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What is Abortion?

There is a perception by many, if not most, people that an abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. This is a misconception. Abortion is not the termination of a pregnancy. This is not a matter of splitting hairs. This is very important. When talking about as controversial a subject as abortion it is important that we are all talking about the same thing and that we are all clear as to what that is.

It is true that an abortion usually (but not always) results in the termination of a pregnancy, and that is usually the purpose for which the abortion is performed, but that is not what an abortion is, any more than tennis is enjoyment. Tennis may bring pleasure and enjoyment to the ones playing, and they may do it for the purpose of enjoyment, but tennis is not enjoyment, it is a sport. The means to an end is not the end in itself.

If abortion is the termination of a pregnancy then there has never been a pregnancy that has not been aborted! Every pregnancy is terminated, normally by the birth of a baby. Sometimes a pregnancy is, sadly, terminated by a miscarriage (a spontaneous abortion). Perhaps one could argue that if a woman dies before she is able to give birth then there has been no termination of the pregnancy. However, to argue that a woman who is dead is still pregnant seems disingenuous to me. And that really would be splitting hairs.

Nor is abortion the artificial or induced termination of a pregnancy, otherwise every C-section that is performed or labor that is artificially induced would be an abortion. Clearly there is no abortion if the purpose of the artificial termination is to result in the birth of a live baby. It is only an abortion if the purpose is to kill the developing human being. Indeed, if we opposed terminating a pregnancy we would then have to oppose the use of C-sections. It is not the termination of a pregnancy that we oppose; it is doing so in such a way as kills the developing human being.

Technology may eventually develop to the point that we can remove an embryo or fetus at any stage of development and keep it alive. If we could remove a fetus at, say, nine weeks gestation and keep it alive in an incubator until it could survive outside of the incubator, would we be performing an abortion by removing it? This would, essentially be an early C-section and would be no more an abortion than a C-section that is performed now at 32 weeks gestation. It is only an abortion if the purpose is to kill the developing child.

Also, it is possible to have an abortion without ending the pregnancy. These are referred to selective reduction (or multifetal pregnancy reduction) abortions. In a selective reduction abortion the doctor removes (and thereby kills) one or more embryos or fetuses the woman is carrying, leaving the remaining one or ones to develop and be born. Obviously the pregnancy has not been terminated by this kind of an abortion.

In other words, in an abortion, what is it that is being aborted? It is not the pregnancy that is being aborted; it is the life of the human being (or other organism) developing in the womb that is being aborted.

This is important because people do indeed think of abortion as the termination of a pregnancy. They think, She used to be pregnant and now she no longer is. They don't think about what took place in order for that to happen -- a human being had to be killed. Abortion is the means to an end. Abortion, that is, the aborting of the life of a human being, had to take place in order for the woman to achieve the end of not being pregnant. This is a clear case where the end does not justify the means.

Abortion is not the termination of a pregnancy, although that is usually the purpose for which they are performed. Abortion is the killing of the developing organism while still in the womb. We are not opposed to procedures that end pregnancies. We are opposed to procedures that kill human beings.


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