Abortion: A Matter of Principle But Always a Choice
According to the World Health Organization, abortion is defined as: “[…] a simple health care intervention that can be effectively managed by a wide range of health workers using medication or a surgical procedure.” Although the WHO makes it sound like abortion is no big deal, while many politicians and activists portray the issue as a fight for some sort of liberation, in reality, it is often a traumatising and scaring experience (with a long list of mental health issues developing post abortion), as many women and abortion doctors have testified over the decades. Not to mention the devastating impact abortion can have on those who survive it.
Given the complexity of the issue, it is no surprise that people are divided on it, forming opinions that can be summarised as pro-choice, pro-abortion or pro-life. Pro-choice is the most unclear position as it is often automatically, but wrongly, equated with being pro-abortion as opposed to pro-life. However, pro-choice means neither of these perspectives by default. Rather, as Richard Samuelson, history professor at California State University put it in a 2018 essay, “the question is not “should abortion be legal,” or even, perhaps “under what conditions should it be legal.” The question is who should decide such questions.”
Pro-abortion are those who argue in favour of abortion as opposed to in favour of giving birth on different grounds, often ideological (like woman “empowerment”). Some people, like Professor Peter Singer of Princeton, even argue for infanticide (abortion after birth).
Meanwhile, pro-life is seen as being against both pro-choice and against pro-abortion, as it presents a view that life should be protected at all stages, including while in womb in the pre-birth period. This is the position taken often by many religious people and institutions.
These nuanced perspectives are also backed by data and anecdotal evidence. However, these differences in how people view abortion do not matter for politicians and their mouth pieces. Here is a recent CNN video showing a doctor who performs third trimester abortions as a saint-like figure, mixing the pro-abortion and pro-choice views and aligning the resulting perspective with the Democratic party’s agenda while portraying the pro-life side of the argument as extremists. Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, Michael Knowles has used the thugs protesting outside the houses of Supreme Court justices to get clicks and views, essentially infantilising the pro-life argument.
Such propaganda must be ignored. Politics have no place to play in this very serious matter that touches on the foundations of human life. We need to understand the issue of abortion in its true complexity in order to decide where we stand on it: the debate around abortion is not for a certain type of rights, but of a trade-off of rights. For disclosure, I am pro-life. But I shall argue for pro-choice, using arguments based on both the Christian tradition and on classical liberal thought. The reason I argue for pro-choice is because I had the freedom to make up my mind and stand behind the pro-life view. I want everyone else to freely choose their perspective, with all the consequences that comes with it.
Importantly, this essay is concerned with principles, as suggested by the title. Data and particularities are presented in an Appendix which is divided into two parts: “Abortion in numbers” and “Why the Way of Abortion?”. The first provides information on the prevalence of abortion around the world while the latter discusses some of the key reasons for why some women choose to have an abortion, as well as the concept of “unwanted pregnancy”.
The Nature of Man: Human and Human Being
Broadly speaking, there are two main schools of thought for looking at the ontology of man: the sacralised and the profane perspectives. The former one views the human being as created by God and it is from the act of divine creation that the intrinsic value of the individual is derived. In Christianity, the human being is created in God’s image, meaning, among other things, that we have a soul – an unqualifiable and unquantifiable divine essence in us. The soul adds the “being” in the human being. From a profane perspective, the human being is no longer linked to the Devine, but he or she becomes “it”, a subject that is analysed rationally, scientifically, commercially, politically and so on, all these processes being carried out without the anchor of religion which brings the sacred into our lives.
Importantly, this is not an argument of religion versus science because a) science without religion cannot exist (we have scientism if we remove religion) and b) science can operate in a sacred world, but with the constraints of morality directing the studies and experiments. This was stressed in a recent talk by Bishop Barron on Religion and Science in which he highlighted the close relationship between the two ways of learning about the world and about ourselves, and how they necessarily co-exist.
In the absence of the sacred – that is, in a profane world – the human being is dispossessed of his or her soul and becomes a thing (a subject) of a particular branch of society, a resource or a creature to be studied, dissected and used as means to certain goals (ends). However, this perspective does not deprive the human of its ability to make decisions: the cognitive faculties, except for faith, are all acknowledged and, sometimes, praised so extremely that they are divinised (rationalism for example places reason as king over all epistemology).
There are two main perspectives on the human being from the point of view of a profane world: the evolutionary take and the idea that human beings can become anything they want to be through various tools such as education or chemicals (medication) if they are liberated from certain (if not all) conditions.
The first view derives from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution which, being interpreted as liberally as it can be, it has influenced fields beyond biology: it contributed to change the perspective of our ontology and epistemology in philosophy, it introduced the idea of organic law that “evolves” with the needs of society, and it shook the role of religion especially when combined with the works of an earlier thinker, the anthropologist Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach. More broadly, the theory of evolution contributed to the idea of progress that dominated the nineteenth century Europe.
The second perspective can be summarised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s dictum that “man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains”. In other words, this school of thought pertains that people are constraint by social norms and institutions because otherwise they could be who they are and therefore this view, pushed to its extreme, results in the rejection of any limitation on human thought and behaviour: everything is permitted in the name of liberation. However, alongside this perspective, comes the notion that, in the absence of any constraints, through education that is supposed to enlighten the individual, people can become anything they want. This view – that what we are as creatures can be shaped into anything given the right tools – sits at the basis of the “new man” in Marxism and behind the notion of posthumanism.
