I suppose we’re going to be talking a lot about abortion for the next few days, so here is my initial statement of position, for the record.
I believe opposition to abortion is essentially a religious position. Abortion opponents believe the termination of a pregnancy is murder, a sin, that a human being is being killed, that a soul is being destroyed before it has a chance to develop into a fully human being. I can see their point, and I respect it, but I don’t share it.
I don’t believe any of that. I don’t believe in god, I don’t believe in souls, and I don’t believe in sin. I treasure human life, each one is a separate little universe and should be treasured. But I don’t think a human consciousness is something you’re born with, its something you create for yourself, and you work on it continuously until the moment you die. A human mind is something that forms in the human brain as that brain collects experience and acts on it. A person is nothing more than a a collection of memories. You are not born with a spirit or a soul or any of that metaphysical paraphernalia. It appears, from medical evidence, that the human mind begins to form about the end of the second trimester of pregnancy. This is not certain, probably not even provable, but we know that premature babies can grow up to be fully functional adults. There is nothing magical about this time, viable fetuses are being brought into the world earlier and earlier as medical science progresses. Prior to that time, the fetus is a biological organism, it has some interaction with its environment, and it does respond to stimuli, perhaps it even has a rudimentary memory. But it is not a human consciousness. Its comparable to a jellyfish. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I think not. Unless you convince me of the reality of the soul or spirit, I will never believe it. And souls and spirits are religious entities, not scientific or logical ones. They depend on what the people discussing them believe.
The development of a consciousness, of a mind, is a gradual thing, but we legally have to draw the line somewhere. I would suggest it should be drawn at birth, perhaps even a little later, but I suspect most people would recoil from that assessment. Most folks would not approve of outright infanticide. So perhaps the point of viability is more appropriate: the fetus becomes a human at the point where it can exist outside the body without medical intervention. There is some wiggle room here, others may prefer the point where the fetus can survive WITH medical support (certainly a moving target these days).
Although I have no doubt that most abortion opponents are sincere in their beliefs, I also am convinced there are extraneous, and even petty, cultural and social factors at work here as well, The very fact this issue has divided itself along contemporary ideological lines tells me this is not a religious debate, so it must be addressed politically. I can sympathize with those who feel abortion is murder, I feel just as strongly about slavery, although I can’t produce any scientific arguments against THAT either.
But as far as I’m concerned, if you are morally opposed to abortions, fine. No one is forcing you to have one. But don’t presume you have the right to impose your religious beliefs on anyone else.