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Why Abortion is NOT Murder

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Message Stephen Unger

A common argument made in favor of restricting or outlawing abortions is that an abortion amounts to the murder of an innocent human. If valid, it trumps just about all points made in defense of abortion rights. Nobody, for example, would contend that it is OK for a mother to kill her eight-year old child because she lacks the energy and money to properly care for that child along with her other three older children. So why would it be all right for the same woman to terminate a pregnancy, thereby ending the life of a fetus? I believe that terminating a fetus is definitely NOT murder and will justify that belief below. The argument, while clear, does take more than a few sentences to present. We start with what seems like an easy question: "Why do we need a strong law against killing people?" The answer is that if anybody could kill you at any time without being subject to any penalty, you would live a miserable life, in constant fear. Furthermore, if you were currently protected by a law against killing, but something, not under your control, could happen that would make you lose that protection (for example if it were legal to kill people who became senile, or contracted certain diseases) you might also live in fear of becoming vulnerable to slaughter. Fortunately, there is no need to argue that killing someone is a bad thing because it harms them. I say "fortunately", because, strange as it sounds, the victim of a killing is not necessarily harmed! How can that be? Suppose a man with no reason to feel threatened is secretly given a tasteless poison that painlessly acts to kill him the next time he goes to sleep. He suffers no anxiety prior to death, because he doesn't know what is happening. At the moment of his painless death he is asleep and so feels nothing. After death he obviously cannot suffer in any way. So, at NO time does he suffer, either physically or psychologically. But what about the argument that, particularly in the case of a young person, perhaps one with great talent in some area, his premature death deprives him of a wonderful future? OTHER people might deeply regret the killing on such grounds, but the dead man is not capable of this, or of any other, feeling. We cannot therefor justify a law against killing on the grounds of injury or pain inflicted on the victim. Of course, in most real killings, there is some pain involved just before death, and there may, depending on the exact circumstances, be some fear as well. But the pain and fear involved in many killings is often exceeded by what people suffer under other circumstances, such as certain medical procedures. Many deaths cause great grief, and perhaps material loss, to people other than the victim. Those affected might include family members, friends, business associates, fans. On the other hand, there are also people on the "never-will-be-missed" list, who are so obnoxious that their deaths would be cheered by many and mourned by none. So enforcement of a law against killing based on losses to other people would be impractical. The bottom line is that the justification for strong, well enforced, laws against killing is that absent such laws, people would live in a state of constant fear. (There should, of course, as there are, also be laws against inflicting pain or injury on people.) Who should be protected by such laws? Certainly all readers of this article are covered. More broadly, the category includes everyone capable of sensing, however dimly, that such protection exists. But the protected group should also include all who were once members as defined above, but subsequently lost the capacity to understand the protection concept. Otherwise, people might suffer from a legitimate fear that old age, for example, might make them subject to arbitrary killing. Now comes the big question. What about a fetus? Whatever else a person might believe about fetuses, nobody could reasonably argue that a fetus could be aware of the possibility of being aborted. Therefor, it could not possibly experience anxiety over such an event. Thus it is not reasonable to include fetuses in the group protected by the strong law against killing. Of course this does not mean that the life of a fetus is necessarily of no value. On the contrary, in most cases, the fetus is treasured by the mother, and scarcely less so by the father, both looking forward eagerly to becoming parents. (As a grandfather, I might add that their joyful anticipation is often shared by others.) So, for example, a brutal attack on a pregnant woman that results in a miscarriage should be (and, of course, is) regarded as a heinous crime. But the terminating of her pregnancy at the behest of a pregnant woman is a completely different matter. It is quite properly NOT considered as a criminal act, certainly not as murder. A more detailed exposition of the arguments presented here can be found in a pair of essays accessible at click here

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I am an engineer. My degrees are in electrical engineering and my work has been in the digital systems area, mainly digital logic, but also computer organization, software and theory. I am a Professor, Emeritus, Computer Science and Electrical (more...)

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