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A Moral Argument for Abortion

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Headlined to H4 5/20/11

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A Moral Argument for Abortion

Davidson Loehr

19 May 2011

In the game-changing 1973 Roe v. Wade case, abortion was framed as an issue of women's rights.   The women's movement was in full swing, and it was easy to see why women would believe they should have the right to abort an unwanted fetus.   But the "rights" frame proved to be an easy target for those who say the termination of a developing human being must be supported by a persuasive moral argument.   They have won: a majority of Americans now believe abortion is wrong, perhaps because they think that even a poor moral argument about the termination of a developing human life is better than none at all.

Now, as that majority are working to give their moral views the framework of law, there may (or not) be time for those who want "reproductive choice" and access to safe abortions to reframe and expand their position into a moral argument.

What's most frustrating is that there is a moral framework for abortion that doesn't get the exposure it should because the issue is still framed simply as "a woman's right to choose."    

In religion, this moral argument was given its most powerful and adaptable form 120 years ago, in one of the most persuasive essays in the history of Christianity.   The Rerum Novarum ("Of New Things"), was issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, and updated by the Catholic Church in 1931, 1961, and 1991.   Anyone interested in reading one of the most brilliant Christian moral arguments in the past 20 centuries should check it out. ( ).  

It's a "quantity of life" versus "quality of life" issue.   Mere quantity of life may be sufficient (as far as we can tell) for simpler life forms like bacteria, mosquitoes, and cockroaches.   But even by the time we get to rats, too many can destroy much chance for rats to live out their full potential.   To many of us, it seems that's just the nature of rats: to be dirty, disease-ridden and vicious.   But within decent conditions, that is not the nature of rats at all.   They are very popular pets, whose owners describe them as clean, playful, even loving.  

With humans, more babies than their environment can support and cherish degrades the quality of life to the point we see in our metastasizing ghettos and for-profit prisons, and in those desperate dwellings where a single mother tries to care for her children, against odds that consign both parents and children to lives that are nasty, brutish and short.  

At the birth of our nation, over 90% of our citizens were farmers, where "many hands made light work."   In that context, neither practical nor moral arguments for abortion would find a persuasive moral footing. Large families provided more hands, as well as a social safety net and retirement program for parents.

By 1900, fewer than 40% of Americans were farmers.   Today, fewer than 1% of Americans are farmers, and most of those just part-time.   Extended families within easy driving distance are nearly extinct. More and more, people must fend for themselves, without a safety net of adequate social, financial and medical services.  

The whole social context of family planning, birth control, and abortion has changed in the last 235 years. Today, pregnancy is a request, not a demand. Women have many eggs, and men make sperm by the millions: the fertilization of an egg by a sperm happens many more times than we wish.   We can always breed, but should only do it when we are ready, willing and able to care and provide for our children.   While a few kids out of a hundred thousand may make it out of the ghetto, those are unfair odds to pile on a parent, child, or society.  

There is an image from September 11, 2001 that was burned into the memory of everyone who saw it: people, sometimes holding hands, jumping to their death from the Twin Towers, with no safety nets to catch them.   It should be as heart-rending to see millions of children pushed out into a world that has no adequate safety nets for them either.   And to enact laws whose intent is to force the most desperate women to bring babies into a home and a world that can't care for them is, if not evil, a brutality against the most vulnerable women and children in our society -- and profoundly immoral.  


AUTHOR BIO: Davidson Loehr is a former musician, combat photographer and press officer in Vietnam, owner of a photography studio in Ann Arbor, and a carpenter. He holds a Ph.D. in methods of studying religion, theology, the philosophy of religion (more...)
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The access to safe abortions may begin to vanish, ... by Davidson Loehr on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 9:09:33 AM
I agree with you, but I fear that the language of ... by Julia Gregory on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 2:43:21 PM
Why Abortion Isn't Murder... by Don Smith on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 3:11:39 PM
I always had a problem with this subject and the w... by David Vicks on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 5:41:49 PM
An Economic Argument for AbortionMany implications... by Doc McCoy on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 11:43:37 PM
Many of these children live in some very sorry con... by Odyseus_97 on Monday, May 23, 2011 at 10:45:35 AM