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The Illogicality Of Being Pro-Life While Favouring Exceptions For Abortion

As WorldByStorm notes there are some surprising results from last weekend’s Irish Times poll on abortion (yes, yet another one).

A clear majority of Irish voters are against abortion on request, according to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll. When asked if abortion should be legal in all circumstances, only 23 per cent agreed it should, with 67 per cent against…

Those interviewed were also firmly in favour of making abortion legal in Ireland where a pregnancy has been the result of rape (76 per cent agreement) and when there is a serious risk to the mental health of the woman (72 per cent agreement). The majority view (67 per cent agreement) was that abortion should also be legal if the unborn child has a foetal abnormality that is likely to cause death before or shortly after birth.

I must admit to being puzzled by the responses in the polling. However much I may disagree with the arguments of the anti-choice camp I do appreciate their internal logic. If one truly believes that life starts at the moment of conception, when sperm meets egg or shortly thereafter, then of course any deliberate termination of this post-fertilisation process would be abhorrent. I can even stretch that to encompass those who suggest that abortion is permissible in cases where the resultant fetus is non-viable, or certain to be loss through miscarriage or similar (though, of course, how can one be sure of this?). An intervention in a situation of near certitude could be argued on ethical grounds, with due recognition for the medical and physical needs of the mother and the unborn.

However things become more tricky when it comes to questions of embryos at serious risk of physical or mental disability. Or more dramatically, conceived through rape or inappropriate sexual relations (underage sex between minors, a statutory offence of course, or more shockingly, incest). That is when the moral quagmire really deepens and when a sort of conservative pro-choice consensus emerges. It is noteworthy that most rational anti-abortion campaigners will compromise around theses difficult questions. In the United States, and lately in Ireland, it has become the norm for politicians and journalist-activists on the right to state: I am totally against abortion; except in cases of fetal abnormality, health threats to the mother, rape or incest.

The Irish Time survey seems to indicate that this semi-anti-abortion sentiment is relatively widespread among the general public. Personally, I find the dual thinking both inconsistent and illogical. If one can admit the necessity or acceptability of terminations in several sets of circumstances then why not all? What, if one takes a moral or religious-based approach to abortion, is the difference between an unwanted child conceived through non-consensual sex and an unwanted child conceived through a lack of contraceptive care or an accident during consensual sex? If one is a pro-life Christian or other person of faith, how does one condemn the “unborn” as inherently unfit for life if brought into existence through a forcible or violent action? Is the “sin” then shared by the product of the sin?

As I said, I’m pro-choice and without restriction once an agreed set of reasonable regulations have been put in place (itself not without controversy). In that sense, I suppose, I am a mirror of the rigidly pro-life camp. It is the middle grounders, those who are pro-life except in circumstances of x, y and z, who puzzle me. Their criteria carry with them a certain, and I’m genuinely not sure if I’m articulating my thoughts clearly here, classist overtone. I suppose I find it odd that people, when given a choice in a poll, would agree that a woman or girl who has been raped should be able to avail of a termination, but a woman in poverty, however abject, must perforce go through with the pregnancy. Even if she will raise that unwanted offspring in the poverty she herself has experienced or worse?

Then, but of course, I could get into the question of a society believing it has a communal say over the physical rights of others, though I dealt with that before. If only we were as determined to control the scourge of socio-economic inequality as we are to control the reproductive organs of our female citizens?



8 comments on “The Illogicality Of Being Pro-Life While Favouring Exceptions For Abortion

  1. Gura maith agat. Is minic a bhuail na smaointe sin liomsa chomh maith.

    I am sometimes amazed that this argument is always focussed on the mother – the woman who is carrying what I believe is a real growing human being. Of course some in those who are classified as “pro-life” appear to focus only on the defenseless one growing in her womb and the mother’s anguish leaves them cold. I don’t think that we ever read anything about controlling the male reproductive organ which is surely an essential part of this “triumvirate.” We forget that no matter what the circumstances of human generation there are in fact three human lives involved.

    I also think that we should before talking about abortion we should define what we mean.

    What IS abortion?

    I am not all convinced that all cases regarded as abortion by Irish Law are in fact abortion. I believe that abortion is the willful destruction of the embryonic life (at any stage) in the womb nothing more nothing less. Am I wrong?


    • Thanks for the comment, Eoin. I agree with some of that. As I have stated here a few times, the answer to abortion is sex education, contraception, sex education, contraception, sex education, contraception. If the pro-life lobby actively campaigned for young people to be made aware of the benefits and necessity of safe sex, and that does not discount restraint or a degree of abstinence, then I would have more sympathy for its argument. Likewise if the pro-life lobby campaigned vociferously for decent child care, so that women (and families) who continue with unwanted/unexpected pregnancies could be sure of the support of comprehensive public services, then it would weigh heavily in the favour of the anti-abortion campaign.

