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 in order 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 – in order to live, it must drain the resources of the mother – it is literally 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 chooses to bring an human being into the world accepts an obligation to ensure that it is provided for, but 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 own 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.