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Elective abortion is one of the more contentious issues faced by society today. It inevitably implicates two distinct human beings simultaneously: a parent and child. Any ethical course of action designed to address elective abortions must take into account and attempt to balance the value, dignity, and rights of these two human beings.

Contrary to popular narratives, elective abortion isn’t merely a medical decision. It is an act of aggressive violence that, in the United States alone, claims the lives of around 2,500 individual human beings a day. Human rights violations affect all of us, and elective abortion is one of the most profound human rights violations of our time.


The Science


The scientific community has reached a consensus: life begins at conception.


At the moment of sperm-egg fusion — i.e., fertilization or conception — a new, genetically distinct, and whole living organism is produced. Because the product of reproduction between two members of a species is always a differentiated member of that same species, the product of human reproduction is always a unique and fully human organism. Uninterrupted, this human organism will grow from a zygote, to an embryo, to a fetus, to an infant, to a toddler, to an adolescent, to an adult. At no point in this process of development does a human organism become human. Human organisms are human beings from the moment that they begin to exist.


"The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."

"Human development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cell, the zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."

More citations can be accessed here.

Click here to hear from certified OB/GYNs and former abortion providers.

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The Philosophy

Science alone is insufficient for the task of establishing the moral dimensions of elective abortion. The pivotal question surrounding the issue of elective abortion is not “when does human life begin?”; this has already been answered conclusively, as the scientific consensus is that the life of each individual human being begins at conception. Instead, the question that underlies the abortion debate is this: “which human beings deserve human rights?” 


This question implicates the philosophical concept of personhood, which has been variably defined through the centuries. Traditionally, philosophers discussing personhood have explored the qualities and conditions that render a being a “person” with value, dignity, and rights. Modern pro-choice ideology, seeking to justify abortion, excludes certain human beings from personhood based on arbitrary factors such as developmental stage, level of dependency, and physical or mental capacity. Many pro-life advocates, in contrast, argue for the expansion of personhood. They seek to eliminate the baseless distinctions that separate born and unborn human beings and to broaden the definition of personhood. This expanded definition of personhood is simple: a person is a living human being.


While this comprehensive understanding of personhood is beneficial in many ways, some thinkers have reservations regarding using the framework of personhood at all. They state that, throughout history, the concept of personhood has been evoked exclusively to discriminate against entire classes of human beings. Powerful people and institutions have evaluated certain human beings as “non-persons” for capricious, expedient, and malicious reasons. Those human beings have, in turn, been oppressed, exploited, enslaved, abused, and killed due to their supposed lack of personhood. So while expanding the legal boundaries of personhood could prevent further dehumanization and aggressive violence, another possible solution is to abolish the concept of personhood altogether. As stated by Rehumanize International Executive Director Herb Geraghty, “If we are going to claim to be supporters of human rights at all, we must apply them to all humans. We should stand for human rights, not ‘person rights,’ because the definition of who can or can’t be a person is ultimately a political and ideological debate that ignores basic scientific facts. If there could ever be a category of ‘human non-persons’ then personhood is either a useless signifier at best or dangerous and deadly at worst.”

Whether we redefine personhood or do away with it altogether, we must demand human rights for all human beings.


Bodily Autonomy


“My body, my choice” is a common refrain among members of the pro-choice movement. But what exactly does this mean? After all, we’ve established that the human fetus is not actually a part of a pregnant person’s body, and unborn children are distinct human beings.


The implication of this argument seems to be that the right of a pregnant person to their bodily autonomy supersedes the right of an unborn person to life. This position is based on the belief that bodily autonomy is so essential that it can’t be violated even to save the life of another person; in other words, nobody should be legally obligated to take extraordinary measures in order to save another person’s life.


This is true to an extent. For example, people should not be legally compelled to donate blood or organs to save the life of another person. And yet, the major flaw in this comparison amounts to a false equivalency: it assumes that abortion and refusal of care (or “letting die”) are practically and morally equivalent. This is not the case.


Whereas a person who refuses to provide blood or organs may passively concede the death of another human being, a person who performs an elective abortion actively and deliberately inflicts harm. This harm comes in various forms: in chemical abortions, the child in the womb is starved; in surgical abortions, they are dismembered; and in later abortions, they are often administered drugs to induce cardiac arrest. In every instance, actions are taken specifically to end the life of the human being in the womb.


Medically-accurate descriptions of these abortion procedures can be accessed here.


