When we look at abortion, we have to look at why we view killing humans as wrong. We see it that way for multiple reasons. First of all, humans are “our team.” In the game of life where survival is based upon eating other living things to stay alive, like all other species we instinctively do not eat each other, but rather work with each other to secure other living things to eat. Beyond that, we have higher reasoning abilities, so we look at living things in a hierarchical sense, with those that are animate being superior to inanimate, those that can think being superior to those that cannot, those that are self-aware being superior to those that are not, those that feel a greater quantity and quality of complex emotions being superior to those that feel less and less complexly, and those that can feel pain as superior to those that cannot. Humans are the most emotionally complex and most self-aware of the living things that can move, think, and feel both emotional and physical pain. Thus, we recognize that humans will be far more saddened by the death of another human they had a relationship with than other animals will be, and the human being killed will feel complex pain and fear when being killed since they are aware of their own mortality. Finally, we also realize that human beings are the only creatures we, as humans, can control to keep ourselves safer. We wouldn’t be any safer if we imposed laws saying bears or lions or tigers would be imprisoned or killed if they kill a human because we cannot communicate with them and they are not high enough thinkers to understand such directions even if we could communicate with them. Thus, the only creatures we as humans can keep ourselves safer from by imposing anti-killing laws are other humans.
Once we understand that reasons we value human life so much, we can return to the subject of abortion. An unborn fetus, or baby, or whatever you’d like to call it is quite different from an already born human, and thus our views of it are quite different. It’s not something we can see, touch, or communicate with, so while it is a developing human, it’s quite difficult for people to perceive it as a “member of our team,” which should be afforded the same protections as living humans. It’s the difference between a concrete and abstract/conceptual viewing of human life. We don’t feel the same connection to the abstract as we do the things which we can see right in front of us. Yet, far more important is where we view it on the hierarchy of life. It doesn’t appear to us as an animate thing, but rather a creature that is 100% dependent upon another creature. It goes where its mother goes; it eats what its mother eats, etc, etc. It’s not really its “own person” yet. In some ways this is similar to a completely disabled person, but it’s not quite the same in the sense that a disabled person could have their caretaker die and simply get a new one, while a baby can’t exactly “hire” a new mother if they mom is killed while it’s still in the womb. It’s really a “living extension” of a very particular individual (its mother). Then comes the question of self-awareness, and the ability to think. Prior to the brain being fully formed this fetus/baby isn’t able to think, let alone perceive its own existence, and as the brain does form later in the pregnancy it’s quite hard for us to imagine that it has any concept of being alive, or of its own mortality, etc, etc. It’s sort of in a transition state from non-existence to human existence, where it is yet to realize what exactly is going on. Finally come the matters of its ability to feel emotions and pain. While some people may think it feels physical pain prior to emotional pain, that’s probably not true. It probably feels a range of emotions as its central nervous system is beginning to develop, but it is not until much after that point that the sensory nervous system is both completely built and functioning to the extent that it would feel pain if killed.
The pain argument is a particularly interesting one, as people seem to think it’s a sort of determining factor in all this. I’d argue it really isn’t. After all, we routinely kill animals that feel quite a bit of pain as we kill them for food (and food that I might add we don’t need for survival as evidenced by the fact vegans and vegetarians don’t die because they abstain from meat). So, if the fetus/baby is at a point in the pregnancy where it feels physical pain, the question really is whether or not at that point the other crucial considerations (is it self-aware, does it fear death, does it experience complex emotions, do other people feel complex emotions for the fetus/baby, is it able to process intelligent thought, etc) would be what determines if the fetus is to be seen as nothing more than analogous to a pain-feeling animal we want to (but don’t have to) kill, or is it something more?
The answer as to whether the fetus/baby is more than a pain capable living thing analogous to a pain capable animal is quite a difficult one. It goes without saying it is still inanimate, but as for its intelligence and emotional state we can probably venture to guess that it’s not able to grasp the concept of its existence or feel emotions such as love and fear. Yet, a living baby probably doesn’t have that sort of intellectual or emotional development either, and we would certainly never kill living babies. The difference appears to be how other humans feel about the fetus/baby. When a human is either too young, too old, or too physically and/or emotionally, and/or intellectually disabled to grasp the concept of its own existence, feel complex emotions, engage in complex reasoning, it doesn’t possess the “things” that make us “human.” But we don’t kill off living babies, elderly people, and disabled people. Why? We don’t do that because those people are more than conceptual notions of developing people inside another, we don’t fear those developing people (as in an unborn baby can’t exactly kill us, so we feel no need to engage in mutual agreements of I won’t kill you if you don’t kill me, sort of like how we don’t do that with animal species), but most importantly we feel emotional connections to them. You see, even if a living thing (human or otherwise) is unable to think on a high human level, perceive life and death, feel complex emotional pain, etc, etc, if human beings who can think, perceive, and feel on those levels wind up feeling attached to such fellow living creatures (be it an unborn baby, a vegetable state person, a pet animal, etc) we will not view it as permissible to kill that creature.
