Abortion is not ethically the same as killing a child

Sister Eugene Nolan, one of two nuns on the board of the Mater hospital, said yesterday that the Mater will not be performing abortions, even though the board of the hospital has said it will comply with the new Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, which outlines when an abortion can be performed to save a woman’s life.

She told the Irish Times that the board had considered a legal challenge to the Act: “But we don’t have the money to take on the Government. We are caught and we are back to ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’. What could we do? Go down to the orthopaedic ward and say: ‘There’ll be no more hip replacements because we have to mount a legal challenge’?”

It’s not clear whether she or the hospital board raised the topic of hip replacements. But whoever it was, they seem to recognize the ethically obvious position that being able to continue to perform hip replacements should be a higher priority for a hospital than refusing to perform an abortion for a woman whose life is under threat.

Does this indicate that they also recognize that performing an abortion under the new Act is not ethically the same as killing a child? Because if they did believe that abortion was ethically the same as killing a child, surely refusing to kill a child on the basis of this Act would be more important ethically than continuing to perform hip replacements?

Certainly the Irish people, through various referendums and opinion polls, do not collectively believe that abortion is ethically the same as killing a child.

We know this because we passed a referendum in 1992 allowing a woman to travel abroad to have an abortion, and to get information on how and where to do so, and that was regardless of whether or not there was a threat to her life. Surely we would not have passed a referendum allowing adults of any gender to travel abroad to kill a child, and to get information on how and where to kill a child?

We know this because we have refused to pass two referendums, in 1992 and 2002, that would have prevented a suicidal woman from having the right to an abortion. Surely we would have passed both of those referendums if we actually believed that abortion was ethically the same as killing a child? Surely we would not allow an adult of any gender to kill a child because they were suicidal?

We know this because successive opinion polls in 2013 have shown that a majority of Irish people support the right to abortion in a wider set of circumstances than the current Act allows, including when a woman is pregnant through rape or incest, or when a fetus has a fatal abnormality, or when there is a threat to the health of a pregnant woman. Surely we would not endorse killing a child to address these tragic circumstances? Surely the fact that we do endorse abortion in these cases means that we do not consider abortion to be the same as killing a child?

We may be prone to adding abstract religiously inspired moral diktats into our Constitution and laws, that put a grown adult woman on an ethical par with a single-cell zygote.

But when it comes to actual real-life situations, with actual real-life people facing actual real-life dilemmas, our collective compassion and empathy and reciprocity and fairness enable us to recognize the ethically right thing to do.

Abortion is not ethically the same as killing a child, and pretending that it is serves only to cause extra unnecessary psychological stress for women who are facing the choice of whether or not to continue with a pregnancy.

We must campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution, to enable us to pass an abortion law based on compassion and human rights and personal autonomy and the medical needs of pregnant women, and not on religiously-inspired moral diktats.

Edit: Here is my contribution to a debate earlier this year on why we should support the right to legal abortion:

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15 Comments

  1. the nun did not say what you pretend she did, through some contorted logic about hip replacements. and of course, whatever her opionion is, the view of the Catholic Church is that abortion is murder–the taking of a human life. Maybe some murders [a mercy killing for example] are not as “bad” as others, and killing a child unborn may not be as “bad” as killing an already born one–but both are murder.

  2. Your article is based that a majority vote determines what is ethical and what is not. This is a falsehood. Your article falls apart because of it.

  3. The article is not based on the assumption that a majority vote determines ethics.

    It is based on (and indeed states) the assumption that compassion and empathy and reciprocity and fairness enable us to recognize the ethically right thing to do.

  4. Your support is the passage of 3 referendums and opinion polls.

    If these referendums and opinion polls didn’t support your position, how would you conclude that we ‘know’ there is an ethical difference between abortion and killing a child?

    The usual reason for abortion is not empathy, compassion, reciprocity or fairness. Rather, those are overlooked in favor of selfishness.

  5. I gave those examples to support the assertion that the Irish people do not collectively believe that abortion is ethically the same as killing a child.

    I’ve added at the end of the article a video of my contribution to a debate earlier this year, on why we should support the right to legal abortion.

  6. Abortion in order to save the life of the mother is based on the principle that life is valuable. Abortion on demand is based on the principle that a human embryo is not actually human (this is a lie) and that a woman’s economic position outweighs the value of her daughter’s life.

    All the debate about whether or not abortion should be legal should be based on the definition of the being about to be aborted. If it is human, then it is quite straightforward: killing innocent human beings is morally wrong. If it is a clump of cells, then go ahead. The problem for the pro-aborts is biology. Philosophizing about when a human becomes a ‘person’ is simply determining when it’s unacceptable to sacrifice humans to the selfishness, and is not based on science or biology.

  7. My ethical argument for abortion is based on recognising the right to bodily integrity and autonomy of a pregnant woman. It is not based on the definition of the fetus.

    Personally, I believe that a foetus is not a human person, certainly not in the early stages, and there is a difference between being human and alive, and being a human person. But you don’t have to agree with me on that in order to believe that abortion should be legalised.

    Because, even if we are talking about adult human persons, there are no circumstances where the law obliges an adult human person to use their body, their internal organs, or indeed transfusions of their blood, in order to keep another adult person alive.

    A parent is not obliged by law to donate an organ, or even their blood, in order to keep their own child alive after it is born. So if we don’t do that, if we recognise the right to bodily integrity even when dealing with adult persons who require the use of our body in order to stay alive, why on earth would we make an exception in terms of a being whose status as a human person is at a minimum questionable?

