An Overview of the Abortion Debate

Response by Quinn R.


Few moral issues have been as divisive and controversial in the American public sphere as the issue of abortion. The stakes are very high on both sides.

Broadly speaking, proponents of abortion, often dubbed “pro-choicers,” argue that abortion is a fundamental right, and that denying a woman access to abortion is an unjust and oppressive imposition on a woman’s freedom. Opponents of abortion, often dubbed “pro-lifers,” argue that abortion is impermissible because abortion violates the fundamental right to life of the unborn child.


Unfortunately, discussions and debates over this topic very often lead to high tempers, resentment, and unproductive conversations. Where should we begin when approaching this thorny topic?


I believe that the best place to begin is with the concept of “personhood."

By “personhood,” I mean a human being with a right to life. You might ask, “Why make this distinction?”


Science shows us very clearly that from the first moment of conception, a new member of the human species is formed, with its own unique set of DNA. Often times, the pro-lifer might think, “A-ha! The unborn have a right to life because they are members of the human species.” However, the fact that the unborn are members of the human species doesn’t really tell us anything about what the unborn actually are, and why they might be worth protecting. It would be like saying, “My pet can fly because it is a scarlet macaw.” While the pet in question might actually be a scarlet macaw, it would be more precise, and therefore more appropriate, to say: “My pet can fly because it has unclipped wings.” In the second statement, the claim “My pet can fly,” is properly explained by referring to the aspects of what my pet actually is that are relevant to its ability to fly.


Therefore, I ask those on both sides of the abortion debate to answer this question for themselves: “When does a human become a person?” In other words, what traits or characteristics must a person posses in order to have a right to life and why?


The way one answers this question is a strong indicator of whether one is ultimately pro-life or pro-choice. It becomes much harder, for instance, to argue that abortion is permissible in a situation in which unborn child is a person, and therefore has a right to life. It likewise becomes much harder to argue that abortion is impermissible in a situation in which with unborn child isn’t a person, and therefore has no right to life.


We at Life Source would love to hear your responses to the question of personhood. When does a human become a person and why? E-mail us at thelifesourceucla@gmail.com. Thank you!




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