So, when we come to the question of whether it is right or wrong to kill an unborn developing human we must ask ourselves if the unborn developing human has humans which care for it on a deep, complex human level. If the answer is yes, we wouldn’t want to kill it, and if the answer is no, it suddenly becomes nothing more than a wild animal we have no particular attachment to. In cases where the mother cares for the baby in that way it will not be killed, but in instances where the mother does not feel that way, she will be okay with killing it. Here, we arrive at the question of whether an unborn developing human can be provided the protections that come with a human or humans having deep human care for it, if its mother does not have that care for it. It really boils down to this. Do we collectively, as a human race, feel a profound human love and connection for all human beings or only those in our immediate circles? If the answer is that we only care for those in our immediate circles, then a mother who does not care for the developing human would seem to be in a position where she could kill it without anyone else giving a damn. Yet, if the answer is that we do care for all humans the same way we care for our immediate circles then that mother would seem to be in a position where the rest of the human race would feel compelled to stop her from taking a member of the “global human family,” albeit one that cannot yet perceive complex emotions, think highly, or perceive life and death.
This is where the stereotypical pro-lifer in the US confuses me greatly. On one hand they would seem to care very much for these potential humans, which would seem to suggest they view the world as a “we are all in this together” sort of thing. Yet, they don’t seem to act that way once the baby is born. They are most often the same people that are trying to restructure society so that poor single mothers and their children are cut off from the help they actually need to thrive. They also seem to be the same group of people that are constantly denying people the contraceptive tools and sexual education they need to avoid ending up in a situation where they are pregnant with a fetus/baby they don’t feel anything for and don’t want to keep. It doesn’t really seem to be about some universal love they feel for all humans that it just pains them so much to see a developing human they feel love for killed. So, what exactly is it about?
It would seem there are two types of pro-lifers. The first are those that view it as a religious issue. These tend to be very authoritarian people who are very wrapped up in fundamentalist religion. They see the fetus as a person and they see a rule from their God that says you can’t kill people, so they are outraged that their nation doesn’t have laws against abortion, since that seems to go against what God says. These folks aren’t really too concerned with separation of church and state, nor are they at all observant of the notion that you live by your religious rules and I’ll live by my rules. They want their government’s laws to be in accordance with their religion’s laws, because they want everyone following those rules, not just themselves. The best way to make it so that everyone is following your religious rules even if they don’t believe in them is to coerce them into it by having their government adopt all those rules. So, that’s group number one.
The other group is the misogynistic group of men. These are the folks who would be the biggest champions of Roe v. Wade in a heartbeat if men could get pregnant, or if men were expected by society to drop or limit their careers in order to raise children. These men view it as a situation where pregnancy is not something they have to go through, nor is taking a more modest career path to focus on family the kind of thing they are expected to do, so they don’t see any problem with trying to force outlaws of abortion as it will cost them nothing. Furthermore, it’s not so much that they know they will have to sacrifice nothing if all these babies are born (while women will), but it’s also often times that they want to see women forced into suffering (the physical pains of pregnancy and birthing) and sacrifice (the post-birth work sacrifices) for straying from gender norms. You see, women who are married and get pregnant generally keep babies (except in cases of things like rape or life of the mother, which this type of pro-lifer, unlike the religious kind, will usually support), but women who stray from the idea that they are supposed to keep their legs shut until they open them for the guy they will spend forever with (i.e. spend forever giving children to and serving in every way) might get pregnant by a guy they don’t want to have a baby with, or aren’t ready to have a baby with. To force them to have the baby and most likely raise the baby is seen as a sort of “appropriate punishment” for the transgression of being a little female slut who just couldn’t wait to have a ring on it before she fucked.
The fact that the pro-life movement is filled a good 99% with the combination of blind “Bible thumping, no separation of church and state observing” types and the “I know men lose nothing when babies are made, and women should be punished for making them outside of marriage misogynist” types, makes it very difficult for someone who thinks that maybe we ought to protect those developing humans because we should share a universal familial-like love of all humans to identify with the American pro-life movement. It’s very much seen as a religious issue, a grumpy old school male issue, and a “conservative Republican” issue. Those type of people aren’t really concerned with lowering abortion rates, or caring for the developing people that are aborted. They just like pounding Bibles and/or hating women who don’t conform to the patriarchy. So, if you’ve ever wondered why liberals don’t get involved with pro-life stuff, that’s why.