Importantly, both of these two perspectives ignore the existence of the soul: for them, the transcendental realm of the spirit, the “being” in the human being, does not exist in reality and, when it does, it is only for the sake of argumentation or for temporary psychological comfort. In other words, these perspectives leave out or purposefully take out the very element that is unquantifiable and invaluable: our soul, making man an animal, an economic cog, a consumer, a tool of ideology, a source of political power, a subject to be studied, just a mean to different ends.
As such, life no longer is invaluable but valuable – it is economically valuable, politically valuable, socially valuable and so on. This position, achieved as a result of the two views described above, leads to a desire for and an acceptance of experts – scholars, doctors, scientists – to decide when life begins. For example, one of the core issues of the debated of when abortion should happen is focused on the development of the child in the womb (i.e. when “a lump of cells” or “something” becomes a person or human life), although this is somewhat of a guess game that can be motivated by other reasons.
In a desacralized world, science becomes scientism (an ideology which argues that the scientific method is the only way of deriving knowledge and the only tool to answer life’s most important questions) and its consensus can then be legislated into the law supported by ethical considerations based on studies and laic views of morality (often relativistic) and lobbied for political purposes. After all, abortion is also big business. Therefore, when we talk about abortion in the context of a profane world, two attitudes emerge: the pro-abortion perspective and the secular pro-choice point of view.
The first attitude derives from viewing the foetus as a thing – not as a person – which comes into existence at whatever time the scientistic (not scientific) consensus decides (which changes over time, to fit different political needs). This foetus is a thing that violates the woman’s body like a parasite and, as a thing, it does not have any sort of rights. There is no motherhood for the pro-abortionists: the mystical bond between mother and child is a mechanical biological link that can be raptured at any moment should the mind of the host body wish so.
Such a view is expressed, it seems to me, by women who hate the fact that are women: they are upset, profoundly so, that they have a female body as they feel imprisoned and under constant attack from invisible oppressive forces: to be feminine, to be a woman and to feel good in a female body, to perform the biological functions of a woman, are all forms of attack for these pro-abortion activists (radical by nature). As I wrote in Emily: A woman’s question to the world, “Is this what a woman is? An intellectualised toy, a simple object of politics, sexualised for commercials and whored around for righteous clout, a fictitious construction that does not respect any limits stressed by reality or by the spirit. Independence, equality, strength, power, career, leadership, all of these are buzzwords which they throw around, but none realise that I can no longer carry a child, that I no longer function as a woman, even if I was born one. What about my body?”
Indeed, it is in this radical context that we hear the term “birthing people” being used – a degradation of motherhood which began in the late 1960s with slogans such as “No more mothers, wives, daughters, let’s destroy the families.”. This fanatical position is held by a small but loud minority of “activists”, some of whom support abortion up to nine months (when it becomes a “he” or a “she” – a baby) and who, in order to get their message across, are ready to burn churches as the pro-abortion stance (a view based on a profane world) is primarily a position that is diametrically opposed to pro-life (a view based on a sacred world).
Moreover, there are also pro-abortion individuals whose arguments seem to be based on blatant lack of critical thinking or ideological indoctrination, like the woman in this video who agrees of post-birth abortion as “it is a woman’s choice”. However, as Hannah Arendt argued in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, destructive deeds that are done due to a lack of thinking, even if it is under following rules / orders, do not excuse those who commit them of their responsibility. In other words, supporting fanatical ideas – such as many that make up oppressive systems like communism, national socialism, fascism and so on or that treat human life in a disposable / non-disposable way – cannot be excused by the lack of thinking or the blind following of ideology. As Blaise Pascal wrote in Pensées: “let us strive to think well”, as the basic principle of morality.
Meanwhile, the pro-choice view that forms within the secular framework described above is more moderate and often comes from concerns with which I sympathise as the considerations behind this attitude do not come from hatred or a desire to denigrate human life to a mere “lump of cells”. While still a view based on secular views, these are more moderate and are seen as difficult trade-offs between abortion as an option (not as an end) and the health of the mother, the survival rate of the foetus with comorbidities, the quality of life of a child born birth defects, the economic position of the mother to take care of her child / children, the role that the man plays in this affair (whether or not he is likely to be around to help with raising the child – more on this later on), the support the mother receives from the community or the state or the impact on the mother’s professional development. The pro-choice position here is acknowledged to be a difficult choice to be made, but it still values human life – hence why the trade-off is possible – rather than seeing life as invaluable.
As such, those who live in a profane world – without religion, without faith and without God – I argue that are more likely to be pro-abortion or pro-choice (based on secular considerations), but no pro-life: if my worldview is profane, I am no Catholic, even if I claim to be – this is how I read the data on religious affiliation and abortion views. If one does the opposite of what claims to be, one is not what one claims to be, regardless of the double speak or sophistry one uses to make themselves feel better or to market their image.
Meanwhile, in a sacred world, that is, a world in which the acknowledgement and worship of the Divine is part of the rhythm of human life, the stances on abortion are pro-choice (but based on very different considerations than the ones mentioned above) and pro-life. In a sacred world, man has a soul and therefore man is more than just a human (a mammal) and is seen as a human being.
Life in this context is invaluable: it cannot be measured, it cannot be qualified by any attribute. Its essence is the opposite of what Stalin said – “the death of one is a tragedy, but the death of a million is just a statistic” – for each individual is unique and matters in such a way that the question of “who matters more” cannot be answered without devaluing all persons. For example, we have heard this question posed in the context of abortion as “whose life matters most? The mother’s or the baby’s?” – the answer should be “both are invaluable and therefore such a comparison cannot be decided without shifting the perspective from a sacred to a profane world in which life is seen as quantifiable”.
