The modern debate about abortion seems to revolve, at heart, around one central principle. Is it moral? Sure, there are other reasons why we might want to prohibit abortion - that it has negative social externalities, that it encourages irresponsibility among youth, etc... - but none of these really address the core of the issue. Abortion being legal or illegal should really be about the philosophical ramifications of the action itself, not the social consequences. For instance, modern fashion might encourage promiscuity and legalized condoms might encourage premarital sex, but neither of these things are banned despite their social consequences. The focus of the debate must be on the morality of abortion, not its social implications. Remember, liberals always argue on the social implication ground, saying that people will start to get back-alley abortions, etc.
Also, for this discussion I want to ignore Roe v Wade. In my opinion, it was badly decided, but I want to talk about policy rather than constitutionality. In other words, say that Roe v Wade was overturned. What abortion policy would you support?
Does a fetus have rights?
To some extent, modern society has accepted that it has less rights than the mother. When health conflicts, doctors always try to save the mother first. A fetus has reduced autonomy. A fetus is unable to express opinions. If one believes, philosophically, that a human's rights come from a will, then it is impossibled to gauge the will of the fetus.
Does a fetus deserve dignity?
We have accepted that humans deserve dignity. Good. A baby, from the moment of its birth, deserves dignity. Now, it would be a stretch to argue that a baby does not deserve dignity the moment before its birth. It could be removed and live. Unless one wants to argue that a baby gains a soul by taking its first breath, we have to accept that the unborn have souls.
When does the soul develop?
It's a hard position to take that a single-celled zygote has a soul. It gets into religious theory and, quite frankly, despite my own religious beliefs, I think it's hard to make a strong philosophical case for when the soul first exists and thus when the baby is first worthy of protection.
When can the baby first survive on its own?
I believe the current limit is about 22 weeks for any chance of survival (viability). I think its very hard to argue that a baby should be aborted past the second trimester, when its chances of survival are good outside the womb. Killing a potentially autonomous life strikes me as indefensible.
What are our options?
In my opinion, there are only three logical positions to take on abortion.
1. It should be outlawed from the moment of conception.
2. It should be outlawed past a certain point (probably the point of viability at 22 weeks)
3. It should be legal, both before and directly after birth.
Position #1 strikes me as one that's hard to philosophically defend. Does a zygote really have a soul/rights? Is it given rights based on the potential for rights? What about a sperm? what about an egg? Do we have the right to use condoms and prohibit the creation of something that will soon have rights?
Position #2 is interesting. Given that the point of viability is shifting closer and closer to birth, we might see that over time Position #2 becomes significantly closer to Position #1. Fred Thompson, if I recall correctly, supports legalized abortion only during the first trimester.
Position #3 is extreme, but I don't see a compelling argument for why you can abort a baby at the moment before its birth but not the moment afterwards.
[Crossblogged at Army of Principles]