Abortion is controversial because it comes up against one of the strongest instincts of anything alive: the need to protect offspring. Billions of years of evolution have ensured that the vast majority of complex living creatures will invest in protecting their young, humans are no exception.
The idea of a dead child is possibly the most upsetting idea it is possible to think. For many people, abortion means a dead child, even a murdered child. It is easy to see why it is an emotive topic.
Why Support Abortion?
If an abortion means killing a baby, then why do most people support the rights of a woman to abort her foetus?
One popular view is that until a foetus reaches a certain age (usually the point of viability, or the ability for the baby to survive outside the womb), it is not classed as a person. Until then, it is just a bunch of cells with the potential to become a human being, not a human.
The Regrettable Necessity of Abortion
This view is often arrived at out of necessity. Women will seek and obtain abortions, that is a reality. The idea of locking up women for abortions is more unpalatable than the idea of her having the choice to abort her foetus for many people. Because women will get abortions regardless of the legality, it might as well be legal, so she can do so safely with the support of doctors and close ones.
Taboos like rape and incest are also motivators for supporting the right to abortion. The idea of carrying a child to term who was conceived by rape is a horrendously traumatizing reality for unfortunate women and girls in that situation. Most people agree that even though the baby might be viable, the trauma inflicted on the woman is too great and her human rights would be infringed by forcing her to carry the baby to term.
Incest is a highly emotive topic, and while it may be legal in some European countries for adults to engage in incestuous relationships, it is not so in the UK. There is a visceral disgust that most people feel regarding incest, and this is the driver for a lot of the support for abortion in this situation. The view that the child would be malformed is another consideration, although most people believe the risk to be greater than it is. A child born of incest has a 4% chance of abnormalities compared to the 2% chance other children will have. Modern scanning equipment can indicate very accurately whether that child has an abnormality or not.
Every parent wishes for a healthy child. Given the choice between a child who has a condition like Down’s syndrome and who will need near constant supervision for the rest of their lives, intensive surgeries, and has the potential of having a very low quality of life; and a child who will grow up to be happy and successful, most parents would choose the healthier child.
Disabilities rights campaigners would argue that many people with disabilities are quite capable of having happy and fulfilling lives and should not be denied the chance to live them. Some equate it to eugenics, the selection of desirable traits in a population. There is strength to this argument, and many laws reflect this, allowing abortion only when the quality of life of the child would be below a certain standard. There are always exceptions, however, and this makes it a desperate and upsetting situation for any parent facing that choice to make.
A lot of the controversy around abortion comes from the argument over who has the right to decide. Opponents would argue that nobody has the right to take life, even if it can be defined as a potential life. Supporters would argue that potential lives are destroyed every time someone uses a condom, so there is not much difference and the argument is moot.
Does a woman have the right to choose what happens in her own body? Human Rights legislation generally supports the woman’s right to make that choice within reasonable bounds. Countries with more restrictive attitudes assert that it is not the woman’s choice, essentially forcing her to have a baby she either cannot or will not be able to provide for.
Striking a Balance
With such a complex and emotive subject, it has been hard to reach consensus. Both sides of the argument have very convincing cases. The line of viability looks arbitrary when you are considering it is a potential human life that is on the line.
Nobody wants children to die, and if the mother can carry the baby to term and give them up for adoption, then surely that is what the law should allow for? Is it better to abort one baby early in your life and set up better conditions for later children or to have a baby early in life and not be able to provide for him or her?
There is no satisfying conclusion to this debate, only regrettable necessity.