As Dr Nasr explained in an hour long lecture, culture is built on religion (the worship of the sacred). Dr Nasr is an Islamic perennial philosopher, but his analysis holds true of any of the world’s major religions, including Christianity.
In fact, there is no such society without some form of religious basis, let alone a state. The idea of a laic or secular state is a myth, as Tamás Nyirkos, a political philosopher and associate professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, wrote late last year. The only serious question in this regard is what kind of a religious basis do we want our society to have: in a sacred world, religion allows man to transcend into the realm of God, while in a profane world, religion is in fact a cult of man: hedonism (man centred in pleasure), nihilism (man centred in nothingness), atheism (man at the centre of man), socialism (man deified into the faceless group), environmentalism (man deified into nature), fascism (man centred in the party-state) and scientism (science subjected to the whims of the man-god), all in one or separated are alternative meta-narratives (in the form of ideologies) to true religion (God at the centre of man and God above man) that is sacred.
In a profane world, that is in the absence of the sacred, men and women are prone to spiritual and mental distortions, as a long number of thinkers have pointed out and warned throughout the centuries. The main reason for this is the absence of morality. But what does it mean for a culture to be built on Christian morality and what does this then mean for our discussion on abortion? It means at least two important things.
First, the presence of the soul makes human life invaluable. Therefore, the position on abortion from this point is always pro-life. Second, we are not to judge others’ thoughts and actions for moral judgment belongs to God. As Christ said to the men who wanted to stone a woman who committed adultery: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). From this latter point – that judgment belongs to God – results the sacred (in terms of Christian theology) pro-choice position on abortion: the person wanting or conducting the abortion can only be judged by God for this business is between themselves and the Creator.
To summarise the above discussion let us discuss the case of pregnancy as a result of rape. In such a violent and inhumane action, an individual’s sanctity and autonomy has been violated and, at least temporarily, destroyed by another individual’s bestiality. It is a situation which provokes extreme responses when it comes to the fate of the child. However, I want to show that no matter how thick the darkness, there is always a way for the light of reason and common sense to prevail.
No human being can ever choose where and how they are born: some are born in prisons, others in the middle of wars, some are born with disabilities that afflict their bodies and / or minds for life, others are born in families who abuse them, and some are born as a result of rape. No matter the circumstances, no child can choose them. The world – the place, time and community, the age of ideas and technology – we are born into are beyond our ability to influence: we come into this world as a result of other people’s actions. Thus, the child is an even more vulnerable minority than the “most vulnerable minority of one”, to paraphrase Ayn Rand.
Thus, the choice of what to do with the child’s life is that of the people who already are alive in the world in which the child is supposed to come. The choice can be of four types, based on the above discussion:
- Pro-abortion (the child if viewed as a thing or, worse, as a parasite and the persons involved in the pregnancy – man and woman – are hostile to the idea of ending the pregnancy in birth).
- Secular pro-choice (the child’s life is viewed as valuable and thus it is compared with other valuable aspects of the mother’s existence: economic considerations, career progression, political affiliation, the support from the man and from the broader society).
- Christian pro-choice (the child’s life is viewed as invaluable but the decision to end the pregnancy is an act that only God can judge).
- Pro-life (the child’s life is viewed as invaluable and it is presumed that the judgment of God is only favourable in the absence of abortion).
Therefore, we have reached a point in our conversation on abortion in which, depending on the kind of world we live in, the individual (the woman) is likely to make one of the above four choices. However, the freedom of the individual to choose is a liberal position and it is towards that freedom that we turn next with the conversation on human rights. More particularly, we shall look at the right to life, the notion of bodily autonomy and the right to free religious expression.
What Human Rights
So far, we have discussed the choice of the individual, but such choice is made within a society with a structure of governance: the state and its laws. The state has a monopoly on coercion and its laws are the rules upon which such coercion is applied. Human rights exist to prevent the state’s force from being “too much”. One of the first manifestations of human rights was the English document known as Magna Carta in 1215. This cornerstone of a piece of legislation ensured that “the king and his government was not above the law”. The document reflects the times when it was written, but it represents an important building block for human rights law here in the West.
Since then, the law has evolved and, following the greatest catacomb in human history – the World Wars of the twentieth century in which the political forces that emerged following the French Revolution of 1789 came head to head – human rights were “universally declared” through the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Again, these rights exist to affirm the freedoms that individuals have against the authority of the state, or, to put it differently, the liberties of the “most vulnerable minority” against the weight and might of the government.
The United Nations sates that “the origin of “human rights” lies in the nature of the human being itself” – this is important as some parts of our nature are in conflict with one another, like these human rights sometimes appear to be. This will become clear shortly. For now, what we care about is what human rights are being drawn into the abortion debate.
In particular, there are two human rights that are drawn into the abortion debate: the right to life and the right to religious freedom. Alongside them, there is a key concept which, although is not mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a “human right”, given that these liberties spring from “the human being itself” is nevertheless closely related to all the rights in the Declaration: bodily autonomy.
More than anything, as we shall see soon, abortion shows that these rights and this concept are inherently contradictory for their upholding and defence lead to ultimate goals which are different and, as Isaiah Berlin so powerfully argued in Against the Current(The Originality of Machiavelli), the Italian thinker and diplomat – Niccolò Machiavelli – demonstrated through his analysis of society and politics that ultimate goals (represented by ultimate ideals) can be incompatible with one another which puts man in a position of acknowledging this and making trade-offs between these ultimate states.
