Below is a world map denoting the national policies regarding elective abortion. As can be seen from the map, abortion on demand is mostly a condition predominant in Western, "first world" countries. From this perspective, restriction on abortion is seen to be weighted primarily toward Third World nations, in which religious or cultural traditions are rooted in pre-scientific or pre-modern viewpoints regarding the inviolability ("sacredness") of life, or in which women (as members of a class) have traditionally been relegated to an inferior position of authority or power.
Legend transcription Legal on request Legal for maternal life, health, mental health, rape, fetal defects, and/or socioeconomic factors Legal for or illegal with exception for maternal life, health, mental health, rape, and/or fetal defects Illegal with exception for maternal life, health, mental health and/or rape Illegal with exception for maternal life, health, and/or mental health Illegal with no exceptions
Abortion is not a new procedure, though its means and effectiveness remained primitive and dangerous right up until the 20th Century, when more scientific means of application were developed. Abortions, of a kind, were known to have been practiced since ancient times. With the arrival of safe and efficient abortion procedures, it has become more widespread, and has increasingly come under scrutiny. The public acknowledgment of the desirability of legal abortion has been gradually increasing over the last century. Attempts around the world to legalize the availability of abortion have come up against various religious and ethical barriers, based on concepts of the sacredness of life at conception--regarded as holy--or on suppression of a women's right to determine the outcomes of her own pregnancies.
The Catholic Church has traditionally lobbied against the practice of abortion, regarding conception as a holy event, not to be traduced by human intervention. If conception is a moment of divine grace, it's argued, then anyone who subscribes to this doctrine must accept that all abortions constitute an act of murder, and a sin against god.
Never having been much of a religious person myself--my parents forced me to attend the Presbyterian Church for four years, though they never attended any church, to my knowledge--the idea of all life being sacred and inviolable was never a concept I thought of except in purely profane, philosophical/ethical terms. I grew up during a period in which violent conflict, and the prosecution of "necessary wars" resulting in mass death(s), was regarded as a social and political good. Killing bad people, or people who fought for evil reasons, was a good thing. Evil was a real force in the world, and in order to defeat it, violence was occasionally the last resort in the eternal struggle between virtuous, and non-virtuous individuals or groups. There were those who might attempt to attach religious significance or meanings to such conflict, but these kinds of meanings were outmoded in the modern world. Death was a necessary consequence of the prosecution of moral righteousness, and could be shown to be a healthy process, on a case by case basis. Otherwise, terrible consequences would occur.
Despite attempts by religious zealots, or right-wing extremists, to convince me otherwise, I continue, in late middle-age, to regard the so-called "preciousness" of, or right to life as a morally indefensible absolute.
Much of the suffering in the world is a consequence not only of over-crowding and mindless increase, but of the conflicts which develop over the scarcity of resource or land. In the 19th Century, it was still possible to regard the earth almost as an infinite resource, in which mankind, no matter how fast it increased and spread, would never challenge natural limits. We now know, to our despair, how false that assumption was.
The raw value of life is roughly proportional to the likelihood of its prevalence. We think nothing of killing hundreds, thousands, even millions of animals at a time, our only probable remorse being that this may, precipitously or over time, end up driving a species into total extinction, its existence only a memory. Each year, millions of humankind worldwide die from hunger, disease, violent conflict. We think nothing of hearing, for instance, that a thousand people died miserably last week in Eastern Africa. Que sera, tough luck, we think to ourselves.
Yet we argue endlessly over the sacredness of fetuses. Fetuses, after all, are "innocent" and "helpless" victims. The propagation of life is indeed a miraculous process, designed by nature to perpetuate the descent of species over time. Like all animals, however, reproduction is designed to overcome the inherent moderation of numbers which limit all living things. If a species is to survive, its method of replication must be many times more efficient than mere maintenance, since the balance of available sustenance is never unlimited. The reason that all the living things now on the earth exist, is that their reproductive success overcame the challenges set before them. And that prevalence was also facilitated by adaptation, both genetic and circumstantial. In other words, our ability to reproduce, and to reproduce with alternative models, are what enabled us to survive.
But what happens when you begin to overcome natural limits through the artificial elimination of enemies--such as predators, disease--or by obtaining easy availability of food and materiel? You change the ground-rules of descent. Man's manipulation of the environment has meant that we've created an artificial condition in which the natural limits to our increase have been moderated. This has led to our current "population explosion." And this in turn has led to a whole host of new problems, few of which seem immediately soluble. Our science and technology has facilitated a rapid expansion, but has provided us with precious few ultimate answers about how we might prevent even these impressive parameters from curtailing our continued profligacy. We've postponed armageddon, but we can't delay it forever.
Unlike the rest of the natural kingdom, humans have large, complex brains. We can see and understand the consequences of our acts, and have some control over our destinies. We know from nature that life is only as precious as its possessors can make it. The substance and value of the individual may be paramount in ethical or political terms, but in the grand scheme of life on this planet, individuals are relatively trivial. Henry David Thoreau is often quoted as saying that he wished "to live deliberately"--that is, to live with purpose and direction, to a given end. Clearly, as members of a successful species, we no longer need to pretend that the mindless increase of our numbers, promoted through our sexual drives and moral concepts of our own sacred value, are sufficient as a guide to conduct. Man doesn't need to preserve the notion of sexual union as a sacred event leading to a holy, inviolable conception. That idea may have seemed viable once, when humankind was of manageable extent, and growth seemed like a natural good. But people are not ants.
First trimester abortions should remain an option available to all women. Men and women aren't just dumb animals. We can prevent conception, or we can terminate it, with equal rationality. It is not a devaluation of life to want to manage our numbers, either on the grand scale, or on the individual level. If we can, with good conscience, punish and kill each other as adults, then we have the moral authority to determine whether we shall, or shall not, add to our numbers.
I regard ethical arguments based on the presumed value of the immature fetus to be nonsensical. A "human" the size of a pea, or smaller, does not weigh on my conscience. In a theoretical sense, life begins at inception. But nature isn't interested in theories. It only demands, that as a species, we prevail. There really isn't much question about that, anymore. We need to "want" to bring life into being, into the fullness of potential and affection. Accidents and rapes and unwanted babies are not "acts of god." We have brains, if only we will use them.