The Child’s Life Versus the Mother’s Choice?

Who Is Impacted by Abortion — Part 1

In my previous article we took the first steps toward winning every political debate by identifying the three key components of a Simplified Saturated Policy View.

Figure 1. Simplified Saturated Policy View

Let us pick up where we left off and put some meat on the proverbial bones indicated in Figure 1.

In this article we will start filling in the list in the left-hand, ‘Impact on People’, column. Correspondingly, the main question facing us is

Who is impacted by abortion (policy) and how?

The most obvious ‘person’ to start with is the fetus, for whom abortion is literally a matter of life and death.

The pro-life side of the abortion debate usually places a heavy emphasis on the fetus’s right to life. Their logic is simple: the unborn child is a human being and thus entitled to protection for no member of society nor the state itself should have the right to decide whether another human being gets to live or die.

This argument is appealing for a number of reasons, not in the least because it’s so elegantly clear. Nevertheless, there are two important considerations we must cover if we are aiming for a comprehensive view.

First, the right to life is not an absolute value derived from some natural law. The examples of individuals or societies willing to overlook this value in favor of others (such as ethnic cleansing, getting rid of ‘bad apples’, or murder in its numerous disguises) are too many to count.

Even if we move away from such extreme examples, the hotly contested topics of euthanasia and the death penalty vividly present in most of today’s societies indicate that there certainly is room for debate regarding how to apply the right of life in real world circumstances.

Second but no less importantly, when does life begin? At what point does the fetus become a person entitled to protection? At conception? At birth? Sometime in between, such as when it develops the ability to feel pain?

Science can aid in answering these predominantly philosophical questions but if the past is any indication it will never decide them for us. Fortunately, our goal here is not to work them out, but to merely consider them and be ready to pose them to our opponents in debates.

On that note it must be emphasized that the right of life is not the only argument to consider with respect to the child. Life quality is just as important. How happy and fulfilling can we expect the fetus’s life to be? How much suffering can we predict or prevent?

Of course we don’t know exactly what will happen. Unlike what our brains constantly try telling us, things in life are rarely certain or completely impossible; black or white.

We can, however, make informed predictions based on the indicators available to us. Predictions such as, will the fetus have a fair chance for a happy and fulfilled life relatively free of suffering if they are born into an abusive household on welfare where drug use is the norm and they’ll be completely neglected most of the time? What if they are born with severe disability or abandoned in a hospital?

The answers to these questions are, of course, highly debatable. Which is, once again, precisely my point: that we should debate them instead of brushing off the idea that life quality isn’t something to be taken into account in the abortion conversation. It definitely is and if our opponent doesn’t have anything to say on the matter, we merely have to press them with related questions to get closer to our goal of winning the debate.

It goes without saying that the mother is impacted by abortion (and its flip side, continued pregnancy). But how exactly is she affected? I will break it down into three categories.

a. Rights

The mother’s right to bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom of choice make up the crux of the pro-choice side’s argument. Correspondingly, the Supreme Court Justices supporting the majority ruling in the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade derived their decision from women’s right to privacy.

This argument, however, hinges on one simple question: do we consider the fetus to be part of the mother or a separate entity? Similarly to above, this question must be addressed and considered carefully with no firm scientific standing to fall back on.

For the two remaining forms of impact on the mother, it is important to point out a that, from the perspective of abortion, there are two key time periods considering a child’s life. During pregnancy, there are costs only the mother can bear. During the child’s upbringing, the mother may share these costs with others.

b. Physical and mental health and effort

Abortion, much like any other major medical procedure, involves risks. These include, but are not limited to bleeding, fever, infection, damage to internal organs, or the inability to become pregnant in the future. The potential mental health consequences of abortion are hotly debated, so let’s just say they may take the form of regrets, negative self-image, and depression.

On the other hand, continued pregnancy may also be risky. Such was the case in the sad and highly publicized story of Savita Halappanavar, who could not get an abortion due to strict anti-abortion laws in Ireland and died from the complications of her miscarriage.

And these are only the more horrendous extremes! Let us not forget that pregnancy and giving birth themselves require tremendous physical and mental effort only the mother can provide.

This effort obviously doesn’t end with childbirth. As every parent knows, breastfeeding itself can be a major hassle and virtually a full-time job for a period of time. Other post-birth trials include postpartum depression, lack of sleep (with all that does to one’s mind and body), and mood swings.

Going beyond the immediate aftermath of giving birth, bringing up a child takes a lot of continued commitment. Depending on who else participates in this to what degree, the mother may have to bear the brunt of this effort as in many societies they are expected to be the primary caregiver.

c. Resources

Economic considerations do come into play when we make major life decisions and abortion is no different.

Pregnancy itself already requires extra financial support in the form of accessories, clothes, gadgets, etc. In most places, giving birth isn’t free or cheap, either (at least if one desires the highest quality service). After birth, the mother will certainly be off work for at least a few weeks, which could easily stretch into months. Depending on the country’s laws and the family’s circumstances, maternity leave may last up to a period of two years.

Thus, on top of the considerable financial resources required to raise a child, the mother could be off the workforce for a significant period of time, impacting her career and the resources available to her for this very purpose.

Justice Byron White, one of the two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, summed up a crucially important part of his argument as

the people and the legislatures of the 50 States are constitutionally disentitled to weigh the relative importance of the continued existence and development of the fetus, on the one hand, against a spectrum of possible impacts on the woman, on the other hand.

This view is echoed by the majority of today’s pro-choice and pro-life believers, who (albeit mostly implicitly) emphasize that the interests of the fetus and the mother are in conflict with each other.

Is it a woman’s choice versus a child’s right to life? Image credit: Photo by Burst on Unsplash / The Right to Life League of Southern California

In reality, it’s more likely that diametrical opposition may be the exception, not the rule.

Most mothers actually want what’s best for their children, born or unborn. Many of them wish to choose abortion precisely so that their child won’t have to endure various forms of suffering such as poverty or abuse. Thus, albeit not the child’s right to life, their life right to a good or happy life may very much be aligned with the mother’s in the majority of cases.

Where these interests and impacts align and where they compete is, of course, highly debatable. My point is once again precisely that: that they should be debated on a case-by-case basis. Or barring that, at least taking into account specific circumstances and solutions. Before we move on to these solutions and circumstances to fill in the second and third columns of our simplified model, let us take stock of where we are comprehensive model development-wise.

Simplified Saturated Policy View for abortion including impact on the fetus and the mother.

If you use them correctly, the five lines we’ve just filled in in this article already give you quite a bit of ammunition in debates involving abortion. There is a fairly high chance that most of your potential opponents either didn’t consider or will attempt to downplay at least some of the points we made. Probe them with tough but fair questions and you will be several steps closer to victory.

So where do we go from here?

It turns out, there may be a lot more people impacted by abortion policy than you would think.

For starters, as much of the costs and effort required to bring up a child may be covered by people other than the mother, it’s only logical to take into account the impact on them as well.

Exactly who else is affected by abortion and how? Stay tuned for the next article to find out or let me know your guesses in the comments below.

A political scientist (Ph.D.) and social psychologist (MA) fighting for a better world the only way I know how: on the battlefield of idea(l)s.

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