WRI 169: Taboos and Transgressions
The personhood of a bunch of cells.
Busi was missing for a week and four days before they found her propped against a tree in the woods. She had died after attempting to abort an unwanted pregnancy that she had managed to hide from everybody who knew her by sticking a wire coat hanger into her uterus. Busi was my cousin and she was one of the many women around the world who have died after attempting to perform abortions that are not legal in their places of residence for a variety of reasons.
There are many reasons why abortion is frowned upon by many societies in the world including religious objections, ethical considerations and legal constraints. There has been a raging debate about abortion in the United States ever since the Supreme Court decided Roe vs Wade in 1973 and many facets of the debate have been exposed. Abortion has been decried as an extension of the patriarchy’s continued denial of women’s freedoms as feminists have argued that it is up to a woman to decide whether or not to be a mother. Moralistic arguments against abortion have been made by many a religious organisation including particularly graphic campaigns by Priests for Life, a Catholic pro-life group and Advocates of life. There is a raging debate among scholars about when exactly the fetus becomes a person that can, and has to be afforded full legal protections. In a world where one woman dies every seven minute because of an unsafe and illegal abortion procedure, the debate around legalization of abortion seems almost unnecessary. In essence, making abortion more accessible would save thousands of lives of productive members of society. Feminists such as Katha Pollitt argue that abortion is an extension of the reproductive freedoms that have long being denied to women by patriarchal society, and it would certainly seem to benefit the women at risk of complications from unsanctioned abortion procedures if abortion were legalised. Therefore it becomes the debate comes down to a battle between the rights of a woman, and those of a foetus she is carrying, which antiabortion scholars would rather refer to as a baby. On one side, there are antiabortion activists who say that the right to life of the foetus supersedes any discomfort a woman might have about carrying a child to term. On the other hand, there are prochoice activists who insist that pregnancy and birth should be a woman’s decision, as it is her body that will be the vehicle of this child that antiabortion activists attach so much importance to. I am of the opinion that limiting the choices a woman a woman makes about her own life and body from the perspective of a moralistic viewpoint that is not infallible is a crime against the rights of women and hence abortion should be legalised.
To fully understand the viewpoint of both sides of the argument, we need to consider one issue that is used by both camps to justify their position; the personhood of the foetus. From the perspective of one pro-life proponent, Randy Alcorn, the debate around the personhood of fetuses necessitates efforts to protect the fetus because of the “possibility” that it may be a person. On the other hand various scholars such as Jason T. Eberl argue that the personhood of fetuses is not at all dependent on the foetus itself being alive but rather depends on when the foetus becomes an individual. The argument is then extended to when exactly the fetus ceases to be a cluster of biological cells and exists as an entity that might be considered human. To answer this question, arguments have been made by both pro-life proponents and pro-choice activists that draw from theology, philosophy, law and science. In this paper I shall lay out the arguments that are made by both sides and seek to show that while both sides have invaluable opinions on the matter, the facts, when viewed from a utilitarian perspective show that the questionability…