      I would still disagree with it but at least it would have an extra moral or ethical component to it, one that I could debate with.

      Yep, men escape their responsibility an awful lot in this argument. Which is why it comes back to sex education, affordable and readily available contraception, good child- and family-orientated public services, and chasing down errant fathers to pay towards the upkeep of their own children (or helping financially those who strive to do so).

      On the last question. When does an embryo become an embryo? Is the morning-after pill, or similar abortifacients, the same as an abortion?

      As I said, I’m pro-choice but I don’t discount out of hand the pro-life logic.


  2. The most important part of sex education (and the most difficult) and that is the respect for each other (by both sexes) which engenders self control – I think that it is sometimes called love and in that atmosphere children are the expressions of that shared love. If that is exercised than the question of both contraception and abortion are redundant. But we all love the idea floated by St Thomas More of Utopia….

    I dislike both terms used in this debate, I am not overtly “anti-choice” – everyone has free will – nor do I believe that those who disagree with my point of view are overtly “anti-life!” I think that we all make poor choices and most of us love life. (Labels are so limiting – Are you liberal? Am I conservative?)

    The real problem is perhaps not so much a question of choices and life but the age-old question of power using law – and each side of an argument can be (are?) equally culpable!

    It says much that I am usually very tentative about expressing my views – especially on social media – because of the abuse it engenders. I usually express my view on my blog (An Codú) and rarely if ever respond to comments. I thank you for being respectful in your article and in your response to me. I do appreciate that. Gura maith agat!


    • Yes, I agree that sex education should carry with it a strong emphasis on relationships and so on. However, human beings have been doing what human beings have been doing since we descended from the trees, so we have to deal with that. Indeed, and maybe I’m not the best moral arbiter here, I’m not sure that a wee bit of cautious licentiousness among young adults is a bad thing. The whole sowing your wild oats argument has some validity to it. Perhaps one has to go through multiple partners, or relationships, to arrive at the one that works?

      Then again, I’m a perpetual bachelor so what do I know? 😉

      On the terminology of the debate, yes, I have struggled with the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” descriptions. I have tried alternative ones in the past but it has obscured or confused the arguments being made. The most popular terms remain the most recognisable and understood.

      I’m always hesitant about discussing the issue of abortion. Firstly I worry that I come across as too glib or dismissive of pro-life arguments. It’s easily done, even when it is not your intent. Which is probably why I tend to ramble on a bit.

      Secondly, the reaction can be pretty OTT. Usually nasty messages or emails from those holding opposite views. That doesn’t bother me (I’m used to it by now on a whole range of issues).

      But there is a selfish thing on my part. Every article on abortion loses readers, and followers on Facebook, Twitter, etc. There is a notable downturn in visitors and interactions in the week or two after something is published on this subject. Obviously, as a publisher/blogger, I don’t like seeing that. But it has to be balanced against my own beliefs and the “editorial” position the website takes. So…

      Thanks for the kind words. I try.


  3. I happen to agree that it is illogical to oppose abortion in some cases but not others – though I still think it’s morally preferable to supporting abortion on demand. However one can turn this argument around: If abortion is not wrong, then why is killing a newly born infant wrong – or a child of two – or anyone else that we find inconvenient? These questions are no longer hypothetical abstract philosophical quandaries, since the idea that killing those outside the womb can be justified in certain cases is now quite mainstream among modern bioethicists, e.g. Peter Singer, and infanticide is apparently already being legally practiced in some countries, e.g. the Netherlands. A few years ago on the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Moral Maze, I heard a radical feminist strongly defend a woman’s right to kill her offspring inside OR outside the womb, regardless of age. Even if one embraces modern identity politics (which I certainly don’t) this seems rather illogical (to put it very mildly), since the child killed is as likely to be female as male.


  4. Both slogans are probably open to question and may not fit perfectly.

    there was no great marches against the mother and baby homes or political battle. They were made obsolete by changing circumstances. The lifting of restrictions of womens right to work and social support for single parents OPF payments and social housing.

    Social housing is on the way to becoming a thing of the past, OPF under joan burton is covered up to the child reaching the age of 7. Then a new payment half way between OPF and job seekers kicks in. A gambler would get easy odds to guess the way that is going.

    Where once upon a time it was normal to raise a large family on one wage. A small family on two wages would now be prohibitive.

    If choice is to have an abortion to avoid poverty then it is not much of a choice.

    While england is on the same trajectory as ourselves in terms of dismantling the welfare state we are approaching a situation were abortion will most likely be legalized in this state in different circumstances to when it happened in england. Choice in england covered the option to raise the child with support on one end to an abortion on the other end. There are options it was a broad interpretation of choice. Abortion or starve isn’t much of a choice.


  5. societyforthepresivationofirishaccents

    A country of high pitched middle class accented children is the consequence of that marie stopes poor people breading is reckless thinking.


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