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Where is the moral case for abortion? Our focus on rights risks eroding humanity

Sarah Silbiger/CNN


June 30, 2022   4 mins

The question of when human life begins is like the question of when human life ends: it is a question of values not science. Interviewed by NBC, a woman stood before the Supreme Court building in the US with her belly protruding above a pair of red sweatpants. She was due to give birth the very next day.

“Not yet a human” was written in capital letters on her tummy. The message was clear. Human life begins at birth. Only then does what exists within her become the bearer of its own set of rights. Until then, the rights that are attendant upon being a human being are hers and hers alone. The criteria for being a human being are rooted in values like independence and rationality, often understood as consciousness.

Others reference a very different set of values. On the Tube, the woman opposite me wears the pin badge “baby on board”, an invitation to treat her carefully, perhaps to give up my seat if the carriage is busy. Like many people, I do. And by doing so, I acknowledge that “baby on board” has some sort of moral call upon us, a call to treat her in a certain way in virtue of the baby that she is carrying. Two women; two very different moral messages.

Those who locate the beginnings of human life with conception or with birth — and at all points between — are making a moral decision not a biological one. Often, they do not disagree upon the scientific facts at all. They just disagree which of these facts are morally relevant.

I had wanted to write about abortion without saying what I thought about it morally. But that is probably impossible. I do not have a clear and definitive idea of when a human life becomes a human life. I have a sense that something emerges over time, with an increasing moral call upon us to treat this body of cells as something more than inert matter. Which is why abortion shortly after conception does feel morally different to later terminations. But the law requires a definite line. Rights is a legal term and requires legal precision.

Other moral approaches have the capacity to be more nuanced. So it is perfectly possible that one may affirm the right to have an abortion without maintaining that it is morally unquestionable. I am somewhere here. To agree with Bill Clinton that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare” is to acknowledge — to insist upon — the right as well as to maintain that there is something about it that should be “rare”.

Rights and morality do not always perfectly track each other. This is why, if you ask me about rights, I am instinctively more pro-choice, and if you ask me a moral type of question, I am less so. Rights are not capable of doing all the moral work that we want them to.

But there are other implications to the question of what constitutes human life. For if we take independence and consciousness as the most important concepts for what it means to be human, we are faced with the question of what to do when these concepts can be replicated artificially. What if robots, for instance, supported by some advanced artificial intelligence, meet these criteria for being human?

After all, they may indeed display independence and something remarkably close to consciousness — which is why academics are already writing about the need for robot rights. This seems to me to be crazy: I think of robots as having no more claim to my moral concern than toasters do. Yet if we subscribe to a set of beliefs of what it is to be human that can be generated artificially, then we are not far from thinking robots to be “more human” than, say, a brain-dead person on a life support machine. Or indeed a foetus.

Back in 2017, the government of Saudi Arabia bestowed citizenship — and thus legal personhood — on Sophia, a robot. It was a marketing gimmick, of course. As many pointed out, this appeared to grant a robot more rights than half of the people living in that country: there was something profoundly disturbing about granting a glorified toaster more of a legal claim to personhood than many of the women living under that despotic regime. Examples like this make me think there was greater wisdom in the idea of humanity being the bearer of a soul than in the current belief that it has to do with higher consciousness and the capacity for independent living.

Religion is much disparaged in the abortion debate, and I understand why. The denial of abortion rights to those who have become pregnant through rape or incest is cruel and heartless. Christianity is supposed to be “good news” — but how can forcing an unwanted pregnancy be “good news” for a woman? Yet if we defend women’s rights in such a way that a minus-one-day-old baby less human than a toaster, then we are all in terrible trouble. “Not yet a human” is a dangerous slogan, especially when we start to think about how its criteria for being might be rolled out — or denied — to others in very different circumstances, such as the seriously ill. “Not yet a human” is perilously close to the statement “No longer a human”.

We used to think the essence of human life was to be in possession of a soul, something ineffable and God-given. It wasn’t so much a question of reasoning from mental capacity to humanity, more an attitudinal statement about how our lumpy flesh ought to be venerated as ultimately precious, as opposed to merely being a thing. There is much to be said for this approach, but in a more empirically minded age, the fact that we could not see it or weigh it made the soul intellectually suspect. So now we are more likely to think in terms of the brain and brain development.

The point about the religious attitude is that it insists that human life is not fungible, not fully replaceable with something that may share all of its outward characteristics. I absolutely believe in a woman’s right to choose. I do not believe in anyone’s right to deny the humanity of another. But we must not defend the former by insisting upon the latter. “Not yet a human” will always be a terrifying phrase.


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
2 years ago

The photo is chilling. And grotesque. It confirms what Kat Rosenfeld wrote yesterday – that the advocates of abortion on demand are massively overplaying their hand and alienating all decent human beings.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bronwen Saunders
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

Given that my wife was born prematurely at 26 weeks I too find the message conveyed by the photo of the young woman chilling and rather reminiscent of the slave owner’s view than providing a balanced and humane view. The UK’s compromise, the most liberal in Europe apart perhaps from the Netherlands, bans abortion after 24 weeks.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

Chilling is not the word for it. How can she believe that a baby< and I use that word deliberately here, one day from birth is not human? It can survive outside its mother’s body, it is fully formed. Deciding when a cluster of cells becomes human is not easy, there are two extremes – at fertilisation and at birth. Holders of these two views have chosen the easy options which chime with their belief systems; most people still struggle with the question, but I think most people would think that a baby one day from entering this world is already a human being.

Last edited 2 years ago by Linda Hutchinson
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago

It’s a very tricky and nuanced conversation, determining when the point of being part of the mother ends and it being a person in its own right begins. However unfortunately (as seems to happen with every subject at the moment) it has been dominated by noisy minorities at the extremes.
My own preference would be for the limit to be set a couple of weeks earlier than the most premature baby to survive, so currently around the 20 week mark.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I don’t know at what stage abortion should be allowed or not; allowing it in the third trimester wouild make me very uneasy, whilst I am reasonably ok with allowing it in the first trimester, its when, in the second trimester, it should stop being allowed that causes me headaches. Your proposal of twenty weeks seems a reasonable compromise, but it will not be acceptable to those on the extremes.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Interestingly, even a majority of so called “anti abortion” conservatives would be fine with a limit upto 15-18 weeks. If the issue was first trimester abortions, it wouldn’t be an issue in the first place. The other part about 20 weeks is, at that point babies might have developed some senses and their pain circuits are complete. If you know how abortion works, you ideally want to be really, really, really sure it’s just a clump of cells that can’t feel pain, and no more.

While pro abortion activists talk about rape victims or medical cases, which are a tiny % of abortions, they are really just trying guilt people into support for what they really want – third trimester abortions at your whim and fancy.

It’s not about “choice”, just like gay marriage is not about gays. The objective is to dehumanise and distort fundamental human concepts like motherhood or heterosexual couples dedicating their life to marry, live together and collaboratively bring up a happy, healthy and well adjusted child.

Last edited 2 years ago by Samir Iker
Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

20 weeks has always sounded reasonable to me – babies have been delivered, and survived at 24 weeks, albeit not in the best of health. However there would still need to be exceptions for serious medical conditions of the foetus, rape and incest. Those three criteria overwhelm any right to life in my book – and frankly late abortions are rare under any circumstances.

