to make available counselling services.
I am confident the abortion debate shall one day be largely settled by technology when we invent an artificial uterus.
UPDATE (12 February 2013)
The Daily Mail published my letter together with more reactions here HERE.