  8. It is a scientific fact that the unborn are unique, living human beings from conception. Here are several references to embryology texts discussing the matter:

    http://www.abort73.com/abortion/medical_testimony/Here is the argument that must be defeated for you to be correct:

    Any argument about abortion hinges on the definition of the fetus, as Ann Furedi makes clear in that link. The personhood argument is philosophy rammed into a scientific discussion that utterly fails, but I’ll play that game. If you support abortion, at what point does a human become a human person? I need an objective answer, remember, as this is potentially a life and death issue and thus we wouldn’t want to base it on moving goalposts.

  9. Regarding the parasite argument, the only thing for a mother to do in order to deliver is precisely nothing. You are equating non-action (carrying a pregnancy to term) to action (donating a kidney). This is incoherent.

    If the fetus is a parasite and the mother has the ability to terminate the pregnancy because she is carrying a parasite, when the fetus is delivered and attached by the umbilical cord it is still a parasite. Therefore it can be killed any way you like – hammer, Raid, boots etc. Oh, that’s not acceptable? Well, why not? Is is a human person? Or is it a parasite leeching blood and organ function from it’s host?

    Incoherent.

  10. Has the concept of ‘Employee’ ever crossed Sister Nolans mind I wonder…?? You know where you do a job and its a job…and if you have ethical concerns then you quit that job… that sort of thing.

    He who pays the Piper is the people of Ireland… who voted many years ago to adopt this regulation which didn’t happen until 20 years AFTER they asked for it. I’m sure if Sister Nolan was all that concerned she could have paid for such a legal challenge by putting some money aside each of those 20 years to face off against the people of Ireland.

  11. Also @sandcat… lots of things are alive and many of them you EAT….

    Just because something is ‘alive’ and inside you does not give it special privileges.. Human or not!

    If that were the case then consider that half your own body weight right now is made up of mites, bacteria and other living things…and you won’t survive without them….but its certainly a scientific fact they are alive.

    Also this ‘Its a scientific fact’ argument sounds a little hollow when coming from the mouth of someone that thinks there’s a magic fairy living in the sky that prohibits abortion. You’ll forgive me if I take your ‘its a scientific fact’ argument with a pince of salt when the question here is not one of scientific merit…but one based on philosophy, law, morality and ethics…which are subjective and hence you can’t ever have an objective answer… you’ll never get one, because its not possible to have one.

    And I might add all these morality, legal, ethical and philosophical arguments are thankfully now removed from the grasp of the Catholic church in Ireland who squandered any say in morality pulling down the trousers of young boys and doing a Bart Simpson pretending it wasn’t them… so any answer they have can’t be taken seriously!

    Plus its NOT a scientific fact that humans are alive after conception since there is a ‘definition’ of living…and ‘after conception’ doesn’t cut it since the ‘life’ you are talking about is not yet capable of reproduction…ergo, by definition not yet alive…which is a requirement for something to be classed as living…that’s why viruses are not ‘living’…and unlike your ‘scientific fact’ which wasn’t… That IS a scientific fact…that also has no bloody bearing on the question of abortion!

    Heres an idea… abortion will be legal… but not compulsory… in other words your free to openly request not to have one and it won’t be forced on you! That way you can have your beliefs, nobody will interrupt there, and you can practice them of course… but obviously you will NOT be free to foist them on all around you. Sound fair? After all its for this very reason I would have serious problems if my partner had an abortion…but I’d have it with her… but I also accept I can’t stop her. That because I have a level of personal morality where I know that my personal wishes, or subjective beliefs in the sanctity of human life are mine… perhaps not everyone’s.

    As an atheist I get sick of pointing our lessons in morality to the religious…it truly sickens me… Forget about what the book say… what do YOU say… (don’t look in the book for the answer to that)

  12. Mick, I find that you make my job very easy when you argue that human beings are comparable to bacteria. Being alive and human are indeed the two criteria that gives you the right to life, i.e. to not be killed.

    Something tells me you didn’t look at the link I posted. There are over a dozen medical and human embryology texts defining human life beginning at conception. For you to deny that, and then attempt to lecture about scientific incoherence is beyond stupid.

    The definition of an embryo is most definitely about science, and the biggest proponents of abortion (the founder of the largest abortion provider in the UK, Ann Furedi) argue that the answer to the question is pivotal to the abortion debate. Clowns like you who refuse to read the literature are oblivious to this. But keep parroting ‘sky fairy’, if it helps you cope with your ignorance.

    Allow me to demonstrate how little you know about the science:
    Mick: “Plus its NOT a scientific fact that humans are alive after conception…”

    Keith L. Moore, Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008. p. 2.: “[The zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being.”

    Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001. p. 8. : “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.”

    Clark Edward Corliss, Patten’s Human Embryology: Elements of Clinical Development. New York: McGraw Hill, 1976. p. 30.: “It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitues the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual.”

    J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, Biological Principles and Modern Practice of Obstetrics. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1974. pp. 17, 23.: “The term conception refers to the union of the male and female pronuclear elements of procreation from which a new living being develops…..the zygote thus formed represents the beginning of a new life.”

    I could go on for pages, but hopefully you recognize you’re talking out of your behind when you blather on about what scientific facts you know, and which ones you don’t know you don’t know.

    “As an atheist I get sick of pointing our lessons in morality to the religious”

    As a Christian I wonder by what grounds do you lecture on morals, considering the standard atheist position that there are no objective morals, but instead a product of evolution and thus simply whatever we say they are? Or maybe this is merely another thing to be added to the list of things you’re ignorant about?

  13. Well done Sandcat you really did deliver a metaphorical knock-out
    Not once did Mick support his assertion that abortion is not a kin to killing a child.
    Other than the farcical assertion that democracy is the main determinant of ethics.
    For someone who claims to be an atheist, Mick sure does like to hold values and beliefs that contradict established objective facts.

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