Last edited 2 years ago by Nikki Hayes
James Longfield
James Longfield
2 years ago
Reply to  Nikki Hayes

I find it hard to believe it takes 20 weeks to work out you’ve been raped or had sex with a member or your family and are pregnant. This is the least persuasive argument for a longer legal abortion limit imo. I understand the difficulty of setting an abortion limit, but having discussed this topic with my wife and two daughters, who I regard as having an additional insight in the debate, I would support 15-20 weeks outside exceptional circumstances for either the mother or child. Not that I’ll be asked

v easter
v easter
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Pregnant women are given two scans. One at 12 weeks and one at 20 weeks. The 20week scan may reveal or suggests the presence of “abnormalities” . Statistics fly around . Women and their partners pour over them. Further tests happen. Anguish is felt. Time goes past.It’s at least 22 weeks. Step into the unknown.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
2 years ago

You say that “there are two extremes – at fertilisation and at birth.” The Romans (and some other societies) would have disagreed. They saw nothing wrong with infanticide (exposing unwanted infants).

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Infanticide is not abortion, there may well be some eugenicists out there who would support infanticide, but it is a crime even if not considered as serious as murder (at least in England, Wales and N. Ireland, I don’t know about Scotland though).

Mashie Niblick
Mashie Niblick
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Yes, but they also recognised that a foetus, if injured in the womb, acquired a legal right to compensation when born.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago

She believes it because it was ordained by her religion. That is what she has said.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

Deciding when a cluster of cells becomes human is not easy…
Actually, it is. If you have patience to read through the posts I left below, I explain it in more detail. Embryo of foetus is human by the simple fact of belonging to the human species, having human DNA and human parents, and being genetically designed to develop into a more and more mature human person. Personally, I find clarity of this proposition much better than hair-splitting speculations on other criteria that supposedly make some human.

Ludo Roessen
Ludo Roessen
2 years ago

Simply not fit to be a parent… obviously not something right in the upstairs department as it looks like 7-9 months…

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Ludo Roessen

Some might think it a self description. Not that we would abort her.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
2 years ago
Reply to  Ludo Roessen

Yes – I think we can all agree that a foetus in the last few weeks of gestation is a human being who should be able to survive outside the womb (serious disability excepted).

Last edited 2 years ago by Nikki Hayes
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

When I first looked at it I thought the statement was intended to be ironic. It is indeed chilling. Does she really mean that in theory at least she would abort her almost term child? And presumably, ss Giles hints at, also terminate her dementia ridden granny “no longer a human”.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago

The photo accidentally has another (metaphorical) meaning. As in, you could see the picture as saying that the lady is so morally unaware as to be not yet fully human herself. After all, the offending phrase is written on the woman herself, maybe it really applies to her? With age and motherhood, hopefully some wisdom will come. As for the little sprog on the inside, I would guess it is plenty human, but you have to wonder what kind of an upbringing they will get.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lindsay S
Lindsay S
2 years ago

Imagine growing up knowing that’s your mother, poor little blighter might wish they had been aborted!

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

If abortion is OK up until birth why not extend it after birth up to the age of, say, 60

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

If we’re not sure when the unborn baby becomes sentient or capable of experiencing pain, why not give it a benefit of a doubt, particularly if we know with certainty that even if it doesn’t have those capacities now, it will very soon develop them? If humanity and associated rights are ‘gained’ by the ability to have conscious experiences or feel pain, is it lost when they are gone, temporarily or forever, as in a person who is unconscious, in a coma, or can’t experience pain as a result of some neurological condition?

Jason Highley
Jason Highley
2 years ago

Is it really so hard to call a unique human embryo a human “being”, and confer upon it the right to a life it is obviously already maximizing to its full capacity?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

I agree with you. No-one has ever told me they are expecting a foetus, but many have told me they were expecting a baby.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

They are expecting a baby, as that is what it will grow into. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a baby at the start of their pregnancy

James Longfield
James Longfield
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

Unlikely before the 12 week scan, so there we already have a societal definition. It’s not a baby until the scan says so

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason Highley

Stop arguing over definitions of “what is human”. The intelligent and humane choice for the law is to invest an unborn child with some rights but not as many rights or different rights from the mother. Negotiating a sliding scale of rights is perfectly reasonable (versus all or none) because what happened in America under Roe and Casey has been that 60 million abortions were carried out (which is a holocaust against the unborn, and especially the Black family).
The overturn of Roe last week allowed this humane discussion to occur state-by-state in a 2022 framework of science and family realities. Not by ideologues, but by people – like in a democracy.

Richard Parker
Richard Parker
2 years ago

Thank you, Giles, for a considered piece amid the mayhem and hyperbole. Writing like this leaves space for (and to some extent provokes) individual contemplation of a subject – that alone makes it valuable, whether or not one shares the writer’s viewpoint (arguably even more so if not). That’s what I come to UnHerd for: not to hear people preaching to the choir.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

In the Dred Scott case the US Supreme Court held that blacks were not citizens and so not entitled to sue in the Courts. Rather similar to the view that the foetus is not yet a human. Curiously the progressive view then held by many Republicans was that blacks were human and entitled to the protection of a citizen. Again many Republicans today take the view that the foetus is human and a citizen entitled to the protection of the law against its owner but this is not the progressive view today. The Democrats who favoured the view that a slave was property and they were entitled to the protection of the law to retain their slave now favour the view that the foetus is no more than a nonperson without rights whose “owner” is entitled to kill him or her if she wishes.
Should it make a difference that the foetus cannot exist independently of its owner? Clearly a young baby’s dependent almost parasitic status does not cease at the moment of conception. Should mothers be entitled to kill their children deliberately or by neglect while they remain dependent on them for life? A baby certainly hampers a woman’s bodily autonomy during its early years.The truth is there are conflicts of “right” that the law has regulated differently throughout the ages. In the years when the Constitution was drafted abortion appeared to have been widely accepted before the foetus had quickened i e shown some sort of independent movement. This was a compromise between competing rights that relied on a somewhat shaky interpretation of the start of life. Inevitably, any decision on the legality of abortion is likely to involve a compromise between competing rights.
For many of us the claims of sympathy for the mother’s rights is stronger while the foetus is an unformed conglomeration of cells but tends to diminish as the cells become more human in form. The crossover point varies in different jurisdictions. In Europe the average crossover point is at around 12-14 weeks. The average in the various states of the United States is now in a state of flux and perhaps the average may settle down at about the same level or perhaps slightly lower. We shall wait to see. Morality or religion are not a great help in determining the crossover point even in theory. It is the messy balance of sympathy that ultimately determines the issue and that is untidily translated into the legal code preferably after discussion by a democratic process rather than the determination of a majority of 9 politically appointed individuals.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jeremy Bray
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

“Clearly a young baby’s dependent almost parasitic status does not cease at the moment of conception”
Whilst children are still dependent on adults to survive, to me that’s entirely different to a woman in the early stages of pregnancy.
If you take a newborn baby away from its mother it can still be fed and survive quite comfortably, however if you remove a foetus/premature baby (delete as your beliefs see fit) from its mother before 20 weeks it will die. While all babies need looking after, in the early stages of pregnancy the mother can’t be replicated by anybody else or any amount of modern technology and I believe that’s the difference personally.
My own view on abortion is that it’s better to have it available and not need it than the other way round, which simply leads to the process becoming dangerous and unlicensed.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Yes, a newborn baby is less dependent than a foetus or an embryo, and can be nurtured by another person than the mother, but it’s a difference of degree of dependency, not nature. A newborn and a toddler continues to considerably impinge on their parents’ bodily autonomy, by demanding their constant care and attention, feeding, waking them up at night etc. Yes, they can be given away for someone else to raise them, but again it’s not necessarily a quick process. What if a woman decides she does not want to bother with it, or believes the baby would be unhappy if put in foster care, and would demand infanticide on these grounds?
To me, the fact that the mother of an unborn can’t be replaced (as of yet, before we invent artificial uteri) calls for special responsibility on part of the mother, and our responsibility to support and protect her as best as we can, as opposed to freedom to do what you want.
Finally, smoking, drinking or taking drugs in pregnancy is now almost universally disapproved, because of the harm it does to the child, and particularly the last two will likely see the Children’s Services knocking on your door and potentially taking the baby away after its born. But should women not be free to do what they want with their bodies? Taking substances in pregnancy results in stunted growth, learning and physical disabilities, but you can live with them. You can’t live with being dead through abortion.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

