Some time has passed since I originally posted this writeup, resulting, I must admit, in the node being locked. The writeup has received a rather mixed response - it has been upvoted, downvoted, praised and criticised and often ignored. I would now like to expand and clarify it, because I have realised that in the original text, I only presented the final argument in a chain of several.
The subject is a touchy one - abortion, cause of much discussion and conflict. Superficially, the two sides of the argument can be called “pro-life” and “pro-choice”. But there are two problems with this view. For one, it is not a simple yes-or-no question with no gray area, whatever the radicals might say. The other problem is with the names of the two positions, or rather what they imply the opposition to be. While the expression “pro-choice” implies an “anti-choice” side to the matter, which is more or less true with many of those people, “pro-life” implies an “anti-life” or “pro-death” faction. That is hardly the case - I doubt that anybody is very fond of abortions and would like more of them to happen.
Actually, in a way, everybody actually wants the same. Both sides would like it best if absolutely no abortions were necessary. But, this being an imperfect world, that is not the case. As I mentioned above, this is not in fact a black-and-white question, no case of us-and-them. One of the main reasons for all of the confusion about the entire matter is that at its heart is a gradient: At the beginning are sperm and ovum, single-celled lifeforms, at the end is a newborn baby. Everybody agrees that killing newborn babies is bad, but there the consensus ends. Everybody agrees on the sanctity of human life, but there is disagreement about when human life begins.
Is a sperm cell a human being, entitled to human rights and protection? That does sound a bit absurd, since the spermium does not even have a full set of human genes. The same goes for the ovum. So, what about the fertilised egg cell? It does have a complete set of human genes and it is undoubtedly alive. Yet many if not most fertilised ova never actually grow into a human being. Do we hold funerals for them? Not really. So, can we claim that it has human rights? Maybe.
Next comes the grey area, where the single cell slowly develop into a fully articulated human being over the course of ten months. The development is fairly continuous, so it’s very difficult to point at a specific point in time and convincingly argument that this is where the unborn becomes human. Though there is one vaguely defined point in the development where a somewhat convincing case can be made: it is when the unborn would survive if it were to be born at that time. However, most “pro-life” people would probably think this a far too late date. Shortly after, the baby is born, and only now does the question become clear. This is the point where everybody agrees that the baby must not be killed. But what about a baby who is still inside, but which will be born in, say, ten minutes? May it still be aborted? What about twenty minutes, an hour, a day, a week, a month, three?
Our ethical thinking, which is based on the opposite concepts of right and wrong, has great difficulties with such a gradient from reasonably clear rightness to definite wrongness. What are we to do? Implement a sliding scale of punishments? Make abortion in the first month a minor offense punished by a mild fine. In the fourth month it’s a few days of prison. In the ninth it’s a sentence for murder, without recourse. Imagine the squabbling and problems and chaos and ethical dilemmas resulting from such a practice. That will not do.
So I decided to abandon the whole question of if and when abortion is evil, and instead tried to look at it from a more practical point of view. Doing this, I realised that making abortions illegal will not necessarily reduce their number anyway, so the entire argument about what to do legally might be beside the point. I then reasoned the following way:
"In discussions about whether to allow abortions, many religious, ethical and philosophical arguments are brought forth to either justify or attack aborting pregnancies. However, there is one very practical argument against prohibiting abortion that often seems to be ignored:
Outlawing abortions will not make women stop having them.
There were aborted pregnancies long before there were abortion clinics. Those days, women terminated a pregnancy on their own, using knitting needles, table edges and other pointed things. Using such crude and unhygienic methods, they were in grave danger of injuring or even killing themselves. Abortion clinics are places where pregnancies can be aborted quickly and safely, for the safety of women.
If abortions are outlawed, women who really want to have one will be in a dire situation.
Some women apparently get an abortion without realizing the magnitude of their decision. It is partly to stop this from happening that some people advocate that abortion be forbidden. However, there could be some kind of counseling process that would show whether a woman really wants an abortion. She might not know the alternatives, or she might be under pressure from the father of the child or from relatives. But still:
If a woman really wants to have an abortion, she will get one - there is no way to stop her."
Wherever you may stand on the debate outlined at the beginning of this text, whether you are "pro-life" or "pro-choice", this argument still holds true. The great debate does not really matter. Instead it takes away our time and energy, which we could devote to finding other solutions to the problem. If one really wants to reduce the number of abortions instead of fighting about ethics and morality and religion, then there are more effective and less dangerous ways of doing so, like proper, truthful sex education, family planning, social support for single mothers and counseling for expectant parents.