Logic against abortion

A week ago the British Medical Association voted to treat abortion like any other medical procedure, say an appendectomy.

Effectively this removes even the modest restrictions imposed by the 1967 Abortion Act, those based on foetal abnormalities and risks to mother’s health.

The Act opened the door ajar and then modernity kicked it wide-open. Eight million abortions have been performed since, close to 200,000 last year alone.

Even such apocalyptic numbers are too low for the BMA. If its vote is transferred to Parliament, as it almost certainly will be, there will exist no limits to abortion for any reason or at any point, possibly up to the moment the water breaks.

I could present the obvious Christian argument against this monstrosity, but won’t. Let’s keep God out of it, shall we? Let’s discuss abortion in secular terms, but without violating the rules of logic and rhetoric established a few centuries before the Incarnation.

Fans of prenatal infanticide (FPI) always reduce the argument to its extreme, say terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape, incestuous or otherwise, or one where the doctor has to choose between saving the mother or the baby.

Now, of the 190,000-odd abortions performed last year, only about two per cent involved strictly medical reasons. I don’t know how many resulted from rape, incestuous or otherwise, but I’m guessing that this subset is small enough to be safely discounted.

Being in a secular mood today, I’m prepared to let FPIs have that one: if the impregnating chap is a dad, granddad and rapist all at the same time, let’s get rid of his spawn.

This still leaves us with close to 200,000 abortions performed each year mainly because the parents, or more usually the single mother, would rather not have their lifestyle cramped.

Now I’m the last man to want to cramp anyone’s lifestyle. However, the same argument may extend to a demented grandmother who stubbornly refuses to die, blowing her bequeathable wad on care. Why not press a pillow to her face until she stops kicking?

You got it in one: that would be murder. This practice is rather frowned upon in all societies, including those that don’t accept the validity of the Decalogue.

A BMA member would protest that this is a false analogy. A foetus isn’t a human being. It’s part of the woman’s body, like the appendix.

That’s where a logical problem starts. For the venerable BMA member is committing a rhetorical fallacy known formally as petitio principii and colloquially as begging the question.

Although this phrase is commonly misused to mean raising the question, it actually means using a conclusion yet to be proved as the premise. That’s like saying that, because Mrs May is a great statesman, she’s right to mollify the howling leftie mob.

For the premise that the foetus is no different from the appendix is wrong and will remain so until it has been proved. And if an FPI can’t prove it, killing a foetus becomes morally no different from knocking off the aforementioned grandmother.

Now, save in exceptional cases, the current law bans abortion past 24 weeks. Implicitly this suggests that at precisely 24 weeks a secular miracle occurs. What until then has been merely a part of someone else’s body instantly becomes a sovereign human being.

I for one marvel at our legislators’ ability to determine that exact moment with such pinpoint accuracy. What about 24 weeks minus one day? No? Still an appendix? One would like to see the scientific data on the basis of which this precise assessment is made.

Actually, no such data exist. The 24-week cutoff point (as it were) is purely arbitrary, a sop to those fossils who persist in insisting on the sanctity of human life. You know, for old times’ sake.

If the BMA were to defend this 24-week nonsense, they’d leave themselves open to the argument above. How about 24 minus one day? Two? Three?

If they retain a modicum of integrity, they’ll have to admit that there’s no physiological difference between a foetus at 24 weeks and one at merely 23 weeks and six days.

If they refuse to admit that, they’ll have to postulate that neither is there a valid difference between 24 weeks and 36. If we accept that false premise, then the BMA’s vote is logically sound.

According to extensive medical data, 20 to 35 per cent of babies born at 23 weeks of gestation survive. Now if a third of all babies born as prematurely as that are viable, then surely at least a third of all abortions at that time constitute infanticide? Since we don’t know which third, isn’t that a sufficient reason to ban them all?

About 95 per cent of babies born at seven months rather than nine live happily thereafter. Should they too be aborted before they crawl out of the womb?

These arguments point at a logical conclusion. The only indisputable moment at which human life begins is that of conception. Since any other moment is open to doubt, I for one fail to see any logical difference between aborting a baby three months before birth and three months after.

Hence the only logical argument in favour of abortion would be amoral: there’s nothing sacred about human life. It only has a purely utilitarian value – or not. If the mother decides the utilitarian value is nonexistent, doctors are justified in aborting the foetus at any time.

Do you like this argument? The BMA does.

5 thoughts on “Logic against abortion”

  1. Danger to the health of the mother so broadly defined to include mental health. and issues with mental health also so broadly defined as to include a stated difficulty in providing for the child.

  2. As good an argument as you’ll find anywhere against abortion per se and I especially liked the reference to politicians deciding, arbitrarily, when human life becomes viable. It’s a little like today’s, global, political elite vowing to reduce the mean temperature of the planet by 2100 (these idiots need to (re)read the story of King Canute to reacquaint themselves of the limits to executive power).

    However, I also think that on this finite planet, with finite landmasses and finite resources, that we have sufficiently evolved to control our populations – not that far from female rabbits having the ability to absorb their foetuses in times of hardship – and medical abortion is a product of that evolution.

    Also (and I write as a man), a principle of English Common Law is that, whilst it can restrict or prohibit certain actions, it cannot compel the individual to practice certain actions – such as carrying a foetus to full term, undergoing the agony of labour and altering one’s body for life.

    The answer, I think, lies in compromise. We surely, now have the medical expertise to determine exactly when a foetus becomes ‘viable’. Surely a ‘less than one percent viability’ law should now come into effect – with the onus on the ‘mother’ to report the unwanted pregnancy as early as possible?

    1. Viability is only part of the argument. Even more important is potential. We apply this criterion to post-natal babies, don’t we? A baby born a month ago is no more viable on his own than a foetus conceived a month ago. Yet so far few people advocate post-natal abortion, attractive though the idea may sound every time I hear Jeremy Corbyn speak. A foetus becomes a human being not when some doctors say so, but the moment it acquires a soul, if you believe it exists, or the DNA, if you don’t. The issue isn’t medical but moral and philosophical. As to compromise in this or any other issue, if I sought political office (dread thought), I’d accept it. As a seeker of truth, I abhor it.

      1. Ah! “…the moment it acquires a soul…”. An argument our emasculated, although still established, church should have been fighting years ago…

        When is that though? When does the rapidly dividing ball of cells in a woman’s uterus acquire a soul? I fear that that is a question that can never be answered and so the scientific ‘viability’, for now at least, is all we have.

        As you may suspect, I am on the fence on this question!

  3. “the same argument may extend to a demented grandmother who stubbornly refuses to die, blowing her bequeathable wad on care. Why not press a pillow to her face until she stops kicking?”

    Like all your others, a very fair point. But you intended it, presumably, as a form of reductio ad absurdum. Most regular readers of the Guardian, and probably a good proportion of the BMA themselves, are more likely to see it as a serious policy proposal. Radical, but not outrageously so.

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