Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, one thing we can all agree on is that discussing abortion is very complicated. One that cannot be sorted out in the next few paragraphs. So this article aims to explore some of the key issues at the centre of the abortion debate.
At the centre of the abortion debate are women’s rights and more specifically the rights of women to determine what happens to their own body. The feminist movement has fought over the past decades for women to have the same right as men, for example, equal right in the workplace, in the military and politics. Abortion is such a big issue because feminists see as an issue which has big ramification for women’s rights, and having reproductive rights is an essential part of women rights. Because it is women that Biologically contribute the most to the production of offsprings on top that, they are the ones that experience the pain of child labour care for the child majority of in early years. That is why there is a lot of passion involved when talking about abortion. Hence any discussion about abortion should include this Women’s rights and the rights to determine what happens to their bodies.
Another issue that is brought about when discussing abortion is the issue of privacy. To what extent does the government get to dictate what happens to our bodies? In Australia, as I understand the Law, the only time the government will only get involved in private matters is when harm is being done either by the person to themselves or injury is being to other people. For example, the government won’t take your children away unless there is neglect or abuse of children happens. This why it is mandatory for parents to take their children for health checks to continue receiving any social services. On this point, a charge of hypocrisy levelled against people from the pro-life camp. The logic is, if you are for small government and against government intrusion, then by principle, you should support the rights of women to choose what happens to their own body.
The third issue is that of individual liberties; the Australian Constitution guarantees individual rights to both men and women. The Australian political system is in some ways a democracy, and in another, it is not. And it is with good reason, as one political scientist put, pure democracies do not guarantee that decision taken will bring justice especially for the minorities and the oppressed. Having a system of government that is ruled by the constitution, rather than the majority rule, prevents the tyranny of the majority over the minority. For example, if over 50% of people in Australia believe that Aboriginals should be killed or discriminated and they pass legislation. Aboriginals will still have the constitution and the law on their side, having a constitution is important because it guarantees fundamental rights to citizens of the country. In the same way that Men have autonomy over there own body, the constitution also guarantees the equal rights of Women.
At the very heart of the abortion issue is right of the unborn fetus, when we talk about this issue, we cannot forget the rights of the individual citizen, women’s rights and the right to privacy. The question that divides pro-choice and pro-life advocates is, how much rights should be given to the unborn. Another profound question is, at what point does life begin, is it at the moment the Sperm hits the egg the genetic material of the sperm is injected and interacts with the genetic material of the Egg. Or is it when we can hear the heartbeat or when the embryo or fetus starts to feel pain. It is hard to a draw a line as to when life begins, for example, we now know that with proper medical care, babies born at 28 weeks can survive and live healthy lives. Keep in mind that, in South Australia, abortion is legal up to 28 weeks, but for 28 weeks old baby to be aborted two doctors have to sign for it.
Another issue that is dividing people in western countries is the growing divide in people’s understanding of the relationship between church and state. People that are not religious or those that are not part of any religious denomination, do like the legal imposition on them, by those that are motivated by any religious worldview. And they point to the constitution that prevents the establishment of any religious institution. The fear from pro-choice advocates is that the church is being mobilised as power broker that for non-religious reasons will take away their liberty. Hence what we have is a massive collision of perceived rights, in other words when we talk abortion we have to realise that there is more than one right at stake. This is another reason abortion is a complicated issue because when rights collide as they often do, it is up to the court to decide which rights take priority. Is the right of the Unborn or the right of the mother? Because when you give rights to one group of people, you invariably are taking rights away from other people.
According to R.C Sproul, even though abortion is a complicated issue, there is also sense that all these issues converge on one central question. Is Abortion Murder? That is, is abortion the willful and intentional destruction of a living Human person? This question is multidimensional, pro-life advocates ask, is the fetus alive? and if it is alive, is it human life and if it is human life? Is it the life of a Human person. Then next set of question we have to ask is at what point does the fetus become a living human person. Some people will say when the fetus is out of the womb, others say at the point of conception. It is important to point out that no one I know views the fetus as a person until after 21 weeks, hence from there point of view abortion before 21 weeks is not murder.
Finally, abortion is hard to talk about in a secular society, in theocracies it is easy, abortion is illegal because God says it is a sin. In countries like the United States and Australia where we do not have an established religion and the culture is increasingly secular. Definition of what is personhood is hard, and one we will explore next time.