[Debate] Abortion: Human Right or Human Rights Violation?

We’ve uploaded video from Monday’s debate between Stephanie Gray and Donald Ainslie.

Unlike Stephanie’s opponent at Dalhousie, Ainslie did not argue in favour of infanticide, and in fact argued against the notion that abortion should be a morally trivial matter. Professor Ainslie affirmed that, from the point of conception onwards, there are deep moral issues at stake.

He said in his opening statement:

We think of people as one of a kind, as irreplaceable. When an egg is fertilized there is a biological creature that’s one of a kind; there won’t be another one of those. And so the loss of that person, either spontaneously or… in an abortion, makes the world somewhat less. That’s one thing that the world doesn’t have anymore. . . . [it’s] the loss of something with intrinsic value, something that’s irreplaceable, something that won’t be around again.

But Ainslie’s main argument was that, although the moral status of the pre-born is not insignificant, the pre-born doesn’t have the same moral status as you or I until some undefined later point in pregnancy (between conception and birth, which he labelled as two extreme lines to draw). Therefore, he argued that abortion is justified in some circumstances, that all abortion is morally significant but not inherently wrong. He argued that, though the pre-born has intrinsic value, that value might be outweighed by other considerations which justify abortion. Further, he argued that though there may be moral questions involved, the legal questions are separate, and since reasonable people could disagree on the moral question, abortion should be legal. In essence, he affirmed the intrinsic value of the pre-born, but put it on a sliding scale of lesser significance than the intrinsic value of you or I until some undefined point between conception and birth, of a lesser moral status meaning that some abortions are justified and that the law should leave the possibility of abortion open.

In one sense, Ainslie’s argument was weak insofar as he purposefully avoided making any claim of where or why or how the pre-born child would attain a greater moral significance at some arbitrary part along the human continuum of development between conception and birth. This is a classic case for the SLED argument.

But in another sense, I believe his argument is challenging because — despite avoiding the question of why size or level of development (essentially, our age) should determine our value — many people simply agree with this type of argument. They often can’t articulate a reason for it, but they’ll deny that abortion is inherently wrong in the first trimester while being uncomfortable or opposed to it later on, because they believe there is a greater moral significance as the pre-born child gets older.

To respond, I think we must highlight the fact that our age does not increase our value or our moral significance, and make the pre-born child more and more visible, using images of prenatal development that bring to light the undeniable humanity and intrinsic value of the youngest human beings, and images of first trimester abortions that bring into the light the horrible injustice and violence of abortion even at an early stage.

Well, that’s my take. Watch the debate for yourself on YouTube in two parts (an hour each):

Blaise Alleyne is the Education Coordinator of UTSFL. He has been a member of the club since 2005, serving previously as Technology Officer. Blaise has completed a B. Sc. in Computer Science, English and Philosophy, and is currently a part-time graduate student at Regis College. Blaise's posts on this website are available under a libre Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

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2 comments on “[Debate] Abortion: Human Right or Human Rights Violation?
  1. Pro Choice says:

    Abortion is a CHOICE. It isn’t wrong, just as it isn’t right. It’s simply a CHOICE that all women should be allowed to make. As well, euthanasia should be a CHOICE. The right to “life” also includes the right to end life. End of story.

    This entire group is pitiful.

    • You can do better than that. Some choices are wrong. For example, if a high level executive chooses to steal money from shareholders or lie to the government, that would be wrong. If someone choose to swing their arm through the air, that choice might be okay — until they hit someone else’s face.

      What kind of choice is abortion? Why do think that dismembering, decapitating and disemboweling a pre-born human being is neither right nor wrong? Simply saying it’s a “choice” is a meaningless observation — a choice can be neutral, like a choice between red and blue, but a choice can also be right and wrong.

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