The Right to Life
Article 3 of the Declaration reads: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Already, in the very article itself we see a potential contradiction at the concept level. Namely, the right to life and the right to security of person. In a strict interpretation of the words – keeping in touch with its legal function – we can understand that “the right to […] security of person” refers to constraining the state from taking the life, liberty or security of person (often related to torture, unlawful imprisonment, cruel treatment and so on). But, looking at the philosophical and moral character of the words, we can quickly observe the contradiction.
Sometimes the right to life is safeguarded by suffering under torture and unlawful imprisonment. For example, in the forced labour camps of the USSR, one would have more chance of staying alive and the guards were less likely to kill one if the prisoner (often unlawfully imprisoned) would work under harsh conditions and sometimes was subjected to tortures for amusement or to set an example. As Russian writer and gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov put on paper: “Man had no other advantage at this time except that he turned out to be considerably stronger, he turned out to possess greater endurance — greater physical endurance.” What I want to highlight is that to maintain life sometimes it is necessary to suffer unlawfully (but not necessarily unjustly).
Or, to take another example, one may find themselves in a situation that to preserve their own life, the person must give up security of person by giving in to certain actions (like sexual acts or transporting drugs) without their own consent (forced prostitution or to become a mule). Again, I am aware that the human rights law is there to safeguard the individual’s freedom against the state. However, in terms of concepts, i.e. outside the framework of the legal function of these rights, there is a contradiction in the notions enumerated in Article 3 which surfaces under the direst conditions.
In the context of abortion, this contradiction between “the right to life” and “the right to security of person” is visible in the popular question of “whose right to life?” – that of the child or that of the mother, referring to the cases when the pregnancy poses a high risk to the life of the mother: whose life is more important, in other words. We have already seen the two main perspectives on the quality of value of life – valuable and invaluable. Of importance at this stage in the conversation is to stress that by legislating on abortion, the view on the value of life and thus the range of choices for the individual to make (i.e. one’s individual liberty) are limited, at least legally if not morally.
Take for example this essay from The Centre for Reproductive Rights entitled Whose Right to Life? Women’s Rights and Prenatal Protections under Human Rights and Comparative Law. The starting point of the essay is that there is no consensus on the beginning of life. However, it then points out that Article 1 of the Declaration states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, suggesting that the word “born” was included in there to precisely exclude prenatal life.
I disagree with this straight forward conclusion because the word “being” suggests the opposite, at least from a religious perspective – which the Centre acknowledges as a valid “discipline” in the conversation of when life stars. In particular, “being” refers to something more than human, than the animal, it refers to the soul which makes one a person, an individual.
The importance of the soul in the very destiny of the human being has been amply explored by Fyodor Dostoevsky who demonstrated not only the limits of the humanist perspective (which emanates from the argument made by the Centre) but also the existence of the soul as the battle between Good and Evil. However, the fact that religion is seen as a “discipline”, rather than something far more serious, such as the foundation upon which culture itself is built, suggests that the Centre embraced a profane world view in which human life is not invaluable. Hence why the hasty conclusion. There is also a point to be made about the fact that just because we don’t know something intellectually (where life begins) it does not follow that we can guess the answer or, worse, that we should disregard the mystery all together.
Moreover, note that the Centre defines itself as a “a global human rights organization of lawyers and advocates who ensure reproductive rights are protected in law as fundamental human rights for the dignity, equality, health, and well-being of every person.” There is no mention to the right to life in there. Consequently, the contradictions between ultimate goals – life and dignity – are becoming more apparent.
If we do not know when life begins, how can we make legislation on this unknown? If we do not know when life begins, then why allow certain individuals to decide this – on what authority? Scientific authority? Certainly not moral authority. It cannot be scientific authority either, however. The science is not settled (obviously), but it does not look to be in favour of the pro-abortion argument (as anyone who is not fanatical about abortion would expect).
Therefore, when a state legislate when life might begin, the state interferes with both the right to life of the child and the right to dignity of those involved in the process of abortion, who have lost their option to make such morally important decision themselves. For if there is anyone who should attempt to answer when life begins are the individuals affected by the abortion – the woman, the man and the doctor, all three people whose conscience is involved in the process. The Hippocratic Oath is not infringed in the case of a doctor who refuses to perform abortion based on the right to life of the unborn child, as it is based on a clean conscience:
“Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.”
The highest court of the land, like the Supreme Court in the UK or the USA, when considering cases that involve abortion, should not rule on abortion per sei but on auxiliary actions that can be inferred from the actions of those involved. For example, in a situation when the decision to terminate the pregnancy has been made and the doctor initially agreed but then changed their mind and refused. In this case, the law should pronounce itself on the misleading aspect of the case, not on whether or not abortion should be available by law. What I want to stress is that the liberty of choosing to define when life starts, and thus to put on the individual the sole responsibility: this matter is one of morality over which neither the Supreme Court nor the state has the final say, but God.
When life begins does not change based on our choice. Our guess does not solve the mystery. However, in the Christian tradition, God made us free to choose – even in the most difficult of circumstances. We can always put our hands up and admit our lack of knowledge or understanding. We can always sacrifice ourselves for higher ideals and principles. But we can also play God and decide who lives and who dies, when and how. We are free to choose. But this freedom comes with responsibility: the greater the freedom, the greater the responsibility as the consequences are also greater than if we would have had no free will. Consequently, the choice in this matter should always lie with the individual who is free but who must not escape the consequences of their freedom, especially in their conscience.
