What about abortion?

Ted Grimsrud—October 30, 2011

I have to admit that I have never been especially exercised by the abortion issue.

On the one hand, I have never found the strict anti-abortion position attractive. While self-labeled as “pro-life,” it has often struck me as rigid, legalistic, ideological, and too easily co-opted by political forces that in other respects are pretty anti-life. Yet I also have a hard time thinking of abortions as positive or even morally neutral acts. I also am uncomfortable with arguments that present abortion is strictly a matter of the pregnant woman’s personal choice.

And it is not an issue I have ever had close personal experience with. So it has been easy to focus on other issues—as I still do.

However, in the introductory ethics course I teach to mostly first-year college students, I use abortion as one of several case studies we briefly consider. So I do find myself getting more interested.

The success of “pro-life” rhetoric

I am struck more and more with how successful the anti-abortion advocates seem have been in setting the terms of the discussion. Most students seem to take it as a given that human life (in the sense of deserving of full human rights, let’s call this “personhood”) begins when the egg is fertilized. So, abortion at a very early stage is understood to be the taking of a human life, morally equivalent to murder. When pushed to consider it, many of these students would see that even “birth control” methods that prevent fertilized eggs from being implanted on the uterine wall (e.g., the “morning after pill”) are abortion.

This seems to paint people into a corner. We have heard several true-life stories from guest speakers about cases where the strict pro-life belief led to actions that many in the class recognize as seemingly problematic. Continue reading “What about abortion?”