To answer the question of abortion, you’ll need to answer the questions of:
- What do you mean by “life” (as anti-abortion people consider abortion as “taking away a life”)?
- Having defined life above, at which point do you call the embryo or fetus a “life”?
- More specifically, at what point do you call the embryo or fetus, not just “a life”, but a living human being (i.e. a human life).
It makes no sense to proceed without addressing the above. The debate will undoubtedly end up being driven by their conditioning, upbringing, and beliefs. Which implies no one cannot impose it on others, being personal beliefs.
I’ll start by making a biological case for it, then a theological case for it.
A. Biological Rationale
The transformation of a fertilized egg into a fetus, is nothing but a complex biochemical process, executing according specific instructions contained in the DNA. Starts off from a basic set of instructions in the DNA which evolve into more and more complex programs via interactions with complex protein structures and molecular dynamics (these structures themselves evolving from instructions in DNA).
Right from the first trigger (“the start signal”), that happens at the moment of fertilization, every step is a series of biochemical processes that execute like clockwork. The number of processes multiply exponentially, with each cell multiplying exponentially: one cell becomes 2, 4, 16, 32, 64,… to several millions of cells, each differentiating and grouping themselves into clusters of specialized cells, each group executing their part of the program (based on their topological location from each other as the ball of cells expand), to produce cells that coalesce to form bone tissue, muscles tissue, blood vessels, etc. These clumps of cells further differentiate into organs: heart, lungs, limbs, etc.
Then, the programs sends signals to turn on that organ: the lungs, the hearts, the brain, etc. Once the brain is turned on, electrical signals fire rapidly in the brain, randomly receiving and sending signals from nerve wiring all across the body, causing muscles to move and react randomly.
Note: there is no God involved here: the DNA and the process of transformation of the zygote into a fetus, is a process that has been refined over 3 billion years of evolution (from simplest protozoan to humankind). That’s a lot of time, and trillions of births, for the process to refine itself to such precision through evolution.
2. At Which Point is the Fetus a Human Being?
Based on the above biological process, at which point is the fetus alive? When it has 10 cells? 100 cells? 10,000 cells? Looks like a tadpole with gills? Looks like a chicken embryo with a beak and tail bone? Or when it starts “looking” like a human? Or when it is born?
Most people would agree that the fetus is not alive when it is just a 1 celled fertilized egg or a 100 celled embryo. For example, people are quick to discard embryos with poor genetic outcome (in fertilization clinics) without a second thought.
Things change the moment the embryo develops the resemblance to a human being (head with facial features and limbs). It suddenly becomes in the category of “living being”. Prior to that it was not because it looked like tadpole, chicken embryo, etc.
Modern day pregnancy videos make matters worse by presenting you with animated images of the fetus at even 1/2 inch size (note that at this size, the size of a grape, the fetus has human features: head, eyes, nose, mouth, arms, legs, fingers, toes).
After seeing such images, even as early as 1/2″ size fetus, people start imagining all sort of things like imagining it is “smiling”, “suckling its toe or finger”, “talking to the baby”, “enjoying music”, imagining about what the fetus is thinking, feeling, etc (the fetus cannot do any of that, as its neural development is too primitive, but the jiva-atman or the embodied spirit may entertain all those fancies). With all these fanciful imaginings, people develop emotional bondage, further reinforcing the belief that it is a live human being, and further feeding their imaginings and emotional bondage. All out of nothing but imagination and emotions.
Hopefully it is clear that the idea that the fetus is is a living human being is entirely driven by emotions built upon by such emotional attachments and bondage. Nothing wrong with emotional bondage itself, but it is wrong when that emotion is used to make irrational decisions, like bringing in a life in the world, perfectly knowing well that it will born with severe disabilities, instead of making the decision to terminate it, due to emotional attachment.
3. Being Born: Becoming a Living Human Being
A fetus becomes living human being when when it start living independently of the host (the mother).
This happens not at birth, but just right before birth, when the amniotic sac ruptures (i.e. “the water breaks”), from that moment, the fetus is cut-off from its life-support system (the mother), and will start breathing on its own, and the digestive system starts fully functioning (i.e. food ingested through mouth, no longer receives nutrients via mother via umbilical cord). You have a small window of time to give birth, as the fetus needs oxygen, nutrients, etc.
B. Theological Rationale
A large number of anti pro-choice groups are right wing Christians. This is not a coincidence. This is because in Christian theology the soul is tightly linked to the body, possessing that same personality that it had when it was in that body, when it moves on from the body when the individual dies.
Only philosophy (and that too Hindu philosophy), is evolved and best equipped to take on questions of life and existence in relation to the body and spirit. Read this for the philosophical understanding of “life” and its relation with the physical body: The Body, Spirit, and Life. It vitally complements the above biological perspective of life.
C. Emotion and Insecurities
The above reasoning, both the Biological and Theological are so straightforward, that if you can’t understand it, and not willing to even ask questions to help you understand it, but would rather just ignore it…. then it is likely you don’t want to understand it, because of your emotional attachment. Ask yourself where is that emotion (that is clouding your judgment) coming from? Most likely it is coming from one’s own insecurities, fears, or selfish desires.
In Hindu Philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita for example, Krishna in his advise to Arjuna (on whether he should engage in battle to defend his people or not), says emphasizes making decision out of dharma, not out of emotions. And to achieve that, he gives a discourse on the various types of yoga, to calm the mind and achieve that clarity and poise required by a person engaging in something sensitive as battle. Dharma is not driven by selfish desires but for the good of the other, not doing things for your own benefit, nor doing things by reacting out of emotions (fear, insecurity, anger, revenge, etc).
To make a decision to bring cruelty on another being, because of your inability to deal with your own selfish emotions, fears, beliefs, is a most selfish, wicked, and unpardonable sin.
Selfish, because often these people don’t consider the suffering of the child, in situations where:
- where there is an overwhelming chance that the child is likely to be born with a seriously debilitating birth defect and hence suffer life long disability (after you become old, who will take care of the child?)
- where a child is bought into the world where the parents don’t have the means of giving their fullest support to a child (like teenage pregnancy), often ending up in overpopulated adoption clinics and orphanages (if not ending up in a garbage dump — which is not uncommon in countries that are predominantly Catholic, where abortion is outlawed).
- where the child is born of rape (and the mother is severely traumatized to give her fullest support or affection to the child, let alone if she is able to get over her trauma).
- where the child is guaranteed to be born with a life-threatening disease (like AIDS being transmitted from parent to child).
Instead of seeing these outcomes of suffering for the child, they see their own selfish emotions, beliefs, convictions, etc.
I’ll just address item #1 (termination due to a birth defect), though the same reasoning is applicable to others. If the diagnostics cannot guarantee with over 99.9% confidence that the baby will not be without debilitating birth defect (mental or physical), then one should terminate the pregnancy.
It is interesting that one is able to without second thought terminate embryos in a fertilization clinic, and keep only those which guarantee over 99% healthy baby. Is that not also “killing”? One needs to retain the same disposition when it comes to terminating a fetus when one cannot guarantee 99.9% healthy baby. As the same applies for the fetus: neither is a living human being, neither has been given a life, neither has been born.
Abortion is not the termination of a life, but preventing a life from manifesting in the first place. To go forward with the pregnancy, and bringing a life into this world, knowing that it will born with debilitating defects or knowing it cannot receive the love and care that any child should deserve,…. out of owns emotions, insecurity, fears, beliefs, is the most selfish thing a person can do.