The Right to Religious Freedom
Article 18 of the Declaration reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Religion, conscience and thought are all bundled under the article. Why is that?
Freedom to choose and act comes with responsibility and the burden of that responsibility is reflected in our conscience, which is the place where the soul speaks to us about morality – unchangeable laws that do not depend on culture, society, economic status or anything that is ephemeral. Moreover, in Christian tradition, sin (which is a moral wrong that is committed not only before God, but also before all other people and which literally burdens the individual committing it) begins with thought. I have explored this in more detail in my case study on Dostoevsky’s Starets Zosima. However, here is Professor Dumas’s take on why this is the case, using The Brothers Karamazov as the bedrock for his statement:
“Ultimately, most evil comes from wishes we do not, and never would, act upon. In contrast to determinists, Dostoevsky believed that at any given moment more than one thing might happen. Each moment contains a cloud of possibilities, some more likely and some less, only one of which will be realized, at which point a new cloud of possibilities appears. Wishes shape the cloud of possibilities. In an atmosphere filled with hatred, evil is more likely to happen, even if no one would knowingly commit it. Our wishes create evil by shaping the cloud.”
Freedom of thought, freedom to believe and to worship God (freedom of religion), and freedom of conscience are all linked. One cannot have freedom of thought without the other two, nor can one have freedom to believe and worship or to act in such a way that one’s conscience is not unduly burden without the former: “I think, therefore I am,” said Decartes in Discourse on the Method.
“I believe, therefore I am,” however is as, if not more, important for any man or woman who deems themselves to be free, for there are two freedoms – as acknowledged by St. Augustine in City of God and by Nicholas Berdyaev in Dostoevsky: the freedom to choose good or evil and the freedom in Truth. The first type of freedom lies in us making a moral choice, while the latter is the freedom bestowed upon the individual who freely comes to God. Because of this dynamic of freedom of thought, of conscience (the moral compass) and of freedom of believing and worshiping (which leads one to freedom in Truth), the three – thought, conscience and religion – cannot be separated.
But freedom itself is irrational in nature and to direct its use via legislation is to destroy freedom. “There is nothing in common between the soul of man and the law of the State, that ‘‘frozen monster.” […],” wrote Berdyaev. Therefore, to respect and defend such freedom – of thought, conscience and religion – one must accept the potentiality of evil that can result from its application, because from the same freedom, good also can come and overcome evil.
What does all of this mean in the context of abortion? Let’s recall who is involved in the situation at hand: the pregnant woman, the man who impregnated the woman and the doctor or the person who is being paid / asked to end the pregnancy. If the woman is free to choose, then so must be the man and the doctor on whether or not the abortion is taking place. For if the man and the doctor are denied the choice, then their individuality is denied by infringement on their right to free conscience and free thought.
The woman who denies the man the choice in the matter is no longer a woman. A woman is first and foremost a person, not a female. However, what makes a person a woman is primarily the female body and the emotions that come with it, and the main function of a woman’s body is not to give a man pleasure but to birth and nurture children. A man’s choice regarding a pregnancy is primarily an acknowledgement of womanhood in all its femininity. Denying a man to have a voice in the matter is to deny the very essence of what makes a woman because it is a negation of his acknowledgement of her own womanhood.
None of this means coercion. If a woman choses abortion and the man choses life, the man cannot force the woman to have the child. He must allow her complete freedom in terminating the pregnancy for she will deal with the consequences in her own free conscience. But the man must be allowed to have a say, a choice, to voice his view, even if it is contrary to the woman’s position.
Now consider the man. As stated above, the man cannot force a woman to carry on her pregnancy. He who forces the woman – in any manner, including through emotional blackmail – to bring a child into the world against her own will loses the status as a father (the highest position in human civilisation that a man can reach), as well as his manhood, for such a man treats the woman not as an individual with freedom of thought and conscience but as a biological vessel for his own DNA. A man is not a man without his woman, and therefore, the man who forces a pregnancy upon a woman does not acknowledge her womanhood which requires him to see the person behind the female body, as well as the female body. If he chose life and stated it clearly his thoughts and so his conscience is clean, he must allow for such freedom for the woman as well.
A man, like a woman, is primarily a person; even if the defining characteristic of what makes one a man or a woman is the body and its different emotions, the soul where personhood is rooted provides the value for the body to be more than male and female, that is to be man and woman. It is the denial of this personhood that occurs when the man forces a woman to become a mother and it is this denial that crushes his manhood for what kind of man comes to manhood (maturity of mind, body and spirit) through such odious cheating and blatant denial of his partner’s freedom of thought and conscience.
Then, the doctor’s position must also be considered. We have already seen that the Hippocratic Oath is based on a clean conscience. In addition, the doctor may have religious considerations. If he or she is a Christian, a true Christian – not just with the name – then they will have a view that life is invaluable and, as argued previously, from this position two views on abortion can develop: a pro-life take or a (sacred) pro-choice. If the doctor is pro-life on religious grounds, they cannot be forced to perform the abortion even if the woman and man in question want to terminate the pregnancy.
If the state legislate to coerce any of these three parties, under any circumstances and for any justification, the state shatters the freedom of thought, religion and conscience and transforms the individual into a means to an end.
Note that the child’s position has not been considered. Such a perspective is only possible in a sacred world where the life of the unborn is invaluable, like the life of those already born. The issue of abortion is primarily spiritual, as argued in the first section of this essay. It is therefore not surprising to see that fanatical pro-abortion protestors have disrupted Catholic masses and threatened to burn the eucharist, an action which proves their cynical view of human life or, even more gravely, their total lack of understanding of human life.
