The abortion debate is heating up in Ireland and one of the most common claims made is that the unborn has a right to life. There are groups dedicated to it such as the Society For The Protection Of The Unborn (SPUC). In fact, the 8th Amendment of the constitution states the unborn child has an equal right to live as the mother. But does it really? Do the unborn really have rights? Do we have duties to them? In my next post I examine when life begins, but right now, I want to look at the question of whether or not there is a right to life.
The claimed right to life is an awkward stance due to many variables. In essence, it claims that everyone has a right to be born and that abortion is denial of that right. This is followed up by the self-evident point that if you’re parents had an abortion, you wouldn’t be born. This is best expressed in the Ronald Reagan quote: “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
The problem is that the quote, like most Reagan quotes sounds good so long as you don’t think about it. If you do consider it properly you realise it’s rather empty and meaningless. After all everyone who is in favour of contraception is already born (so is everyone who is celibate). Herein lies the problem. If there is a right to life, then contraception is denying this right. Had my parents used contraception, I wouldn’t have been born. This used to be the standard position of the Church and for this reason contraceptives were illegal in Ireland until 1979 (and only then available to married couples with a doctor’s prescription). However, most modern anti-abortionists have progressed since then and prefer to gloss over this obvious problem.
In fact you can take this further and say that since sperm contains the potential for life, masturbation is denying the unborn’s right to life. This too was the Church’s position and for decades they condemned masturbation. This shows the absurdity of the right to life position. In fact this could be taken so far as to say that failing to have sex is denying the unborn right to life. Had my parents not had sex on the day of my conception I would not have been born. If my parents had chosen a celibate life there would be two less children in the world, hence mine and my sisters right to life would have been violated. In fact simply by using family planning methods, my family does not have seven children like my mother’s devout Catholic family. Is this a bad thing? Should we mourn the unborn children who never existed?
The fundamental problem is that unborn isn’t a thing. They don’t exist. Unborn makes as much sense as calling myself an un-old age pensioner or an unwoman or an undoctor. There are an infinite number of unborn children that were never born due to luck and the actions of history. To single out abortion as the main cause of this is wrong. Condoms prevent far more unborn children from being born than abortion yet only one of these is viciously condemned by anti-abortion groups.
One of most important (and least known) facts about abortion is that every abortion does not automatically lead to one less child being born. This is because most women who have abortions have the same number of children they would otherwise have, but just at a later date. Most women who get abortions are young and believe themselves unready to have a child at the moment, but may still wish to have one at a later date. Rebecca Wind of the Guttmacher Institute said that “most women obtain abortions to postpone childbearing not to prevent it altogether.” In this sense abortion is not denial of the unborn’s right to life but rather just the postponement of it.
The unborn do not have a right to be born and the clearest way to show this is by looking at the anti-abortion groups themselves. If they really believed that the unborn had a right to live and to deny this right was tantamount to murder, their reaction would be much stronger. If thousands of children really were being murdered, anti-abortion groups would call for the arrest of every woman who got an abortion and their doctors. They would physically prevent women even considering getting an abortion. It could even be justified to attack abortion doctors in order to save “lives”. The number of abortions would be considered a war crime. But they don’t. Even the anti-abortion groups (bar the most extreme) know that abortion is not murder and the unborn do not have a right to life.
So do the unborn have a right to be born? The answer is no. The fact we are dealing with a group whose membership is based on unfilled possibilities means that the variations possible are endless. To claim it is wrong to deny the (undefined) unborn child a right to life is flawed because any possible action could prevent future children from being born. If the unborn have a right to life then surely everyone who is celibate is guilty of preventing future children from being born. Most anti-abortion groups realise the flaws in this logic and thus the argument switches from claiming the rights of the unborn to claiming that the foetus is already alive. That is the topic for my next post.