Thoughts on the abortion issue by a person raised in a secular society and household

Thoughts on the abortion issue by a person raised in a secular society and household

February 6, 2011
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The other day I contemplated the abortion issue and how much a difference in perspective there exists on this topic within the Western world. On the one hand there’s my country of Sweden, with its extremely liberal philosophy; abortion is here considered a natural right for the pregnant woman, and within the political establishment, the support for this way of viewing it is unanimous.

On the other hand, there are parts of America, mainly the south, where abortion is considered murder, and activists often picket clinics in protest. After American abortionist George Tiller was murdered by an activist during the summer of 2009, the Swedish state TV covered the anti-abortion movement.

The 6.5-minute long clip was very one-sided and filled with almost absurd allegations about the motives of the activists. To quote SVT reporter Eva Elmsäter:

“The American abortion right is no matter-of-course. Lately the opponents have escalated their strikes all across the country.”
“Lately the opponents, the religious right have escalated their strikes. They do everything they can to shut down clinics or scare away the women.”

This reporter insinuates that the activists have ulterior motives instead of the state protection of human life:

“McMillan feels among other things that the abortions are a conspiracy against the black race. But in a state where the Ku Klux Klan isn’t distant history it’s hard to take the concern of the white abortion opponents about the black girls fully seriously. It rather hints at a veiled form of racism, but this is something McMillan denies. In Jackson, Mississippi, the Baptist church dominates people’s lives and the young are exhorted to live in abstinence. The state of Mississippi states that it has fewer abortions than other states – the result is more teenage mums who are forced to live in poverty and squalor.”

Ignoring for a moment that the reporter accuses anti-abortion activists of being racists and associates them with the KKK, let’s consider the dominant Swedish perspective briefly. Swedish political philosophy puts little value on god-given individual rights, but is rather more utilitarian – that is, concerned with the greater good and maximizing the positive outcome of something to the largest number of people. In practice this means bestowing power on the ones with a voice, who can speak for themselves; and paying little heed to those whose life or liberty has to be sacrificed for the greater good.

Man’s survival has always depended on continued procreation, and until recent times, there have been few options for people who want to avoid bringing children into the world. The cycle of life always went on uninterrupted for most of man’s history. Yet today with contraceptives, birth control pills and abortions, technology has provided man with tools to discard of unwanted life. In materialistic and utilitarian Sweden, this has resulted in a philosophy where the mother is simply meant to ask herself the question: “Does she really want her baby?” With this perspective, the pregnancies of these young American women is a nuisance that will deprive them of the life they would otherwise have. And in what appears to be some form of twisted class war analysis, the protesters at clinics are considered to want to force the black women to remain in poverty by burdening them with children. I wonder if in her mind, the protesters are really so depraved as to want to not only torment their victims, but also pay added taxes to support these children?

I believe this allegation of racism on the part of reporter Elmsäter might be a result of her lacking some common sense, however, and shouldn’t have us distracted from the analyzing the utilitarian perspective. If you don’t recognize any god-given natural rights and measure the morality of something by how many people with voices to speak benefit from them, it wouldn’t make much sense prohibiting abortions. Abortion supporters often argue that women who are bogged down with children at an early age rarely get a career going, and they’re probably right. The collective benefit in letting women discard of unwanted pregnancies is the ability to not have your intended career taken away from you just because you became pregnant; the fetuses don’t have a voice on the other hand.

Yet, there is this thing called the slippery slope. This concept, familiar to most readers, argues that if society isn’t rooted in firm principles, then down the line man’s actions or legislation will transform into something he today would not accept yet would at this later time. What gives the women having abortions the power over the fetuses is that they’re dependent on the woman, and quite often this distinct human being is considered a part of her body, with which she can do as she pleases. If the dependency of the fetus is what grants the mother the right to terminate its life at will, doesn’t the same thing apply to society and welfare recipients? They’re both dependents. How can you argue that it should be acceptable for women to terminate pregnancies, yet that it wouldn’t be for society to terminate the life of welfare recipients? Indeed, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sweden, which today is so liberal when it comes to abortion, also made it a requirement to be sterilized during much of the 20th century in order to get welfare benefits.

Just how is the sort of dependency on its host organism determined? How do you differentiate between the life of the host organism and its dependent? The first couple of months after delivery, a toddler is absolutely dependent on his or her mother for physical and psychological nurturing. If dependency is the criterion, wouldn’t infanticide be as acceptable as abortion? Naturally, another woman could take the mother’s place after delivery, but the same is true before delivery as well, due to breakthroughs in medical technology. A fetus can be brought out of the womb through C-section and put in life support facilities which take the place of the mother’s womb. Hence, if the support for the “right” to abortions is based on the dependency of the fetus on the womb, that doesn’t hold up for some of abortions taking place these days.

In the Swedish Abortion act, the right for a woman to unconditionally abort a fetus is defined in §1, and §4 along with §10 make it a crime for a physician to refuse to perform abortions. Late-term abortions are available with special permission until the point where the fetus is considered to be fully viable for a live birth. As I understand it, the ultimate legal limit for this practice is around the 30th week. The other year, a Swedish woman terminated two pregnancies in a row after determining the gender of the fetus, since she wanted a son instead of another daughter, something she had two of already. The physicians that had to service her protested to the authorities and asked if they really had to fulfill these requests, yet were told they can’t opt out of gender abortions.

In Western countries today, fetuses are sometimes legally aborted as late as into the 25th week of pregnancy. Yet a number of successful deliveries have taken place before that time. The shortest pregnancy on record is 21 weeks and 6 days for now, see for this story. How can abortions be allowed on fetuses that could quite possibly grow up to be fully functional human beings even if delivered that very instant? If medical technology advances to the point where life support can take over from the mother’s womb already during the 18th week, will the Swedish Abortion Act then change? Somehow I doubt it. Knowing Swedish media, in spite of the good coverage most technological breakthroughs get, these news wouldn’t make it out of hospitals. All is not well with early births though, of course. Quite often these individuals contract cerebral palsy or other birth defects, when delivered with present-day technology. But theoretically, it’s only a matter of time until this problem is solved.

The state of the debate in Sweden is absurd. You can hardly suggest that physicians should have the right to refuse to perform abortions without having your life endangered. I can’t personally ever recall anyone saying in public that the right to terminate pregnancies should be abolished. Something tells me that whoever argues for this in public will suffer “abortion” attempts on his or her life.

Leaving behind the utilitarian reasoning, there are also metaphysical considerations to make for abortions. If you presume the human consciousness resides in an immaterial soul created by God, it would be very interesting to learn just when these souls enter a human body. What does it mean for this soul when a fetus is aborted? Does this mean that a soul that was about to be granted human life will never be allowed to exist? Naturally there’s no answering this, but it’s food for thought when considering this issue.

The equivalent of five book pages of philosophizing, I guess this post is done now.

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Daniel Hammarberg

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