Nevertheless, once more we see the trade-off between ultimate ideals: to protect the freedom of conscience, may mean to deny the unborn child the right to life. This contrast can be seen with more clarity in the concept of bodily autonomy.
The Right to Bodily Autonomy? Only a Concept.
Although bodily autonomy is not a right stated in the Declaration, the concept is at the basis of many human rights. For example, the right to security of person (Article 3) and the equality in dignity (Article 1) reflect the importance of bodily autonomy. This concept is one of the main reasons for why people, rightly so, have been pushing back against state-forced vaccination or any procedure that would diminish the autonomy over one’s own body.
In politics, especially in the debate around abortion, this notion is shouted as “my body, my choice”, with the punchline being that “I can do what I want with my body”. Let’s examine the two stances in more detail.
First, “my body, my choice” is a slogan that, although catchy and full of passion, is not always applicable in the case of a pregnancy – for several reasons. The abortion is performed on a different body – that of the child as every cell (that “lump of cells” as pro-abortion activists call the child) is genetically different. However, someone can know this fact and still view human life to begin later on in the pregnancy and choose to abort. This view comes from the profane perspective of the world, discussed above.
Second, if the child is born, the man has to pay child support to the mother: “my body, my choice, your money”. Take for example a very common scenario: two heterosexual people hook up under the blessing of “I can do whatever I want with my body”. As a result, despite protection being used, the woman remains pregnant and wants to keep the child against the man’s wishes. The act of sex in this instance was equal in its nature: both entered the same level of promiscuity and consented to the act.
However, the aftermath of sex is out of balance for the actors: the man’s position becomes from “I can do whatever I want with my body” (to have sex without consequences) to “I can no longer do whatever I want with my body” as the law will force me to apply my efforts (mind and body) in order to generate income for child support. Of course, this issue could be solved by the law not having a say in this matter, as I have argued so far. In reality, the law is everywhere as the state is everywhere.
There are more important limits to the punchline stated above. For example, I cannot pee on someone’s leg in the park. I cannot scream and disturb the peace. I cannot pull my trousers down and bend over to the buses passing by. In short, there are many situations in which neither a man nor a woman can do what they want with their bodies. Such actions will infringe on the shared liberty of public spaces. Moreover, consent is required for certain actions done in private. Consent is a form of authority: by giving consent, the person gives the other the authority to perform the act in question. An unborn child does not have the capacity to consent to the abortion. A mature person can consent to euthanasia. However, this perspective, again, can only exist in a sacred world where human life is invaluable not in one where life begins at a random point decided by the nomenclature.
Our bodies, minds and souls are not separated entities that can be studied in a lab or under a textbook: they are a complex whole. “My body, my choice” is an incomplete position – as all political statements are – that betrays a profound lack of understanding of human nature. Not only that we do not live in isolated bubbles and thus our actions and thoughts link us to others (are we totally to ourselves?) but the myopic focus on the body (the material) and the ignorance of the mind and the soul is more evidence of the type of culture that prevails in our society: one that is not concerned with human beings but with humans, one that is not build by and for human beings but by and for humans.
The Role of Men in the Issue of Abortion
The issue of abortion also concerns men and, in some respects, even more so than it does concern women. In particular, men have a direct responsibility for creating a “culture” or a “general attitude” that places abortion alongside alternative perspectives of viewing a pregnancy: raising the child, foster homes and abstinence, for example. Men who do not take responsibility for their actions – the so-called “studs”, the “players” – are more to blame for putting a woman in a position of considering abortion than that woman actually thinking of such option.
The man who looks at a woman purely to satisfy his sexual desires without the acknowledgement that sex is more than a mechanism for producing pleasure, not only objectifies the woman, reducing her individuality to flesh, but participates in the perpetuation of a general sense of insecurity that undermines his relationships with women.
“If we want to understand why sexual consent is so important, we can state that sex has mysterious ethical properties that are particular to it, but that the reasons for these special properties are entirely unknowable. I think it is more satisfying, however, to link the importance of consent to what we know about sex. Specifically, I believe the importance of consent is related to the reciprocal and reproductive nature of sex,” writes Audrey Pollnow in a recent essay for First Things.
Therefore, a mature view on sex, especially from the man – for on the man’s behaviour depends the atmosphere of confidence or fear surrounding sex – is necessary. But for this necessity to be acknowledged, men need to possess certain qualities which seem rare today. Most notably, one must value and aspire to honour and courage. As Maxim Gorky wrote in My Childhood, recollecting the words of his grandmother:
“Remember that, and when you are grown-up never tempt a girl in that way; it would be a great sin on your part — the girl would be disgraced, and the child illegitimate. See that you don’t forget that! You must be kind to women, and love them for their own sakes, and not for the sake of self-indulgence. This is good advice I am giving you.”
I would argue that the man who loses his wife or partner due to a fatal pregnancy should not remarry or take another partner but dedicate their life to honouring them, either through the commitment of a certain lifestyle (say, by working with children in need in warzones or orphans) or even through ritual death, as Yukio Mishima showed in his masterful play, Patriotism (although, in this case, the love for one’s nation is replaced by the love for one’s woman and child).
However, the relationship between men and women today is rather dire. Women are treating their bodies as commercial and political vessels, falsely accusing men of rape under the banner of the #MeToo movement just so they get their moment of fame and some money, while men lack the qualities of manhood and behave like horny boys “flexing” their credit-card-purchased items. It is this latter issue that permits the former to happen: that man are not men, but infantile boys. More so, there is a savage superficiality among us, people of today: men and women see each other as trophies, as sexual objects and as temporary fixes to the most common spiritual affliction of our times: loneliness. Hence why the “hook up” culture is so prevalent.
