Jennifer Wright argues that pro-lifers ignore facts. Six of them. Well I don’t want to ignore facts. So, what are they? Are they true? Are they relevant to the moral status of abortion?
First, Wright claims that fetuses are distinguishable from babies:
“They can pretend fetuses are indistinguishable from babies, despite the fact that medical evidence tells us fetuses cannot live unsupported, even with a respirator before 21 weeks.”
In other words, a fetus is a baby only if it can live unsupported. But if this was a condition for babyhood, it would be morally permissible to kill many babies who are already born. Many babies are born premature or with health conditions and are supported by things like respirators. We wouldn’t say it is morally justifiable to kill them. Thus, just because a fetus requires the support of the mother to live, it does not follow that it is not a baby.
Second, she claims that fetuses don’t feel pain:
“They can pretend they feel pain, even though scientific consensus tells us that until at least 24 weeks, a fetus cannot feel anything like pain because they do not yet have the brain connections to do so.”
It is quite unclear as to the pain felt by a small forming fetus. However, imagine if you had all sensation removed but remained fully conscious. Would you say that it would be morally permissible to kill you? What if you were alive, without sensation and consciousness? Would this be enough justification? Feeling pain is not necessary for babyhood and for eligibility for protection from killing.
Verdict: Probably true at a very early stage and false for most of the pregnancy. Ultimately the supposed fact is not relevant to the moral status of the child in the womb.
Third, Wright claims that not every fertilized egg is a human:
“They can pretend that every fertilized egg is a human, ignoring the fact that the majority do not actually make it to birth and this does not seem to upset people much. (Jill Filipovic, lawyer and author of The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, has quite reasonably pointed out that, “There has been no concerted anti-abortion effort to demand research funding into why all of these fertilized eggs die, or to find a cure. Perhaps that’s because even the most active anti-abortion advocates know the truth is that a fertilized egg is not the same as a three-year-old, and they do not genuinely believe that it has the same right to life.”)
It is plainly true that a human female’s egg fertilized by a human male sperm is a human fertilized egg. What else could it be? Is it a human? this would depend on whether the fertilized egg is a different human to the mother or father. The egg is sufficiently distinct from the mother to count as a different human being to the mother. So, yes, the fertilized egg is a human.
Furthermore, pro-lifers generally do (or should) care about miscarriages. If 300 adult human beings attempted to swim the English Chanel and only 30 made it across, we would all mourn the loss of the 270 who drowned. The same is true of lost children who die in the womb. We mourn the loss.
Consider the work of The Mariposa Trust, a charity set up to help families who lose their children “at any stage of pregnancy.” Scientists and medical professionals are working very hard to prevent miscarriage. This is a good thing and deserves funding.
Fourth, Wright claims that abortion does not cause psychological damage:
“They can pretend that abortions cause women horrible psychological damage, although they do not. Or that women who have them are plagued by regret (results of a 2015 study showed that approximately 95 percent of women who had abortions claimed it was the right decision for them).”
Let’s say that no one felt regret or had psychological damage from having an abortion. Would this make the action a morally justifiable one? It is just not relevant to the question: the presence or absence of regret for an action does not tell us whether the action is wrong.
But is it true that no regret is the same a psychological damage? Research shows that incidences of depression are higher among those who have had abortions.
Verdict: Probably false but irrelevant.
Fifth, Wright claims that women seeking abortions are not unusually promiscuous:
“They can say that women who have abortions are somehow unusually promiscuous (pre-marital sex is “nearly universal” in America, according to a 2007 study, and has been for decades)”
I couldn’t find any data on the percentage of women seeking abortions who are defined as unusually promiscuous. Nor is there any way to know what Wright means by ‘unusually promiscuous’ (her link is to a pathos blog and a youtube video). This is also not relevant to whether it is morally permissible to kill an unborn child.
It is true that women who are unmarried are far more likely to have an abortion (only 14% of women seeking abortions in 2014 were married).
Wright seems to imply that everybody is having premarital sex and so it shouldn’t be a factor in the debate. Again, just because it is common does not make an action right. Even if no one in America thought that sex outside marriage was wrong, it would not make it right. The same is true of abortion.
Verdict: unknown and irrelevant.
Sixth, Wright claims that contraception-use does not easily take care of the problem.
“…or that women could easily avoid having them by being on birth control (more than half of women who get abortions are also using contraception).”
I agree with Wright on this one, but I don’t think any pro-lifer really thinks that (a) contraceptives guarantee anything more than reduction of the probability of pregnancy or (b) there is anything ‘easy’ about avoiding pregnancy when sexually active especially with multiple partners.
However, the little fact that the link takes you to says: “Fifty-one percent of abortion patients in 2014 were using a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant, most commonly condoms (24%) or a hormonal method (13%).” It is a little vague but it seems clear that ‘using contraceptives in the month they became pregnant’ is not the same as ‘used contraception during the sexual encounter that caused the pregnancy.’ It is likely that contraceptives when used correctly reduce the probability of pregnancy more than 50%.
But even if we grant Wright’s point, it is not relevant. The issue is not whether contraception is effective, but whether it is morally permissible to kill the child who is conceived as a consequence of sexual intercourse.
Verdict: true but irrelevant.