When a human being dies due to lack of adequate medical care, their cause of death is the illness or injury that brought about their need for such care. When a human being dies during an elective abortion, their cause of death is intentional, aggressive violence. The act of “letting die” and the act of killing are not ethical equals.


Elective abortion entails the starvation, poisoning, or dismemberment of a human being, and thus directly causes their death. It is inaccurate to equate this act of aggressive violence with refusal of care. The prohibition of aggressive violence against human beings does not violate any right (to bodily autonomy or otherwise), because there is no right to commit aggressive violence.

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The Law

Supporters of elective abortion often insist that it is unjust to “legislate morality” by constraining the personal choices of pregnant people. According to this line of reasoning, abortion bans and regulations constitute an infringement of rights and a contravention of personal sovereignty. However, any laws that exist “legislate morality” by nature and by purpose. All laws limit choices by compelling or forbidding certain behaviors. 


A fundamental function of law is — or should be — to protect the right of every human being to live free from aggressive violence. Elective abortion destroys human life. It is violence. It should never be legal.


That said, we know it is not possible to build a culture of life by simply incarcerating women who seek or obtain abortions. If the practice of elective abortion is to end, the perceived need for it must also be eliminated. This can only happen when law and policy protect, support, and invest in the wellbeing of both unborn human beings and their parents. In light of this, truly successful pro-life advocacy requires actionable solutions and measures that address poverty, systemic racism, misogyny, workplace discrimination and other factors that contribute to demand for elective abortion.  

You can find a more detailed exploration of proposed alternatives for legislating elective abortion in this white paper written by Rehumanize International founder Aimee Murphy and Catherine Glenn Foster of Americans United for Life.


The False Dichotomy


Today, elective abortion is often regarded as one of the primary — or even only — means by which women and other marginalized people can gain autonomy, safety, and stability. Elective abortion is carelessly and callously treated as a cure for various systemic societal problems such as poverty, sexual violence, and discrimination. 


Not only does this approach dismiss these social issues by neglecting to confront their actual and underlying causes, but it also establishes a false dichotomy: one in which we are told that we are forced to choose between pregnancy and prosperity.


Examples are abundant. The biggest corporations proudly supply funds for their employees to obtain elective abortions but refuse to offer reasonable and just paid family leave; at the same time, prominent economists defend elective abortion, touting a connection between aborting the children of the poor and decreasing poverty and crime rates. In particularly alarming and dehumanizing discourse, elective abortion is viewed as a useful mechanism for erasing people with disabilities such as Down syndrome, Spina Bifida, and countless others. And in some cases, elective abortion is even implemented to select against human beings of particular genders or ethnicities.


Elective abortion does nothing to solve any of the crises that so often pressure desperate people into thinking it is their only option. In the fifty years since abortion was legalized in the United States, the wealth gap has doubledIncome inequality has risen. A just society would not instruct impoverished people to kill their children in order to survive, but rather, would fix these wealth disparities and inequality that prevent people from raising families in safe and sustainable communities. A just society would refuse to allow discrimination on the basis of physical or mental capacity, striving instead to create a world that is equally navigable and accessible to all people. A just society would not tolerate racism or sexism, but rather, would acknowledge the rights, value, and dignity of all human beings.    


The rich and powerful have a vested interest in promoting abortion in order to further the many manifestations of oppression from which they benefit. Elective abortion is a tool of economic suppression, a tool of the patriarchy, and a tool of prejudice and eugenics.


Ethical and effective opposition to elective abortion must recognize this and must be dedicated to correcting it. The injustice of elective abortion cannot be effectively mitigated without addressing the injustices that drive people to elective abortion. Pro-life activism cannot succeed if it does not include rigorous advocacy on behalf of the poor and the marginalized.  