On top of this, certain technologies, like social media and the internet, have distorted sexual desire, often beyond repair. It is not uncommon for men to look at a woman with the sole thought of fulfilling sexual fantasies, rather than with genuine curiosity for the person who inhabits the body. In such a synthetic world, it is difficult, but not impossible, for a man to see a woman as an individual and for a woman to see a man as an individual. One must strive to get out of the suffocating societal forces, out of the cultural currents, and go against what is deemed “normal” by looking up at the sky: the essence of pragmatism in human relationships lies in the highest ideals.
In the end however, it is up to the man to change these things, as men are more sexually-orientated than women. For women to not think of abortion as an option, men have to create, through persistent behaviour, a world in which the woman does not feel that ending the pregnancy is a viable option. In other words, if men are not family-orientated, they should not expect women to be either.
Why Always a Choice
I will now summarise this essay by stating the position argued in it. What I have tried to show is that abortion is a matter of principle but always a choice. That is, even if the principle does not change with our views, we are free – and this freedom must be defended at any costs – to choose whether or not we see the principle (by adopting a profane or sacred worldview) and then whether or not we apply it. This principle is that human life is invaluable. But the freedom to choose to see it and to act on it is what makes abortion a choice: at a metaphysical level (profane vs. sacred) and at a practical and psychological level (the four choices around abortion discussed above).
However, the application of this freedom, i.e. how we use our choice, is a matter of trade-offs, a contradiction embedded in the very concept of human rights. Such rights, which ought to guarantee individual freedom, at least to some extent, against the coercion of the state, are themselves a matter of trade-off. This, once more, highlights that abortion is a choice – the choice to make the trade-off.
By arguing for a pro-choice position, I did so on liberal and Christian grounds. Classical liberalism values the primacy of the individual: by placing the individual at the centre of the issue and offering the person the complete choice in the matter, such freedom brings total responsibility for the action. One is free to chose but one must bear the brunt of the consequences.
Additionally, from a Christian perspective, God allowed men and women to be free and their thoughts and actions are judged by God alone. Thus, by arguing for a pro-choice position, while acknowledging a sacred world, I have attempted once more to defend the individual freedom of sorting their own conscience between themselves and God, not between themselves and others or, worse, between themselves and the state. Any legislation over the matter of abortion is a restriction of individual freedom in the matter.
Therefore, the pro-choice position must be defended on these grounds and not on politics. In fact, politics should always be rejected as being the basis for any serious argument that concerns human life and existence. It is always a matter of the relationship between the human being and God, not between the government and its subjects.
Finally, I have discussed the role of men in the matter of abortion, stressing that men have a role to play too and, in some respects, an even more important one. It is up to men to recover the virtues that make them men – honour and courage – and take responsibility for their desires and actions.
Abortion in Numbers
Human Life International, a Catholic organisation, in January 2022, using data from the World Health Organisation, estimated that, globally speaking, 73 million abortions happen each year. This is roughly 1 in 4 pregnancies worldwide. Meanwhile, around the globe, circa 68,000 women die annually due to unsafe abortions. However, this data point comes from 2009 – there is no recent figure that I was able to find, although the World Health Organisation stated in 2017 on its website that “annually 25 million unsafe abortions occur […] and too many women continue to suffer and die.” But how many it is not estimated.
In fact, there is substantial debate over this figure, especially in America where the doctor who provided evidence in Roe v. Wade admitted in his later book, The Abortion Papers, to have lied about the figure of how many women die each year from pregnancy difficulties, which, at the time, he estimated between 5,000 – 10,000, a “nice, round, shocking figure,” as he wrote. Therefore, let’s take the overall maternal mortality rate (which is not necessarily related to abortion – it can be due to birth complications that were unforeseen in the case of a wanted pregnancy) of 295,000 women, globally, as of 2019. This is 247x less than the total number of abortions performed each year globally.
Every Western country in the world – that is, a country which has inherited the legal and economic system and attitudes of the Western civilisation – is in favour of abortion laws and offers abortion on request (and no, American states are not countries – America is). There are 195 countries in the world and only 24 outright prohibit abortion (12% of all countries). However, developing (poor) countries are disproportionately affected by high abortion rates than developed (rich) countries. For example, between 2010 and 2014, 87.5% of abortions globally happened in developing countries and only 12.5% in rich countries. Another way of seeing this statistic over time is in the chart below. However, note that not all countries in the world have data on their abortion rates.
For example, in America, as of January 2021, 62 million abortions occurred since Roe v. Wade was passed, with the most abortions (1.6 million) taking place in the year 1990. The annual average of abortions in the United States since 1947 is 1.15 million. Meanwhile, according to the Population Reference Bureau, as of 2021, on the African continent, more than 8 million abortions occur each year. However, as a 2020 study by BMJ Global Health has showed after analysing data between 1990 and 2019, the rate of abortion differs considerably across the world.
Additionally, abortion rates peak for women aged between 20 and 24. There are nuances behind this data point. For example, data between 2010 and 2020 in the UK shows that the abortion rate for women under 18 has decreased over time while the rate for women over 35 has spiked, especially since late 2016. The peak in terms of abortion rate has moved from the age bracket of 18 – 21 years old in 2010 to 22 – 26 years old group in 2020. However, since 1969 (the year the data on abortion rate started to be collected), in the UK, the number of abortions per 1,000 women has increased by roughly 3.6x.
