For decades, abortion has been one of the most divisive issues in American politics. It has become a kind of litmus test for who is a true Republican or Democrat. The topic has been so controversial as it involves politics, privacy, religion, and science. Whenever these weighty subjects intersect, there is bound to be conflict.
But can we indeed reach a compromise based not on ideologies but on facts and science? Can we combine this science with our values of protecting life and valuing privacy? Politicians and religious leaders have fought over this issue tirelessly never truly stepping away from their battle stations. Many voters and politicians demand that abortion remain completely legal subject to the regulations set in Roe v. Wade (1973), whereas religious leaders and other voters and politicians demand that abortion be completely eliminated in the United States. The majority of the voting population does indeed support some level of abortion legality. However, we should not simply agree because most other people do; we should come to our own conclusion based on the evidence.
The evidence does indeed leave us in a murky place. While other political issues may be more clear cut, deciding where life begins is a evasively difficult question to solve. Science has created certain stipulations to define life, but religion offers others. Even without including religion, drawing a line on where to allow abortion or not is tough.
If you are Christian and believe that the moment of conception delivers a soul to the zygote, then the discussion is likely over there. Killing a soul may be against your belief system, and that’s perfectly valid for you to believe. However, many other people in our nation and world do not subscribe to that belief system. Additionally, a secular nation built on religious freedom ought to find a more objective, scientific way to decide how to regulate abortion.
Since science cannot give a perfect answer on when life begins, we ought to make our own value judgment as a nation. Each of us will likely have a different judgment, which is why there will likely never be complete consensus on this issue. However, discussing the topic and exchanging ideas may lead to more agreement.
I personally argue that while life cannot be given a definitive beginning (spirituality excluded), we should look to the other moral underpinnings of why we oppose murder in the rest of society. We do not condone torture, abuse, or murder because it brings about non-consensual pain on another person. We view this as a rejection of that person’s freedom and civil rights. Thus, applying this to abortion we should ensure that the procedure does not cause pain. Since a fetus completes development of its nervous system around week 20 of gestation, the baby should then be able to feel pain. However, since pain is a subjective experience, research finds that an exact timeline is impossible to establish. Nevertheless, the completion of the nervous system seems like a reasonable cutoff point. Aborting that fetus without medically necessary reason could then be considered torture. Bringing about pain on a non-consenting human is against our shared values system.
An objection to this line of reasoning could be that deciding moral judgments based solely on pain is misguided and leaves the door open for undesired consequences. If a child or even adult cannot feel pain, is it right to kill them? Of course not. So we need more in our reasoning that just the presence of pain. We need to include the presence of will. If a person has a personal will to live, it is immoral to take away that will from them undeservingly. That solves our ethical dilemma.
In regard to abortion, the fetus before 20 weeks does not have a functioning nervous system or even the possibility of a will to live. It simply cannot yet will to live. Aborting that fetus would not be an undeserving stripping of that will since it does not yet exist. This logic may not and will not please all as some–especially Christians–may argue that the elimination of the potential of that eventual will to live constitutes murder. However, protecting that potential is far too broad and again would bring about undesired consequences. Every single egg, sperm, and even skin cell scientifically has the potential of being used to create eventual life. Thus, should we seek to protect every single element of matter that has the potential for life? That would simply be impossible and does not achieve any ethical necessity.
Let’s protect actual life. This is why I argue for a ban on non-medically-necessary abortion after 20 weeks (5 months) of pregnancy. At this point, most people would know that they are pregnant and would have the time to decide to obtain an abortion or not. This timeline would ensure that the freedom of the mother is still protected giving her time to act. The government should indeed not intervene in a woman’s freedom, but it does have a moral responsibility to prevent murder. Before 20 weeks, the fetus will neither feel pain nor have the ability to have a will to live. The science guides us in concluding this stance.
Now, some liberals may counter that giving into a 20-week ban could lead to a slippery slope that allows for the ultimate banning of abortion outright. Do not fall for that logical fallacy. We should argue every argument on its own merits and should create whichever policy is best for this secular nation based on the evidence. Abortion may forever be contentious, but I argue that the stance I have concluded is one based in both science and morality.