You refer to “the messy balance of sympathy.” But why should sympathy or any other ephemeral and subjective emotion be the primary criterion in making moral (let alone legal) decisions? I suggest that we rely more heavily on clear thinking than on feeling (which is heresy, of course, among many feminists and all wokers).
Decades ago, most people had sympathy for unfortunate wives or husbands who found themselves trapped in loveless marriages. The compassionate solution, they assumed, would be no-fault divorce. And that might have been a good solution in many or even most cases. By now, though, countless studies have shown that the children of divorce are at much greater risk than the children of intact families for every psychological and social pathology. What about compassion for them? More recently, most people had come to have sympathy for gay couples who were unable to marry. This ushered in gay marriage even though it would take years before social scientists could make an effective case for the belief that children could do perfectly well without either mothers or fathers. I am gay, and even I’m not convinced that mothers and fathers (let alone women and men) are interchangeable or, more specifically in most cases, that “father-figures” (whether mom’s boyfriends or celebrities) can effectively replace the enduring presence of fathers in the home. And I can think of additional examples to make my case.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paul Nathanson
Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

You refer to sympathy as ephemeral and subjective and I would not deny it was subjective, but is not morality subjective and ephemeral over time? In former times gay couples were regarded as immoral and deserving of death although this became ameliorated to prison and eventually mild social disapproval.
Morality is a moving feast and can be a very harsh taskmaster. The woman taken in adultery and stoned had transgressed against morality. The difference between morality and sympathy is often simply the belief of the moralist that they are enforcing an objectively moral position. The moral position was no sex before marriage and if adhered to that ensured that the various traumas consequent upon an unwanted pregnancy did not occur. Sympathy has modified that but produced further “moral” dilemmas.
I fear morality is not objective but merely the pretence of objectivity to enforce a particular view. The politicians who intone “I did it because it was the right thing to do”, are merely wishing to claim their action to be the moral one and the alternative the immoral.
I agree, of course, that sympathy does not in itself provide the ideal answer to social dilemmas and that unexpected, or even obvious, side effects can bedevil the outcome of decisions based on sympathy but no more so than those based on morality.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
2 years ago

Does a woman have a right to an abortion, or does she have a right to a dead baby? IOW, does she have a right to have the fetus removed from her body—which is the right to your own bodily autonomy; the right upon which pro-choice is supposedly based—or does she have the right to have the fetus deliberately killed in the process of delivery? We could and should start with that question.
In the US anyway, there are a shocking number of late-term abortions based only on the fact that the mother has decided that she doesn’t want this child and not because this child is the result of a rape or has serious defects. At that stage, delivery must be induced and there is no medical necessity to kill the child during the process.
With this in mind, consider the “problem” of a child who is born alive during the course of an abortion. It happens. Pro-abortion advocates absolutely refuse to concede that, even in this scenario where a woman is now completely in control of her OWN body, a viable baby should then receive standard medical care. They thus endorse the premise that a woman is entitled to a dead baby and not simply to have medical control over her own body.
But under what moral or legal authority should a woman be entitled to kill a viable fetus as opposed to simply having it removed from her body? And where is the father in all of this—once a living child has been delivered, a father otherwise legally has full parental rights and responsibilities to raise that child. It must then be the case that as soon as that fetus is delivered alive, the father has just as much right as the mother to instruct that the baby be given/denied medical care.

Last edited 2 years ago by Sheryl Rhodes
Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
2 years ago
Reply to  Sheryl Rhodes

That is a huge point. Thank you!
Also, where is the post-abortion care that every woman will need, medically, emotionally and psychologically after she gives in to the agonizing choice to go get an abortion? In practice – none! The abortionist is a complete stranger. He doesn’t even need a medically licensed facility.
So much for “A private decision between a woman and her doctor” …!
Unlike abortionists, Pregnancy Centers help expectant mothers for free for all 9 months and beyond – They don’t push out of the door a distraught and wounded mother of a dead baby. That’s the reality when society turns a blind eye.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Tavanyar

America gives almost no help to new mothers. Those that want to ban abortion completely are also usually against any state help for mothers such as maternity leave.
Forcing the woman to have a baby she doesn’t want or doesn’t have the means to provide for, then once it’s here giving her no help whatsoever seems especially heartless and cruel

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

If true, America ought to be ashamed of itself. Otherwise, have you heard that there are thousands of loving families desperate for a child? It’s called adoption..surely a more humane concept than killing?

Teresa M
Teresa M
2 years ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Oh this statement is such a lie. The reason you and people such as you make these types of statements is that you don’t bother to look into the help available to mothers who are experiencing unexpected pregnancies. You have the internet available – try doing even a cursory search for help for mother’s. Government and private charities provide help even after the baby is born, if the mother decides to give birth to her baby. The state of Texas has allotted 100 million dollars to pregnant mothers in need, to give aid until the child reaches three years of age. The Catholic church (and many Protestant churches) have organizations that offer help through the pregnancy and after the child is born. Every Catholic church I have ever attended regularly collects money for diapers, formula, and other necessities for mothers in need. We have, in my city, Seton House, a home for pregnant women to be cared for throughout their pregnancies. In my one parish alone we have families who have, despite having biological children of their own, adopted new born babies as well as entire families of siblings permanently removed from their biological parents by CPS. Texas offers healthcare for low-income families, one program specially for children, and the federal government offers Medicaid which is actually very easy to get. Help is available for women who decide to give birth to their children, but who need help after having made that decision. And pro-life people will step up and give even more support now in the wake of the recent SCOTUS decision. And that is because pro-life people are pro-HUMAN, which includes the mother as well as the baby. People who support abortion really disrespect women, as well as human life, in every way possible.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Tavanyar

Good point about any post-abortion care from the abortion clinic anyway. It’s a cold and lonely process; kinda like visiting a crypt.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Sheryl Rhodes

Good point, I haven’t properly considered such a situation. While late-term abortions are comparatively rare, there have still been some 200-300 of them a year in the UK. We’re talking about babies which are anatomically fully formed, only much smaller, and can survive outside of womb with intensive care. If there there were 200-300 infanticides by medical professionals a year, would there be a bit more noise?

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
2 years ago
Reply to  Jack K

RE Numbers of late-term abortions in the USA: There are many thousands, most of them just on the mother’s say-so. It’s hard to get statistics (wonder why no one is interested in collecting/publishing them) but I have seen some stats both from the Guttmacher Institute (a pro-abortion organization) and also the personal testimony of doctors who do, or who used to do, later-term abortions. The latest figures from the Guttmacher Institute show over 900,000 abortions in the USA in recent years. An earlier article from them said that third-trimester abortions were about 1% of the total. That’s 9,000 viable babies right there, plus even more people who abort in the second trimester when some babies can live outside the womb.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
2 years ago

Thank you. Thanks for appreciating the nuance and variegation of human life. Thank you for being a voice of reason and wisdom among the fundamentalist clamour. Thank you for describing the essential dichotomy surrounding conception, viability and existence.