What the data that we have does however is to provide a rough statistical framework for the issue that we have been discussing: that about 25% of pregnancies worldwide end in abortion, representing roughly 73 million of abortions per year (a considerable number, given the first chart); that the peak of abortion rate (number or abortions per 1,000 women) is found in the age group of 20 – 24 years old and that developing countries are disproportionately affected by a higher number of abortions than the wealthier countries.
Why the Way of Abortion?
To discuss the reasons for why abortion happens, we first need to differentiate between terminating a “wanted pregnancy” and an “unwanted pregnancy”. A “wanted pregnancy” or “intended pregnancy” is when the child is desired or when more children are desired. Meanwhile, “unwanted pregnancy” or “unintended pregnancy” is when the child is not desired or when no more children are desired. Some definitions of these concepts include an element of time (hence why the largest abortion chain in America is called Planned Parenthood) and therefore the definitions above would be: a “wanted pregnancy” is when the child is desired now or in the future or that the pregnancy was at the right time; on the other hand, an “unwanted pregnancy” is one that is, according to the CDC, “mistimed, such as the pregnancy occurred earlier than desired.”
“Wanted pregnancies” can also be terminated. From what I have read, the sole reason for an aborting a “wanted pregnancy” is health. For example, in 2021 a study by the King’s College London found that “4.9% of women terminated a wanted pregnancy because of suffering from HG, while 52.1% of women had considered termination”. HG or hyperemesis gravidarum is a diseases that is potentially life-threatening.
The Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, when discussing some of the reasons for abortion however, it focuses on “unwanted pregnancies”. The reasons behind planning pregnancies, the Institute states, are many and go beyond health-related concerns:
“For instance, a young woman may seek to delay a first child to finish school or start a career. She may be especially motivated to postpone motherhood if she is single and lives where being pregnant and giving birth outside of a union means being rejected by her family or community. If a woman who is in a union already has children, she may want to space her pregnancies to achieve adequate intervals between births, which benefits her own health and that of her children. Waiting to have another child may also be a practical response to changing personal and economic circumstances. And after reaching their desired family size, couples may want to stop having children to achieve the goals they set for their own lives, and to fulfill their plans for how to bring up their children.”
The above paragraph, which comes from a 2017 study, is also reflected in a 2005 paper by the Guttmacher Institute, which compares the reasons for abortion in 2004. Only 12% of women opted for abortion due to health-related reasons, just 1% due to rape, and the vast majority cited career and economic reasons. Furthermore, these results were replicated in other recent papers which found that only a small fraction of abortions are due to health-reasons or as a result of rape. Bear in mind that this data is mostly focused on the United States. However, broadly speaking, these reasons hold true – to varying degrees – across multiple countries, according to 2017 HHR paper.
Even if a relatively small number of abortions in the case of “unwanted pregnancies” are due to health-related reasons and rape, this does not mean that, automatically, the woman who chooses abortion due to economic reasons does not have a justification that can stand at least in the court of public opinion. For example, poor families may abandon (or even sell) their children due to lack of basic resources to care for them. Therefore, the situation poses a dilemma: what kind of life can a child have if the parents cannot even provide food for him / her? We have already seen that developing countries are disproportionately affected by a higher abortion rate than their wealthier counterparts. In fact, the cost of raising a child even in developed nations like the UK and America has gone up over the years.
However, a low income (or the lack of resources) may not necessarily be the “economic reason” we all think about. For example, Lancet in 2020 published a report that showed that although the unintended pregnancy rate is higher in low-income countries, the rate of abortion of “unwanted pregnancies” is higher in middle-income and high-income countries.
In America, the profile of a typical abortion patient, according to a 2021 New York Times article is “already a mother, in her late 20s, attended some college, has a low income, is unmarried, is in her first 6 weeks pregnant, is her first abortion, lives in a Blue state”. Interestingly, there are studies which suggest that women who have low self-esteem and a perceived lack of control over their lives are more likely to get an abortion. These traits further demonstrates the many factors that go behind a decision to get an abortion.
Additionally, abortions can be the result of forced intervention by the government. China is an example. Under the country’s “one child” policy, which ran from 1979 until 2015, the Chinese Communist Party forced women to have abortions or to be sterilised in order to reduce the number of births in the country. “Every woman has almost gone through a forced abortion or forced sterilization,” Nanfu Wang, co-director and producer of the documentary, told PBS. “Sometimes the babies…they were born alive, and because of the policy and her job, she had to kill them after they were born alive, and she is really traumatized because of that.” Note that in this case the government forced a pro-abortion onto the citizens, regardless of the position on abortion of the women in question.
What does this information tell us then? As far as I can interpret it we can use it to classify “unwanted pregnancies” into four categories: “unwanted pregnancies” due to rape, “unwanted pregnancies” due to liberal sexual behaviour or promiscuity (which requires quick and affordable access to contraception), “unwanted pregnancies” due to immaturity, lack of critical thinking or education and “unwanted pregnancies” mandated by law. The very last one, which is nothing more but the control of population, from the perspective of this essay, which is a liberal and Christian one, is wrong on both accounts, as it eliminates the individual freedom completely.
However, where there is a certain degree of individual freedom (and in Western nations there is a large degree, still, of individual freedom, at least relatively to other parts of the world), there deeper reasons for why abortion is chosen by some women, reasons that go beyond healthcare considerations and economic issues. Some of these reasons have been explored in this essay.