  • Citations
    Note: the terms "zygote," "embryo," and "fetus" are all references to stages of development — just like the words "infant," "adolescent," and "adult." Calling someone an adult doesn't negate the fact that they are a human being. Similarly, referring to children in the womb by their stage in development doesn't negate their humanity, either. "Human development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cell, the zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." [Moore, Persaud, Torchia. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 10th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2016, p. 11.] "Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)... The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual." [Carlson, Bruce M. Patten's Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3] "Development of the embryo begins at Stage 1 when a sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together they form a zygote." [England, Marjorie A. Life Before Birth. 2nd ed. England: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996, p.31] "Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception). "Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being." [Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2] "Embryo: the developing organism from the time of fertilization until significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes known as a fetus." [Cloning Human Beings. Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD: GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.] "Embryo: An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus." [Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993, p. 146] "Embryo: The early developing fertilized egg that is growing into another individual of the species. In man the term 'embryo' is usually restricted to the period of development from fertilization until the end of the eighth week of pregnancy." [Walters, William and Singer, Peter (eds.). Test-Tube Babies. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 160] "The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote." [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3] "Embryo: The developing individual between the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism.... At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun.... The term embryo covers the several stages of early development from conception to the ninth or tenth week of life." [Considine, Douglas (ed.). Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia. 5th edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 943] "I would say that among most scientists, the word 'embryo' includes the time from after fertilization..." [Dr. John Eppig, Senior Staff Scientist, Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) and Member of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 31] "The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote." [Sadler, T.W. Langman's Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3] "The question came up of what is an embryo, when does an embryo exist, when does it occur. I think, as you know, that in development, life is a continuum.... But I think one of the useful definitions that has come out, especially from Germany, has been the stage at which these two nuclei [from sperm and egg] come together and the membranes between the two break down." [Jonathan Van Blerkom of University of Colorado, expert witness on human embryology before the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 63] "Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression 'fertilized ovum' refers to the zygote." [Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1] "The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are...respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development." [Larsen, William J. Human Embryology. 2nd edition. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 17] "Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.... The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity." [O'Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29. This textbook lists "pre-embryo" among "discarded and replaced terms" in modern embryology, describing it as "ill-defined and inaccurate" (p. 12}]
  • Post-Abortive Resources
    National Helpline for Abortion Recovery: 1-866-482-5433
  • What about pregnancies resulting from rape?
    It is first and foremost imperative that we work to entirely eliminate rape and sexual assault by, among other things, holding perpetrators accountable and supporting those who survive such acts of aggressive violence. The trauma of sexual assault is often profound and long-lasting; survivors deserve the utmost care and compassion. When a child is conceived as a result of rape, it is important to remember that children cannot control the circumstances of their conception. We must take all measures to protect the pregnant person from further trauma without resorting to violently ending the life of this new, innocent human being. A just society does not simply respond to sexual violence with more aggressive violence, but rather, shelters vulnerable people against all such forms of violence. The stories of survivors ought to be at the forefront of the conversation surrounding pregnancies caused by rape. It is not simply a question of whether or not elective abortion should be permissible in such circumstances, but also a question of how we can help pregnant people who have been raped regardless of the accessibility of elective abortion. People with personal experience in these situations can best answer that question. There are numerous such stories available online, but one in particular is that of Rehumanize International founder Aimee Murphy. Aimee was pro-choice prior to her traumatic experience with sexual assault but her perspective was altered by what she went through. After her assault, Aimee was threatened by her attacker to abort or be killed. She explains: "In that moment, I knew something else, too: if I was indeed with child, that preborn human life within me would be worthy of the same protections as me. If I were to be killed, we would both be the victims of the same violence. So what right did I have to inflict the same harm that was being threatened against me upon an innocent human being? How much better would I be than the guy if I chose the path of violence to reach my goals in life?" It is easy for some pro-choice advocates to dismiss stories like Aimee’s by emphasizing the fact that she had the right to make a personal decision — but the reality is that elective abortion kills human beings. It is vital that we find solutions to such tragic events, but we cannot rationalize and excuse aggressive violence against human beings. You can listen to Aimee tell her full story here. An additional survivor story we would like to highlight is that of Serena Dyksen, who underwent an abortion after being sexually assaulted at 13. Her experience led her to create a ministry for other women who have had abortions. You can hear Serena tell her story on our podcast here. We also suggest reading the stories of women who have experienced pregnancy after sexual violence that can be found at
  • What about life-threatening pregnancies?
    Cases in which the life of the pregnant person is at risk (such as ectopic pregnancy) do not fall under the category of elective abortion. In such cases, the child may need to be removed from the womb or the fallopian tube in order to save the life of the pregnant person, and their chance of survival is low to nonexistent as a result. In a crisis, every possible and realistic effort should be made to save the lives of both the pregnant person and the child. These tragedies are not generally and should never be the subjects of abortion laws, which should only restrict elective abortions: abortions performed explicitly to kill the child.
  • What about miscarriages?
    Although the medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion,” these tragic deaths should not be confused with elective abortions, which are colloquially referred to as “abortion.” In both instances, a child dies and is expelled from the womb; however, miscarriages are natural and outside the control of the pregnant person, while elective abortions are deliberate. The reality of natural death cannot justify aggressive violence. Some children die by chance; none should die by choice.



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