Last edited 2 years ago by Roddy Campbell
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

The problem is the whole “rights” thing is made up in this situation. All the talk you will hear about the 9th and 14th Amendments is smoke and mirrors. All those 9th Amendment says is that just because a right is not explicitly written down in the Constitution, that does not mean Americans do not have said right. These are called unenumerated rights as opposed to enumerated rights which were explicitly written down in the text of the Constitution. All the 14th Amendment just means in this situation just means the prohibition against the federal government violating your rights applies to state governments as well. Note, this just means that the right may exist and these amendments mean nothing whatsoever about the actual validity of the unenumerated right itself. All that the Dobbs decision ruled is that Roe v. Wade does not meet the standard (Palko v. Connecticut) of counting as an unenumerated right.
If you want to know more, this lawyer, can explain it a lot better than I can. Also I don’t want to continue on for five more paragraphs. The point is, most of the current rhetoric regarding the Dobbs decision has little to do with the actual details of Constitutional law.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPsIaYmh-bo

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago

When pregnant I used to feel like someone giving a hitch hiker a lift into life.
They were wanted pregnancies and had parents who loved the whole idea of nurturing new life.
I also supported friends and others through abortions on the basis that sadly sometimes the sins of their fathers were being visited upon them and that was how it had to be. They, like their mothers, suffered from the actions of their fathers.
It is a tragedy that abortion is needed and a measure of our collective care-less-ness.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

While I would agree on some points Fraser makes, this article demonstrates how many people – not just Anglican clergy or professed Christians – are confused on the matter. Allow me to demonstrate that a question of when human life with associated rights it is not a fuzzy, unanswerable question – it is actually very simple. Human life begins at conception and I see no other point where it should be granted protection and rights, particularly
The question of when human life begins is like the question of when human life ends: it is a question of values not science…. Those who locate the beginnings of human life with conception or with birth — and at all points between — are making a moral decision not a biological one.
No, it isn’t. Biologically, all life which relies on the fusion of the genetic material contained in the female sex cells and male sex cells begins at conception. It is at this point that the individual organism, with its unique DNA, comes into being. Individual ova or sperms cells are not human beings because they only possess half of the chromosomes, are identical with the parent organism, and on their own don’t develop into separate organisms. Moreover,  conception is the start of a process of growth, maturation and metabolism (basic biological attributes of life). All of us started our lives as individual human beings at the point of conception, and out DNA is exactly the same now as it was when we were a toddler, newborn, foetus, embryo or zygote. Interrupt this process at any point, and you effectively kill what is designed to become, given the appropriate environment and care, a newborn, a toddler, a teenager or an adult.    
Consult any embryology textbook and you’ll basically get the same answer. Let me just quote a couple:
“Human development begins at fertilization when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male. ”
Keith L. Moore, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology, 9th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2008. Kindle Location 555.
“Human embryos begin development following the fusion of definitive male and female gametes during fertilization… This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.” William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998. pp. 1, 14.
Moreover, in rare moments of honesty, even the staunchest abortion proponents admit the same. Take  for example Peter Singer, who advocates not only for abortion, but certain forms of infanticide:
“It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. … In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.“         Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2008), 85-86.
  Ann Furedi, the former CEO of BPAS, the biggest UK’s abortion provider:
“We can accept that the embryo is a living thing in the fact that it has a beating heart, that it has its own genetic system within it. It’s clearly human in the sense that it’s not a gerbil, and we can recognize that it is human life. The point is not when does human life begin, but when does it really begin to matter?” Ann Furedi, “Abortion: A Civilised Debate,” Battle of Ideas, (London, England, November 1, 2008).
I’m not sure if Ann Furedi realised how chilling and sinister her last sentence is. Let me continue in the next post.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

As I demonstrated in my post before, there is actually no doubt when life begins. Now does this newly formed life human? Allow the quotes from abortion proponents (Singer and Furedi) do the job. It is human because it belongs to the human species, it has human DNA, and human parents. It is non-identical to his or her mother or father. Now why should it be imbued with rights given to human beings? For a simple reason that there is no other biological watershed. Assume any other criterion, and you will end up relying on a combination of ad hoc and arbitrary criteria, which easily takes humanity away from certain born humans.
For example, birth, which literally means the moment before the baby starts leaving  the uterus. Anatomically, the newborn is exactly the same is a foetus in the last weeks of pregnancy – in fact, pretty much of the last trimester of pregnancy the baby is fully anatomically developed, it only grows and matures. Birth is a significant change, but it is a change of environment and a manner of breathing and feeding. If you feel qualms about killing a newborn an hour after birth, why maintain that it can be killed an hour before?
Viability? – yes, a baby before a certain of pregnancy – which has been pushed further and further down due to development of postnatal care for premature babies – cannot survive outside of mother’s womb. Now there are a few problems with this criterion. Firstly, it relies on the level of development of medical care at your specific time and geographic location – about 22 weeks now in the best hospitals, a few more weeks more in other places or some decades before, and maybe less in 50 years time when we invent something like an artificial uterus. Secondly, take premature babies who cannot survive outside of incubator or people on life support– does it mean that they are part of the machine? Does it mean that when you need to service or unplug it, you should do without any regard for the human being who relies on them, just because they are not ‘viable’ without it? Finally, newborn babies are not ‘viable’ outside of an environment which provides them with 24-hour care and die within hours of being left on their own, not just out of lack of food, but stress. In countries with infant mortality reaching 20%, again birth is not some watershed moment where not-yet-a-baby becomes a baby.
Level of development, or a particular gestation age? – how do you define this? If it is in centimetres (let’s say 5cm, roughly the length an embryo at the by the end of week 9 after fertilisation), why not a millimetre shorter or longer? If it is 12 weeks, why not 11 weeks and 6 days or 12 weeks and a day? If it is 24 (as it is in the UK), why not 23 or 25? There is no massive difference in the level of development between unborn babies so close in age, and development is obviously a continuous process, occurring throughout our whole life. Does it mean that a newborn is less human than a toddler, and a toddler less of a human than a 10-year-old?
Sentience? – can we tell with certainty when it begins? And if we can’t, is it not better to err on the side of caution? Even if an embryo or foetus is not sentient, it inevitably will be given a few more weeks (unlike a computer or any other inanimate matter), so why not just let it live and achieve it?
Independence? how independent is a newborn, or even a 3-year old? Can they feed themselves, dress themselves, make decisions for themselves?

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

The denial of abortion rights to those who have become pregnant through rape or incest is cruel and heartless. Christianity is supposed to be “good news” — but how can forcing an unwanted pregnancy be “good news” for a woman?
Everyone’s favourite argument which is used to justify all other abortions. First of all, let’s be clear that a tiny percentage of all abortions is performed due to rape. Rape is not a statutory ground for abortion in the UK (in practice, doctors would use other grounds, such as the ubiquitous clause C – ‘ mental health’), so we don’t know how many abortions in the UK are due to rape. In Florida, where about 70 000 abortions are done every year, and which has a similar rate of abortion per capita to the UK, 101 abortions were performed due to rape (0.14%) and 8 due to incest, which gives you an idea how uncommon it is. https://ahca.myflorida.com/MCHQ/Central_Services/Training_Support/docs/TrimesterByReason_2018.pdf
The second part of this statement just leaves me speechless at the cluelessness of a professional clergyman. Yes, Christianity is good news, which doesn’t mean that all news you get in life are good, or that you’re never faced with a moral necessity which doesn’t sound like good news. Neither is finding out that your child has a disability, whether it develops it before or after birth. Would he state that ‘forcing’ a woman to allow the disabled child to live is also cruel, thus advocating for abortion for let’s say Down’s Syndrome (90% of prenatally diagnosed children with Down’s are aborted)? If infanticide for disability was legal (and we’re not far from it), would it also be cruel to deny that option to the parents who don’t want a disabled child? ! I’m frustrated that Fraser doesn’t spell out what his preferred option involves. Abortion for rape looks exactly the same and has the same result as all the other abortions, i.e., death of a child. Having met some people conceived through rape, I don’t think the alternative of having them killed is so much less cruel.
Now explaining how a pregnancy conceived by rape may be a good news is above my pay grade. Let me make it clear that I find rape an abominable crime, and whenever I have heard a disclosure of rape or sexual abuse at work as a mental health nurse, it made me shudder. I would just say that majority of women who conceive due to rape do deliver the children, either raising them or giving them up for adoption, even though the option of abortion is open to them. I can’t speak for every woman in this situation and can’t quote exact statistics, but at least a good number of them experienced giving birth to the child as healing, and conversely, having an abortion magnifies rather than reduces the trauma of rape. 

