Abortion Has No Moral High Ground
June 26, 2015 was a historic moment. That was the day the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage on a federal level in the United States. As far as I'm concerned, this victory was the inevitable result of a point of view that relied entirely on logical fallacies and irrational hatred. Yet, it was a battle that was fought for centuries, and continues on, as obstinate conservatives vow to continue fighting to the bitter end. The fact that gay rights was ever a political issue will be considered barbaric by future civilizations, because being gay is inherently harmless, and attempting to control who people are allowed to love is an egregious violation of individual rights.
It was this innate emotional connection that won the battle. Every human being on this planet can empathize with the desire to love freely. We were united in our desire for love to win, just like it does in all of our fairy tales.
Abortion, on the other hand, is likely to remain an issue for hundreds of years. I'm not sure if it will ever be put to rest until we invent technology that renders the entire debate irrelevant. The problem is that, with abortion, there is no moral high ground. This is because, under all circumstances, abortion leaves us with two choices: we can pick an arbitrary point in time where a fetus suddenly has rights, or we will be forced to violate someone's rights no matter what option we choose.
First, let me clarify why we cannot base the point at which a fetus suddenly gains rights on any meaningful science: babies do not have on switches. Conciousness is an emergent phenomenon, and we have known for years that animals have some degree of awareness. They have a consciousness much like we do, but operating on a lower level (in some cases, it may simply be on a different level). Babies can't even pass the mirror test until they're about 18 months old. Because of this, we will be forced to pick some completely arbitrary point in time at which the baby suddenly gains rights, if we want to avoid violating those rights.
Now, if we don't do that (and I find it incredibly hard to believe that we will, given the number of people who think that a fertilized egg has human rights), we have two choices:
- We forbid abortion, violating both the mother's right to her own body and her right to live (0.019% of pregnancies are fatal).
- We allow abortion, violating the baby's right to live.
There is no way out of this. We cannot use logic to pick a point in time where the baby suddenly gains rights because it will inherently be arbitrary. We'd basically have to say “Well, if you're 80% human, we'll give you rights, because, well, 80% sounds like a good number.” No matter how much reasoning we have behind that number, it's still fundamentally arbitrary and therefore it will always be a valid argument to say it is morally wrong. This means we are forced to violate someone's rights no matter what we do. Some people think the baby is more important. Some people think the women is more important. Some people think whose important depends on how far along the baby is. There is no nice, clean solution to this. We have to screw somebody over no matter what we do.
My personal view, which is that we should allow abortions only in the first trimester, is not born out of some moral argument. It is simple engineering pragmatism: it is the least objectionable and most practical solution that I can come up with. I am forced to fall back to my engineering background for this problem because there is no valid moral solution. If someone asks me why I think it's okay that we're killing a fetus, I would say that it's not okay. However, it's also not okay to deny a women the right to her own body. It's not okay to allow unwanted pregnancies to result in unwanted children that get left in orphanages. It's not fair that the hypothetical wanted child that could have been born later will now never be born. No part of this situation is ever okay, on either side of the debate.
If we want to resolve the debate, society as a whole simply has to try and figure out how to minimize the damage. That is all we can do. There is no right answer. There are only wrong answers, and we have to pick the least wrong one.