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How can I draw a line separating an abortion and killing a newborn?

I’m an atheist myself and pro abortion. I know there are some atheist against it but the majority support it because there is no religious dogma clashing with it. I believe that when there’s an scenario where suffering will be brought to the child to be born, as unwanted pregnancy, extreme poverty, the lesser evil is to terminate the pregnancy as there is no sentient being harmed. However, I find myself struggling with the idea of killing young babies born in the same situations I deem to cause suffering. Where and how can I draw a line separating an abortion and killing just born babies?

Posted: May 8th 2013

flagellant www

A sympathetic and tolerant society will always have a natural pro-choice attitude towards abortion. In effect, these societies say “If you want/need an abortion, it is available; if you don’t want one, you needn’t have one.” Thus, you are clearly on the side of tolerance but you may have been confused by the biased, sensationalised, and wrong-headed arguments put up by the anti-abortion lobby; aborted foetuses are not babies: they are foetuses, no more than potential humans.

It comes down to a matter of balance. How do you prioritise conflicting rights? A woman, with the prospect of motherhood ahead of her, is a living, feeling being, with a ready-programmed set of experiences and relationships. Her foetus, on the other hand, is a ‘blank slate’; it has no experience, it has formed no personal relationships – how could it? – and it has no soul because there’s no such thing. On balance, then, the woman’s rights trump those of a foetus in every case, not just early in the pregnancy, the result of rape, or where the foetus shows severe abnormality. And for this reason, I support unequivocally a woman’s right to choose.

Civilised societies learn to deal with difficult woman-infant choices; if a mother kills her baby during its early life (usually the first twelve months) the legal offence is infanticide which carries a very much lighter penalty than murder. Several countries found independently that juries failed to convict women tried for murder if they killed their babies. The lesser offence of infanticide was therefore introduced.

Perhaps this will help with your dilemma: I don’t think anyone has the right to condemn a woman to go through with a pregnancy if she doesn’t want to.

Posted: June 25th 2013

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George Locke

One major difference between abortion and infanticide ought to be obvious: the mother. A woman who doesn’t want to care for her newborn may put the child up for adoption, but a pregnant woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant is in a very different situation. Pregnancy is a huge imposition and childbirth carries significant health risks (especially where medical care is lacking). All people have autonomy over their bodies, and, in general, a pregnant woman’ interests may not coincide with those of her fetus.

There is plenty of room for disagreement about when the potential mother’s interest in abortion outweighs the fetus’s interests. Depending on the situation, a woman may or may not be morally obligated to carry her pregnancy to term. But when you’re talking about a newborn, these questions just don’t come up.

This question has relevant information.

Posted: May 24th 2013

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brian thomson www

Part of the problem is the perceived need to draw a line, before which abortion is acceptable. When formulating abortion laws, legislators try to draw such black-and-white lines through grey areas, but that’s a process that will never satisfy everyone all the time. Do you draw the line at day zero (conception), as they do in some countries e.g. Ireland? Week 16? 20? 24, as is the law in most of the UK? (Abortion is banned in Northern Ireland, probably because of its largely Irish population, so the result is a steady traffic of women on ferries across the Irish Sea. Some parts of the British Isles have their own laws. It’s a mess .)

The reality of human life is not so easily defined by drawn lines. So what we end up with is a variable consensus on when abortion is acceptable or not, based on the best evidence we have on whether it causes suffering to the foetus or not. Pretty much everyone agrees that a 40-week foetus – an unborn child, in other words – would suffer if aborted, and the fact that it is unborn isn’t the deciding factor. If we agree that earlier is better, then not conceiving in the first place is the ideal solution.

I sincerely doubt that anyone, anywhere, is truly “pro-abortion”, if you think about it. “Pro-choice” is a more accurate label.

Posted: May 21st 2013

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bitbutter www

It sounds like you’ve made up your mind about the conclusion (“I am pro abortion”), and are now looking for a way to frame reality in order to harmonise with your belief. I think you’re approaching this back-to-front.

A more intellectually honest approach would be to notice that your moral intuition rules out the killing of newborns, and that to you, there seems to be no ethically relevant difference between a baby just born, and one just prior to being born. So you cannot consistently be in favour of the one thing, but not the other.

Posted: May 20th 2013

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