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago

As usual, Giles treads the populist view, conflating the killing of unborn children with the all the vain invective of an anti-lifer. The majority of abortions are not conducted on the products of rape or incest, but are, in fact, children of inconvenience and must be disposed of.
As in the case of abused animals, silent in the face of their torturers, many people will come to their defence because they cannot defend themselves. So it is with little children, unable to defend themselves against their mothers/society’s decision.
You people out there – pro-choicers aka anti-lifers – if in the privacy of her own home she brandishes a knife to slice the 3 month old child limb from limb: would you stop her?

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

Yeah, a few of his recent articles where he needs to take a position on a controversial issues, he fudges through, carefully avoiding saying anything unpopular, trying to placate both, and never really taking a clear position, which is really the easiest possible route.

Nancy Kmaxim
Nancy Kmaxim
2 years ago

I’m confused how a Christian pastor could actually tell his flock that following Christ is a good idea until it becomes inconvenient, and that murder is somehow acceptable if the path of virtue might cost something. As usual with those tethered to a materialistic world view, you’re choosing the wrong victim.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 years ago

Thank you for a most elegant, thoughtful, and calmly written piece. Calmness and courtesy is what is now needed. But I suppose “If you wanted a calm life, you should not have been born in the twenty first century”.

And as for courtesy…

Kate Dodson
Kate Dodson
2 years ago

Is the mother’s life in danger if she carries the pregnancy to term? If that’s the case, if she wants to abort then abort. Is the fetus non-viable? Or dead already? Then abort. Is the pregnancy ectopic, and therefore both non-viable and a threat to the mother’s life? Abort! The life of an actual thinking person with fully formed neurological organs and tissues outweighs that of a potential person without a fully formed brain, the ability to think, and most importantly the ability to feel pain. And by the way…the desire for abortion will be lessened if contraception is easily available and more affordable. That should make the anti-choicers happy, right? (And please, no lying about how the pill or condoms induce abortion – the pill prevents ovulation and condoms prevent sperm from reaching the egg.)

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate Dodson

Those situations that you outline are hardly ever contested, even by pro-lifers. It’s abortions of convenience that the fuss is about.

And contraception is widely available in multiple forms for women, and she can always insist that the man uses a condom. If it splits, there is Plan B and other ‘morning after’ pills available from pharmacies. It’s not as if there are no other options.

Philip LeBoit
Philip LeBoit
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

I wish it were so, but in many states plan B will be outlawed, as the moment of conception standard will be applied. It is possible that pro-lifers in the U.K. and those in the U.S. have different agendas.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

Your voice of reason is a clarion call to the wantonly ignorant in the anti-child brigade. They conflate the rare to argue for the killing of the vulnerable to their convenience. Without a fully formed brain? No ability to think? Can’t feel pain? Where do these potential corpses get their ridiculous ideas from?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate Dodson

I’m not sure why you have been down voted, what you write is kind of obvious.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

Exactly what I thought. A sensible contribution.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate Dodson

As Mary Harrington of these pages has outlined, the Sexual Revolution and the female contraceptive pill have led to more abortion, not less. Roz from “Frasier” understood this intuitively:

Roz: No one is more careful than I am when it comes to birth control. But then again, even the best protection is only effective ninety-nine out of a hundred times. I can’t beat those odds.
Frasier: Yes, I suppose you’ve been dodging that bullet for a long time now.

Of course, all good comedy writers know that abortion is not a laughing matter, and so the writers of “Frasier” made sure that Roz went on to have baby Alice.

Last edited 2 years ago by Lennon Ó Náraigh
Terry M
Terry M
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate Dodson

Kate, I largely agree with your reasoning. You wrote:

The life of an actual thinking person with fully formed neurological organs and tissues outweighs that of a potential person without a fully formed brain, the ability to think, and most importantly the ability to feel pain. 

The test we use at end of life is – are there continuous brain waves. We should use the same test at the beginning of life – brain waves. This occurs at about 15-20 weeks. And that’s when the baby can feel pain
BTW – the brain is not fully formed until a person is in their early 20s … that’s 20 years, not weeks of gestation.

Last edited 2 years ago by Terry M
Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

Still – even though you may have a biological argument for 15-20 weeks, do you think such an abortion should be allowed for sex-selection purposes?
Do we really want social pressures from boyfriends, a job, a parent, to play on a mother’s free will – absent health concerns – to terminate a second trimester pregnancy?
In other words, there is always a moral argument when you are ending a life.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry M

Sorry, that’s dubious. Brain waves have been detected as early as 6th weeks after fertilisation: https://www.ehd.org/dev_article_unit7.php#brainwaves
And the ability to feel pain is difficult to ascertain, we know that much earlier than 20 weeks the baby flinches or moves its arm if prodded with a tool. As I said in many other posts, if a particular capacity is uncertain, it should not be a legal or even moral yardstick.
You mentioned end of life care. Can you see the difference between caring for someone bound for death and someone who has their whole life ahead of them?

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate Dodson

For sure, I agree with abortion in case of threat to mother’s life, or if the baby is already dead inside the womb.
But if being more developed makes you have more rights than a human being which less developed, surely that should apply to humans after birth? The chasm in the level of development between a newborn or a toddler and an adult is probably greater than between a a newborn and an embryo or foetus. Would you advocate for the rights of parents to trump children’s rights in case of e.g. abuse or neglect? In social work practice, it’s the precisely the reverse, welfare of the child takes priority over what the parent wants. And don’t forget you make yourself liable to be killed by someone who is more mature, independent or developed than you.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

Moreover, there is a myriad of ways in which our society already recognises the unborn babies as babies. Take the ‘baby on board’ badge which Fraser refers to. Not a ‘foetus on board’ (though that would not be biologically incorrect- foetus is a name for a human being between about 10 weeks from conception – when the embryonic period ends – and birth), not ‘a part of my body on board’, or ‘inanimate mass of matter on board’. Then, warnings on cigarette packets and alcohol – ‘smoking/drinking harms your unborn baby’. The same for certain medications which cause developmental abnormalities if taken in pregnancy, such as Sodium Valproate: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/rmm/756/Document. The risk assessment that I do at work as a mental health nurse, and any social worker working with women would do, has a section ‘is there a risk to the unborn baby’. Finally, the NHS website with information on pregnancy, refers to embryo as ‘baby’ from as early as 4 weeks gestation: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/week-by-week/1-to-12/
If you’re not convinced by that, I recommend you visit this website, devoted to embryonic development and pregnancy care. As far as I know, it takes no stance on abortion, it simply shows videos and animations of human development. From as early as the end of week 4 after fertilisation (equivalent to about 6 weeks’ gestation), you can see the developing baby from a close-up. Now ask yourself if seeing it prompts you to protect them, and if you would be happy kill it yourself. https://www.ehd.org// (Endowment for Human Development)
Now can we maintain sanity and moral consistency if on one hand, we openly recognise unborn humans as ‘babies’, and on the other hand, clamour for the ‘right’ for them to be killed?

