Abortion debates require complex thought

Talking about abortion should compel us to think about topics in medical ethics and philosophy.

Jasper Johnson

After the fallout surrounding the release of trumped-up videos appearing to depict a Planned Parenthood representative discussing the sale of fetal tissue, many states decided to conduct investigations into abortion clinics within their borders. They found nothing to incriminate Planned Parenthood, and a grand jury in Houston has actually indicted two of the people who tampered with a government record in order to make the videos.
 
 
Abortion is a rather strange issue for people to discuss. Talking about the subject and its implications could be one of the more profound dialogues in our political culture, but it consistently falls short. 
 
 
In my opinion, people’s fallback talking points are often intellectually dishonest and flawed on both sides of the political spectrum — they’re more often sloganeering than intelligent discussion. In contrast, a proper conversation about abortion requires us to ask very important questions about medical ethics.
 
 
First, a discussion of biogenesis, or the origin of life, is important to understand different stances on abortion. Where does the mother end and the child begin? 
 
 
It is critical for both sides of the debate to understand each other’s potential answers. For example, I so often see the “my body, my choice” argument from pro-choice proponents. While sound from their viewpoint, it makes no sense from the opposing perspective of people who believe the fetus is quite literally not your body. 
 
 
Considering biogenesis raises several questions: When can we label a fetus as being truly alive, and what are the implications of doing so? If we decide something is “alive” but not “developed,” does that mean we should protect it? Additionally, if the simple fact of life has such inherent meaning, how do we parse out how we value human lives versus those of other species? 
 
 
Ultimately, medical ethics ought to be the largest part of any attempt to answer these questions. There is a great wealth of literature on the medical ethics of abortion, and we can even extrapolate other medical-ethical dilemmas to bear on the abortion debate. 
 
 
For example, most people are familiar with the ethical issues surrounding donations and transplants. Even if it could literally prevent someone else from dying, people cannot be compelled to donate organs against their will, even after they die. 
 
 
The main ethical question of abortion is how to figure out at what point in her pregnancy the mother can infringe on the rights of the fetus and at what point the fetus can infringe on the rights of the mother. This, at least, is one of the more fundamental aspects of the abortion debate. 
 
 
For the record, I’m pro-choice, but find that much of the debate on abortion falls back on flimsy religious rationalization or brash conclusions presented without explanation.
 
To help remedy this, when discussing abortion we should try stay focused on theories of ethics and philosophy. Doing so will make the discussion more meaningful and will cut to the heart of the subject at hand. 
 
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].