The Semantics of Abortion

In case you haven’t noticed, high emotions are the normalcy when discussing the topic of abortion. Which side of the aisle you land on usually falls down to your perception of whose life is ultimately affected by the procedure. Before we can look at this question we must first understand the language used while discussing abortion. Many try to boil the argument down to when is the fetus considered life. Others have taken this sentiment further and prefer to debate when the fetus is considered a person.  The problem with these questions is that the former delves deep into language in which a scientific consensus of a definition does not exists. The latter delves into philosophy rather than science and good luck getting a consensus from a philosophical discussion.

Abortion has been around for millennia but I’d like to look at the progression from the start of our country to today. If we go back to the beginning of our country we see that this nation was founded on law and set up with an unprecedented structure.  Up until Roe v Wade, the common thought was that once the baby was in the time of quickening (the baby could move) then abortion was no longer legal. This was the law of Great Britain before the revolution and this was the law retained by our founders after we became a sovereign nation. This would indicate that as soon as it could be shown that life existed in the womb (quickening) then it was no longer legal to terminate the life.  Logically, I believe this is a sound approach. The fetus cannot be considered anything but human and once we determine this fetus is ‘life’ or ‘alive’ then we now have a human life. To abort at this point cannot be considered anything short of taking a human life. James Wilson (one of six who signed both the Constitution and Declaration) stated, “In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and in some cases, from every degree of danger.

With today’s technological advances I think we can make the case that, not only would the founders principals have differed, but even more recent rulings such as Roe v Wade would be very different. Roe v Wade changed the debate from that of the start of life to the viability of the fetus. In 1973 it was believed that a fetus could not be viable before 24 weeks of a pregnancy. With technology ever improving doctors now believe fetuses can be viable up to 22 weeks into the pregnancy. Other advances are claiming to be working on pushing that viability date to within 10 weeks of the pregnancy. This legal assertion only confuses the debate in my opinion because the needle is constantly shifting yet the Roe v Wade decision remains the same. Also viability is completely irrelevant IF we come to an agreement on whether or not the fetus is a human life. An elderly person on a breathing machine is no less of a human being than one breathing on his/her own.

I ask myself where has the responsibility gone from the individual in America? We have become so ingrained with instant gratification and a ‘greed is good’ mentality that ‘deserving’ has become more of a birthright rather than a plateau to reach. Just turn on the television and watch all of the advertisements telling you how much you deserve the brand new fill in the blank. The struggle is now a punishment of circumstance instead of a goal to overcome. Pride is focused on the ends instead of the means. Google ‘Impulse Society’ to find out we now have rehab centers for technology addicts. I do not want to assume any woman’s motive for abortion but I am not wrong by saying abortion can be an easy fix. Two studies from 1987 and 2004 from the Guttmacher Institute show that 69% and 73%, respectively, of women having abortions surveyed cited “can’t afford a baby right now” as a major reason for their decision.

There are many other topic points we could get into but personally, I feel like if society could come to an agreement on one of the two questions mentioned in the first paragraph then the argument would be put to rest. Since my view is that the latter question is a philosophical one and therefore a much more difficult question to approach. I feel the former question is where our energy should be focused.

When I first started to write this article, my initial thoughts were to look at all of the major arguments for and against abortion and basically weigh in with my opinions. After thinking deeper into the subject I came to the above conclusion of finding the right question to ask. I will not hide from the fact that I am pro-life and I believe that the life of the fetus begins at conception. Therefore abortion can’t be considered anything other than the murder of an innocent human being. I very much realize that the issue is much more complex than this. The semantics of ‘life’ or ‘person hood’ or ‘baby’ keep many arguing against a wall instead of seeking to understand each other.

I’ve been taught that with any big problem the best solution is take it and break it down into several smaller problems. Solve the smaller problems to solve the bigger problem. I see the abortion question as the big problem that everybody is trying to tackle. I think we can simplify the debate by coming to an agreement on what question to ask: It is illegal to unjustly and intentionally take a human life? The fetus cannot be anything but human. Therefore find the consensus on when the fetus is considered life and I think logic will dictate the rest on its own.


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