Last edited 2 years ago by Jack K
Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

Yet if we subscribe to a set of beliefs of what it is to be human that can be generated artificially, then we are not far from thinking robots to be “more human” than, say, a brain-dead person on a life support machine. Or indeed a foetus.
Well done, Mr. Fraser, you’re getting there, I just don’t know why you get so confused by all those hypothetical thought experiments. If you value the Bible enough to at least guide your moral thinking (not even dictate it), look up all the instances in the Bible where the authors use the phrase ‘from/in my mother’s womb’ (e.g. Psalm 22 and 139), clearly implying the continuity in God’s eyes between the life before and after birth, or read the story of John the Baptist (as a foetus a little more than 6 months) leaps for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice when she visits Elisabeth, while she calls her ‘the mother of my Lord’, in reference to Jesus who was probably an embryo of several weeks.
Leaving the issue of the moral status of an unborn baby, there are other reasons why it should be worth of our protection. We owe this to it as it is another human, and no-one can replace us in looking after our species. It is our son, daughter, brother, sister, granddaughter/son etc, so we owe it the familial responsibility and care. It is utterly helpless and dependent on us, as is a newborn or a toddler, so we owe it more, not less protection. Finally, is it better for the unique relationship of mother and her child to be protected, or to cruelly sever it by abortion?

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

One more point, in all that discussion, one thing which is lost how abortions are actually performed. We seem to believe that they just quietly disappear.
In medical abortions, embryo is starved of nutrients before being ejected from the womb, ending up in a little pool of blood. If you still think it’s still ‘clean’, please have a look at the pictures of surgical abortions, whether by suction or dilation and evacuation. https://abort73.com/abortion/abortion_pictures/
If you find yourself too queasy to watch, perhaps you should think about what you advocate for.
It’s kind of similar in debates on eating meat (as much as personally I don’t put the value on animal life on par with human life, but that aside), people who want to continue eating it and argue on whatever grounds for it being justified, don’t really like to see what the inside of slaughterhouses or factory farms looks like.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
2 years ago

Why did he say “I absolutely believe in a woman’s right to choose” instead of “I absolutely believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion?”

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Karl Schuldes

Exactly, what really frustrates me about the pro-choice position is not just what it stands for, but its refusal to spell out what choice you actually mean and its consequences. Sure, sounds good, like choosing between cow’s milk or almond milk with your latte in Starbucks (a cow or coffee growers get considerably less choice). But this particular choice involves killing a human being. Can you have guts to say it? In rare moments of honesty, some abortion proponents would admit it:
In the top drawer of my desk, I keep [a picture of my son]. This picture was taken on September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. … And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point. (David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion)

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

To agree with Bill Clinton that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare” is to acknowledge — to insist upon — the right as well as to maintain that there is something about it that should be “rare”.
Well, there are a few issues with this claim. First of all, abortion is not rare. If you check the graph on the Statista page (data for 2018), there were 272 abortion for 1000 live births (or about 21% pregnancies not ending in a miscarriage). To make things simpler, if you line up 10 schoolchildren, there would be nearly 3 more who would most likely be there had they not be aborted. For other European countries, the rate would range from Bulgaria (380/1000) and Moldova (354/1000) to lower hundreds in Switzerland, Germany or Slovakia. Generous welfare provision in Sweden does not stop one of the highest abortion rates (317). In the US, as many as 52% of pregnancies in DC and 35 % in the state of New York are aborted.
Safe for who? Abortion nearly always ends in the death of a child. High number of women who had the ‘pill by post’ abortion in the UK in the past 2 years experienced complications or required to attend hospital afterwards. Safety of abortion – legal or illegal – has much more to do with the state of medical care, and deaths and complications from induced illegal abortions were declining in developing countries for decades prior to legalisation, alongside deaths from miscarriage or labour.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
2 years ago

A very good article. Good to discuss the moral issues, which are more complex than can be expressed by law or by a discussion of rights.
Rights and morality do not always perfectly track each other.’ This is important. The concept of human rights is philosophically sloppy, and offers no basis for morality. Most lists of human rights would be better described as aspirations. They become rights when they are defined by law and matched by an obligation by another party to provide or uphold those rights.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
2 years ago
Reply to  Henry Haslam

And they become moral rights when those who bear rights agree to bear the accompanying responsibilities.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

That photograph is horrifying. But the protester is daft as she’ll alienate most reasonable people from her views – maybe that was her intention, to undermine pro choice.
I’ve always found it interesting that the same left wing people who would support the abortion of a foetus in the third trimester, when it can sense and feel pain, would also be against inflicting pain on animals, and often on non-sentient entities.

James Longfield
James Longfield
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Now you open a new debate about how we will put down our pets in obvious pain and suffering, but don’t allow the same for our elders

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago

Given that most (80%) of abortions in the UK take place within the first 9 weeks I did wonder why women might wish to seek abortion when the foetus is more fully formed later In pregnancy. Here is an answer:
https://www.bpas.org/media/3301/_lates-report-why-do-women-need-abortions-after-20-weeks.pdf

Antony Hirst
Antony Hirst
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

That isn’t an answer. There may well be an ethical case for terminating a pregnancy later where no one can imagine the baby surviving long or if their ability to live a bearable life without pain is in doubt. But just wanting to not have a less than optimal human being to care for is not a reason.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
2 years ago

This is an argument in search of a principle, when the only sensible course is the messy, pragmatic rules which most European countries have arrived at.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago

Good piece, but I find myself less willing to readopt “legal, safe and rare”. Little did we know at the time, but “safe, legal and rare” apparently set us on the road to “shout your abortion” and grotesque pictures like the one at the top of this article. We need to find a different standard to decide who counts as human, one grounded in some kind of bright-line rule. I don’t necessarily think that rule should be “conception”, but maybe “heartbeat”, maybe “pain response”… other ideas? What I do know is that “safe, legal, and rare” didn’t end well at all.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago

Here are the words of the pregnant woman in the photo:
“I’m Jewish and according to Jewish law and tradition, life begins with the first breath at birth, and that if anything were to happen up until then that it is part of me, and it is my decision, it’s part of my body – it’s like a limb. It’s a significant part of me, but it’s my decision.”
Err, so that protester is in fact expressing her religious views. Only a religious organisation could back positions as extreme and crazy as -‘ life begins at conception’, or life begins at birth’.
This article is steeped if the befuddlement of religion, from its very first claim that, ‘The question of when human life begins is like the question of when human life ends: it is a question of values not science”, to, ‘For if we take independence and consciousness as the most important concepts for what it means to be human”…..Eh? Whilst, there is no absolute consensus on consciousness, it is fairly settled that higher mammals are conscious (and that a mouse is more conscious than a foetus, or even a baby). Only clerics are still troubled and unsure on the matter, trapped as they are into the solipsistic views ordained by The Book. Moreover inter- dependence, not independence is the more human characteristic – from a religious or scientific perspective.
Sentience, intelligence, and inter-dependence (love and community) comprise human worth. Computers lack sentience, particularly the experience of profound pleasure or pain, do not love and are not loved, and as intelligent as they may seem, are laughably crude compared with the human mind. These qualities in a foetus are very low indeed – lower than in the tech we trash and the animals we eat and swat everyday. Fact not opinion.

