What is abortion?

Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the induced removal of the fetus which results in the death of the fetus.

There are two issues raised in abortion debates:

Does a fetus have a right to be in a woman’s body against her will?
Does the government have the right to restrict reproductive rights to pursue social objectives?

Anti-abortionists confuse the potential with the actual

A human being is a physically distinct being who survives by the use of reason. Prior to birth, a fetus is to a human being what an apple is to an apple tree or an egg to a chicken. A fetus may superficially resemble a human being, but it is no more a baby than an embryo inside an egg is a chick – a picture is not an argument. It has the potential to be a human being but does not become an actual human being until it is born.

There is no right to be a parasite

Rights derive from the fact that human beings need freedom from the coercion of others to live. Two properties are essential for a being to possess rights: physical independence and the capacity for rational thought. “Physical independence” means that a being’s existence is not necessarily dependent on the sustenance of another.

A fetus is not an independent entity – to live, it must drain the resources of the mother – it is a parasite until it is born. A newly-born infant is also helpless, but it does not impose a burden on the mother by its very existence – others may choose to provide for it. A parent who decides to bring a human being into the world accepts an obligation to provide for it. Still, that obligation applies to actual human beings – a fetus does not have a right to force a mother to nurture it.

Humans own their own body

The most fundamental of rights is the right to one’s own life, which means the right to own one’s body. A woman’s body is not the property of the state or society, to be controlled by majority rule or directed towards political goals.  The right to make decisions regarding one’s fertility is a fundamental human right.  Just as it would be unjust to violate a woman by forcibly inseminating her, so it is evil to force her to bear children against her will.

Pro-rights is the only consistent pro-life, pro-family position

“Responsible parenthood involves decades devoted to the child’s proper nurture. To sentence a woman to bear a child against her will is an unspeakable violation of her rights: her right to liberty (to the functions of her body), her right to the pursuit of happiness, and, sometimes, her right to life itself, even as a serf. Such a sentence represents the sacrifice of the actual to the potential, of a real human being to a piece of protoplasm, which has no life in the human sense of the term. It is sheer perversion of language for people who demand this sacrifice to call themselves ‘right-to-lifers.’ “

— Leonard Peikoff (Objectivism, in the Chapter on Government)

Further reading


This article was originally published on May 18, 2007 on OneMinuteCases. For more, check out my other blog.