Aborting a Red Herring

I am unabashedly and (almost) uncompromisingly opposed to abortion. I believe that to abort a pregnancy is to murder an individual human being who is guilty of nothing more than mere existence. The one exception to absolute opposition to abortion is that I believe in a situation where a mother’s life is threatened by continued pregnancy or childbirth, she should be able to choose whether to save the child’s life or her own.

As a law student, I naturally enjoy argumentation. I often engage in debates on this issue with some of my pro-abortion peers, and I always concede that there should be a “life of the mother” exception. But some of the people with whom I often debate have brought up a counter-argument which I consider to be nonsensical. The reasoning runs as follows:

P1. A woman should have the choice to abort if her life is threatened by her pregnancy.

P2. Pregnancy causes many women to experience emotional trauma, especially if the woman does not want to be pregnant.

P3. Emotional trauma has the potential to lead to suicide.

P4. Emotional trauma caused by pregnancy is a threat to the life of the mother.

C. A woman who does not want to be pregnant should be able to abort because the emotional trauma caused by her pregnancy is a threat to her life.

My support for a “life of the mother” exception is based on a theory of self-defense. Because the right to life is inherent in all human beings, a person whose life is threatened has the right to defend that life, even if defense means taking the life of another who is creating the threat. The person who creates the threat need not be morally culpable for creating it. For example, imagine a person is hanging on to a rope dangling over a cliff. If he lets go of the rope or the rope breaks, he will fall to his death. Unfortunately the rope is somehow wrapped around the neck of another person atop the cliff, and the weight of the hanging man is suffocating him. The hanging man did not intend for this to happen. He tripped on a rock and fell off the cliff, quickly grabbing onto the rope to save himself. The hanging man is attempting to climb up the rope to safety. All things being equal, the hanging man has no duty to let go of the rope and fall to his death in order to save the choking man (assuming he is even aware that the other man is in danger). Similarly, the choking man will not be morally culpable if he cuts the rope to save himself, thus causing the hanging man to fall and die.

For either of the two men in that scenario, there is an immediate and physical threat. This is not the case in the instance of a person suffering from emotional trauma. This can be most clearly demonstrated through another example. Suppose there is a woman riding in a crowded subway car on her way home from work. She has a petrifying fear of bearded men, and genuinely feels that her life is in danger when she is near one. It so happens that in the city where she lives and works, beards are exceedingly rare. However on this particular day, a bearded man enters the subway car just before it departs from its current station, giving the woman no time to leave.

The only open spot on the car happens to be right next to the woman, so that is where the man stands. There is nothing particularly sinister about this man, and he has no ill intent. He, like the woman, is on his way home from work. He stands next to her scrolling through a news app on his phone, minding his own business. He does not notice that the woman is clearly disturbed by his presence. Suddenly, the train stops. An intercom voice informs the passengers that there is an obstruction on the tracks, and that the train may be stuck for some time. The passengers are not able to exit, however, because they are at present on a bridge with no standing room outside the train. The man is annoyed by this delay, and begins to compose a text message to his roommates that he will be home late. The woman is beside herself. She is in a state of extreme distress, and believes that to save herself from this man she must either kill him or jump out of the train to her death.

To begin with, the choice that the woman has decided she must make is not rational. There is not in fact any reason why she must limit herself to ending either her own life or the life of another. But for the sake of entertaining the argument, assume that she chooses to preserve herself and kills the man. Should she be acquitted for that murder because she believes that she acted in self-defense?

Of course, the answer is no. The man in the example, like the unborn child in the pro-abortion argument, has done nothing to physically endanger the woman. He is guilty of nothing more than simply existing, and being emotionally distraught at the thought of someone’s existence does not create a right to end that person’s life. But according to the reasoning of the pro-abortionist, her only alternative is to kill herself. This is of course not a rational decision, but the necessary result of her extreme emotional distress. The reason this argument fails miserably because it assumes that if the woman is foreclosed from killing the bearded man (or unborn infant), then there is no way to prevent her suicidal thoughts from overcoming her. So the only way to preserve her life is to allow her to kill the other.

It is clear that this line of reasoning is absurd. It only comes close to making sense if the person expressing the argument denies that aborting a pregnancy is taking a life. But this totally begs the question underlying the entire field of debate. If an unborn child is a living human being, then his or her death cannot be justified by the preservation of another person’s emotional wellbeing. If an unborn fetus is not a living human being (and I have yet to hear a single principled argument that that is the case), then it doesn’t matter in the least whether or why a woman chooses to abort. Don’t be fooled by this type of question-dodging from pro-abortionists. Fight for life.