Last edited 2 years ago by Dominic A
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Many homo sapiens lack the ability to experience profound pleasure, others profound pain. Often they are not loved. Sometimes the concept of love can be too demanding. Others refuse dependence and some are wholly dependent without reciprocation. All of these are homo sapiens with mental impairments due to genetics, illness, accident or old age. By your reasoning they don’t have the right “qualities” to constitute a human being. The only difference between them and a foetus is they have their own paperwork and the foetus doesn’t.

You are setting a bar for homo sapiens to qualify as human beings. Don’t be surprised when that bar gets raised again and again. There is nothing objective about your measure of worth except it objectively consigns human beings to status of non-human or lesser beings, which is pretty chilling to read on the pages of an apparently moderate forum.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

No, you are projecting your ideas onto mine. Anyone with human DNA is a human. Sentience is multi-faceted (my pleasure/pain reference is a very basic simplification, to get the gist); and is intricately scaled. That said, I do believe there is a point where a human (dna definition) has less value, say, than your average mammal – this is a fact, and you don’t get to tell me where I draw that line, nor is my line, The Line. It’s complicated. But for an example, I was once introduced to a human at a psychiatric hospital, who’d been kept alive for 12 years – minimal brain function, no movement beyond jerks, 3 ft high, only working sense was touch – which she was repelled by in a nightmarish way. Dante would create a circle of hell for Drs and ‘ethicists’ who sustain such life, as an indulgence of their ‘values’ (moral vanity).

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

I suppose you would applaud the ‘euthanasia’ program of Nazi Germany, where such ‘lives unworthy of living’ or ‘ballast existences’ were ended as a measure of ‘mercy’?

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

No, ‘life begins at fertilisation’ is not a statement of a religious belief. You won’t find it in the Bible, Quran or any other sacred texts. It is a biological fact, pretty much universally recognised by embryologists. Let me quote a couple of textbooks:
“Human development begins at fertilization when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male. ”
Keith L. Moore, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology, 9th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2008. Kindle Location 555.
“Human embryos begin development following the fusion of definitive male and female gametes during fertilization
 This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.” William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998. pp. 1, 14.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Regarding your other point about what constitutes humanity, a lot of human beings lack those qualities at various times of life (as we lack sentience when we are asleep, unconscious, or just dead drunk).
Yes, embryos and foetuses may not possess such qualities as certain stages of their life, but they are our fellow humans, our sons and daughters, and they have all the potential to develop them in a short space of time. Would that alone not make them worthy of protection?
Regarding the point you made about animals, I became vegan for this precise reason, and I have shown up to a few animal rights and pro-life demos with a small bunch of similar rare specimens (example of such as group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/209158483602489.) I don’t personally value animal life on par with human life, because firstly, it’s difficult to pretend that you care about other species more than your own, secondly, even if fully-grown animals exceed some young humans in certain capacities, they can never develop qualities which you set as a standard of humanity, while embryos, foetuses and newborns can.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 years ago
Reply to  Jack K

We’re discussing when does a human begin (& therefore all the rights that go with that designation) – not when does life begin. Obviously a zygote is considered alive in scientific terms, as is your finger, or a sperm or ova.

oh, yeah ….I’m a euthanasia supporting Nazi – really? That is beneath you. The rest of your points – about sleeping etc are, frankly, silly. Yes, I had realised that embryos may develop into full human beings (the vast majority do not – nature, or God, if you prefer aborts them). The objective facts remain:

– a foetus has no more intelligence or sentience than, say, a reptile.
– if a foetus that is not loved, wanted by anyone, particularly mother, well, this matters a lot. They will not be missed, and they will never know they lived or died.
– it’s not a easy, moral or reasonable expectation that a woman should carry to term & assume responsibility for a child they do not want.
– to speak of potentialities is a dead end wormhole, though interesting. Eg it works both ways. If there is a very high probability that a person will commit a crime, do we lock them up now? If I have sex tonight there is a good probability that a life will ensue – am I morally obligated to have sex without contraception? What of the potentiality for an unwanted child of having a miserable life, and making others lives miserable (ever looked into the making of antisocial criminals and suicides…would it surprise you to know there’s a link, to put it mildly) or the damage done by forcing a women to bring to term, look after, or give up a human being (rather than a potential one).

And all this in a world where one of the greatest threats is human overpopulation.

Anti-abortionists don’t get exclusive ownership of the moral high ground; but oh boy do they assume it; and if we look to real world outcomes, answers come more readily than from inquiries into abstract values

Last edited 2 years ago by Dominic A
Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

I used a pretty extreme example because the way you spoke about this, as you described it, human maintained alive by evil doctors did make me think about the rhetoric to justify euthanasia in Nazi Germany. Pretty strong, I admit, let’s get back to the other points.
You find my argument sleeping silly? Well perhaps because it demonstrate the silliness of your position, if you take it consistently – if sentience bestows humanity, every time we are not sentient, we cease to be human.
No, sperm cell or finger are not alive in the same sense as an embryo or foetus is. They have DNA identical with your body – an embryo/foetus does not. They don’t develop into anything else than than themselves and not become crying or running babies at some points, embryos/foetuses do.
“a foetus has no more intelligence or sentience than, say, a reptile.” – possibly, because that where it is at its stage of development, particular to the development of human children. How much intelligence or ability does a newborn have? Or a toddler? Or an a granny with dementia? Would you treat your toddler the same you treat a dog because it has a comparable level of intelligence? Or would you treat a toddler as less worthy of rights because it can do far less than a teenager?
“They will not be missed, and they will never know they lived or died.” – yes, they won’t, but we will. Again, how much of a concept of future does a newborn have? If you kill it, particularly quietly and painlessly, it won’t really realise what it is losing. Abortion is wrong not only because of what it does to us. We carry in ourselves the knowledge of lives we snuffed, and deforms us, morally and spiritually.
it’s not a easy, moral or reasonable expectation that a woman should carry to term & assume responsibility for a child they do not want.” – again, what would you do if she wants to have a pregnancy, delivers the baby, but then doesn’t want it anymore? Should we also dispose of other people who are not wanted? I would also point out that both you and me, and anybody that is alive, is here because our mothers recognised the value of our lives enough not to abort us. If that’s your main criterion for weather someone dies or lives – not sure if you realise how chilling it us.
if I have sex tonight there is a good probability that a life will ensue – am I morally obligated to have sex without contraception?” – no, you’re not, and again, you’re playing mind games. Embryos and foetuses are not ‘potential’ – they exist for you to see them full and clear on USG or another device. When a child or a young person dies, we often react with: ‘They never got a chance to experience what other people do’. But because them growing to adulthood, having children etc. was only potential, you could argue – what’s the big deal?
“What of the potentiality for an unwanted child of having a miserable life, and making others lives miserable …. or the damage done by forcing a women to bring to term, look after, or give up a human being” – OK, so because of a chance for someone to end up having miserable life, you would be happy for them to be killed? How do you know anyway? Sorry, I’m repeating myself, but if that’s acceptable for unborn children, why not newborns or toddlers? Why not spare them the misery? With all the things you mention, it is possible to recover from them. You can’t recover from death. Live means there is a chance, death means the end of chances.
“And all this in a world where one of the greatest threats is human overpopulation.” – says who? the problem is not overpopulation, but our use of resources. Without increasing our agricultural output at all, we could feed about 10-11 billion people, if only crops now used as animal feed or biofuels are fed to humans. Countries with high abortion rates have, incidentally, the opposite problem of birth rates falling below the population replacement level, and can only sustained by immigration. Birth rates were falling long before abortion was legalised, and they do tend to fall with the increased affluence of society, with or without abortion.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Speaking of real world, would you be willing to confront your abstract position with the images showing how actually abortions are performed? And then advocate with the same force? See what the ‘not quite human’ beings looks like at different stages of pregnancy: https://www.ehd.org//
And then what it looks like to abort them?
https://abort73.com/abortion/abortion_techniques/
https://abort73.com/abortion/abortion_pictures/
It’s not there to shock you or play on emotions, but sometimes seeing something as it actually happens cuts through the BS of our lofty abstractions.

Maureen Finucane
Maureen Finucane
2 years ago

How about we bring in a law that any man who causes an unwanted pregnancy in a woman is automatically treated as a felon and given a mandatory prison sentence of 9 months, or that a man refusing to pay child support has a state mandated vasectomy so he doesn’t do it again. We’d see how quickly abortions disappear.

Rory Hoipkemier
Rory Hoipkemier
2 years ago

When does the author think “not yet a human” should hold the moral high ground? We have the technology to destroy the blastocyst easily, but things get more difficult and painful as the fetus grows, and we are very aware of the stages of brain development and the ability to feel pain in utero. So, does the author support early abortion, as the unborn are “not yet a human”? How early? How does his faith tradition determine the timeframe for execution? If he no longer, or never believed the fetus has a soul, and does not hold the all human life has intrinsic value, and if he is taking cues from brain development/pain sensation or whatever, at what stage does he become uncomfortable with denying the unborn child’s humanity? If the technology was not available to perform abortions safely and easily and if there were more risks to the woman, would he hold the same standard? Can our moral/ethical choices be determined by technological advances? If so, then maybe the sophisticated toaster does deserve some measure of personhood.

Riccardo Tomlinson
Riccardo Tomlinson
2 years ago

The striking thing to me is how well UK and European states have managed to create a settled position on this.

There are not two but three highly entrenched positions on this. You have the pro-life view, and the rights of women over their own bodies. Neither is susceptible to argument or persuasion. Then you have the view of a big majority that abortion is OK as it is and should not be up for debate.

It astonished me at the local hustings of the 2019 election to hear that 3 of the four main parties in England had a manifesto pledge to allow abortion to full term. The three candidates (Lab, Lib, Green) when asked to explain and defend this pledge, refused to do so and in two cases denied knowledge of it.

We should be profoundly grateful this is not up for debate in this country.

Nanda Kishor das
Nanda Kishor das
2 years ago

This is disappointingly lukewarm, especially coming from a man of faith. Saying belief in the soul is a thing of the past is simply beyond comment: how is it possible to consider oneself religious and believe that consciousness is just an attribute of the brain? From that to God being only a metaphor there’s a small step.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
2 years ago

Animals are also conscious and in possession of a spirit or soul, albeit different from our own. What give us the right to decide that, just as women were once held to be, they are soulless and selfless? In 100 years time, future generations will shake their heads at our cruel tolerance of ‘animal slavery’.

Jack K
Jack K
2 years ago

For this reason, I’m both vegan and pro-life.

James Longfield
James Longfield
2 years ago

I think they’ll shake their heads at a lot more madness than this. Just saying


Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

Is it possible that the woman who is clearly heavily pregnant does not really believe the message on her own tummy? And that the stunt, as it were, is just the mock rebelliousness of indispensable youth?

Like, the country needs me, is watching me, and needs me even more because ‘it’ needs me, and so of course I need ‘it’. I am valuable, very worthy, to society. My stoking of a reaction that has alarm bells ringing proves that I have a good place in this huge and important nation.

The mock rebelliousness of anxiety-filled, indispensable youth.

Ri Bradach
Ri Bradach
2 years ago

Giles, I have not always agreed with your points of view, but I have always thought you an earnest writer. This set of muddled nonsense has no place in your canon of work:
“ Rights and morality do not always perfectly track each other. This is why, if you ask me about rights, I am instinctively more pro-choice, and if you ask me a moral type of question, I am less so.”

Firstly, there can be no discussion of rights without responsibilities and no discussion of either without morality.

Secondly, to refer to oneself as “pro-choice” is to, at best, be morally vacuous. At worst such utterances as to show oneself to be a facile idiot capable only of repeating, parrot like, the PR lines that have been swallowed by you uncritically and immorally.

You are better than this, act like it.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 years ago

There are some interesting statistics about abortion in the UK here –
https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/abortion-statistics-for-england-and-wales-2020/abortion-statistics-england-and-wales-2020
I see that the vast majority of abortions (90%) take place at 12 weeks or earlier which might give a different perspective to the discussion about whether the limit should be 20, 22 or 24 weeks.

Last edited 2 years ago by Steve Elliott
Veronica Lowe
Veronica Lowe
2 years ago

If a child in the womb is not human from conception, how is it embryos can be implanted in the womb of a surrogate yet still grow with the inherited characteristics, blood group, hair colour etc received at conception from both parents? Does a mother have two blood groups? No.

Last edited 2 years ago by Veronica Lowe
Teresa M
Teresa M
2 years ago

Every time I read an article by Giles Fraser I am horrified that he remains in any kind of ministry even remotely – no matter how distantly – related to Christianity. Any professed member of the clergy who cannot say for certain that a human embryo is fully human at conception and already endowed by God with a soul and planned by God (for God does not make mistakes), and who therefore deserves all the protection she has the right to from her mother as well as from the rest of society is not fit to step into the pulpit. He’s not fit to spiritually counsel anyone for any reason for he knows not what a person really is. AND for that matter Giles own words in previous articles convict him of misunderstanding human nature (whether on purpose to serve his own interests or out of misplaced sympathy) – and in his denial of bodily reality (men are born men and women are born women and they can’t change their sex no matter how much they wish they could – and this basic denial of bodily, physical reality is what leads people to deny the reality that unfettered sexual freedom impacts women much more negatively than men BECAUSE our bodies are designed by nature to be fertile and to reproduce). A man who cannot understand the basic nature of human beings the way God designed us is a danger to the salvation of his flock for he affirms them in their mistaken ways – I believe Jesus had something to say about the people who lead others to sin (Matt 18:6), which is what a morally confused clergyman does.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

In the absence of modern medical science ‘quickening’ – the feelings of fetal movement – was often considered to be the start of life. This is rather earlier than the ‘able to live outside the mother’ limit often used today (see Wikipedia for details). Times change.
The social problem of abortion is not about when the fetus is a human but the fact that some people wish to impose their moral values on the intimate lives of others who might not share those values.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

We all do that and often rightly so. For example, if someone’s moral values tell them that it is acceptable to kill the disabled, we reject and disallow their beliefs. We legislate against them.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

And yet fetal impairment is one of the legal grounds for permitting abortion in the United Kingdom and 40 other countries (see Wikipedia). Clearly that moral argument has been considered in these countries (and more autonomous jurisdictions) and pregnant women carrying impaired fetuses may, or may not, make that terrible choice.

Teresa M
Teresa M
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Well, gee. Some cultures believe women should not be allowed to leave their homes without permission from the males in their families. Some cultures still believe in and practice honor killings of their female family members. Some still practice female circumcision. At one time some people thought it morally ok to enslave people from Africa. So I guess people who find these practices abhorrent crimes against humanity and the dignity of the individual should just accept these practices since others approve of them and not force our moral values on those who uphold them by working to help those vulnerable victims of these offensive practices?

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago
Reply to  Teresa M

Well, duh. If the laws offend your sense of morality then work to change those laws democratically. But if those views are a minority then that does not excuse people harming others or destroying property.

nigel roberts
nigel roberts
2 years ago
Reply to  Teresa M

“Some cultures “? Go on say it. Say the Voldemort word.