The abortion debate: viability of the foetus is irrelevant

It's astonishing that the politicians, assorted moralists, parsons and media gurus are once again rushing onto the airwaves to announce their support for a review of the current law on abortion, on the grounds that scientific advances enabling ever younger foetuses to survive outside the womb may require a reduction in the number of weeks of pregnancy during which abortion should be permitted.  For a lucid and persuasive demolition of this extraordinarily widespread misconception (no pun intended), you need to go no further than to this post on Owen's blog, including his answers to comments there.

It's especially desirable to expose, as Owen does, the hypocrisy of those (such as some Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'ConnorRoman Catholics and others whose views on this topic are religiously determined) who exploit the argument about viability in order to promote a reduction in the period of a pregnancy during which abortion is permitted, when their real intention is to whittle that period down to the point where abortion is never permitted at all.  Such people don't really believe in the argument from viability, not for the logical and ethical reasons set out by Owen, but because they are actually opposed to abortion at any stage, regardless of viability.  That is a perfectly tenable position to take, although for some of us, both religious and pagan, it entails some unsavoury and unacceptable consequences.  But those who hold that view should have the honesty to come clean with it, and not pretend to believe that viability is a valid criterion.


4 Responses

  1. Peter Harvey says:

    What should really be irrelevant is the idea of bishops formally advising a civil government on what to do.

    It did happen here under Franco. It does not happen here in democratic Spain.

    Brian adds:  I agree that the bishops should avoid the appearance of having any kind of formal advisory role vis-à-vis government — especially Roman Catholic bishops in the context of the debate on abortion; and that a prime minister, especially one widely believed to intend to convert to Rome as soon as he leaves office, should avoid the appearance of receiving formal or quasi-formal advice from bishops, especially Roman Catholic bishops.  Unfortunately the presence of Church of England bishops ex officio in the Upper House of our parliament gives an impression that they at least have an official role in matters of public morals and the law.  For the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, to agree to receive the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England to discuss abortion is in my view a serious misjudgement, setting a precedent she and other ministers will live to regret.

    I hope, and on the whole believe, that in practice ministers will go through the motions of hearing what bishops, RC and otherwise, have to say on this and other matters: but that they won't take any notice of them unless they manifestly reflect a significant section of public opinion. 

  2. David says:


    1. A baby becomes an independant human being when it is born.

    2. While a baby is in the womb, it is not an independant being.

    While in the womb it is an integral part of the mother, therefore it is part of her being; it is not an independant entity.  Therefore the mother has executive authority over the baby while it is in her womb.

    It is the mother’s human right to decide if her pregnancy should go the full term. When a child is born, then it has it’s own individual human rights.

    As for outside agencies, that is: government, health or religious authorities; they do not have rights over and above those of the mother.

    The Astrological traditions of all cultures and religions support this by default: the ‘Star Sign’ of an individual is always determined at the moment of birth, not at the moment of conception or during the course of gestation in the mother.

    Hence, governments do not have the right to determine the ‘legality’ of an abortion.  Nor do established religious bodies have any absolute right to determine the ‘right or wrong’ of abortion.

    Religious and governmental bodies may hold a position on the matter, which they may assert and promulgate, but that is all.

    The actual prerogative is that of the mother’s alone, and no one else.

    Certain conditions can of course be argued in relation to the jurisdiction of  external authorities. For example in cases of very young females who become pregnant and under what circumstances. Likewise for mature females who are made pregnant by rape.

    In sum: it is not for governements or religious authorities to determine the outright legality or illegality of abortion.

    David Proctor June 27 2006



  3. Owen Barder says:

    That’s the first time I’ve ever seen an argument for a woman’s right to choose based on astrology!

  1. 23 June, 2006

    […] All this really tells us that abortion raises a series of complex ethical debates in which, by and large, the public view is that its interests are best served by a reliance on medical evidence – the viability argument carries considerable weight in the public eye and, for those without strong moral/ethical views on the subject is perceived to be a valid position, albeit as both Owen (linked earlier) and Brian Barder note, its adoption by the pro-life lobby is entirely hypocritical – the best response to this new particular tactic, by the way, is to turn the moral/ethical argument on its head by questioning the pro-life as to the extent to which it would be prepared to accept medical intervention in pregnancy at ever earlier stages. How would, for example, this largely, if not entirely, religiously motivated lobby respond to Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ scenario in which conception and incubation to ‘birth’ takes place entirely outside the womb? One suspect, not very well, which is precisely why the question should be asked. […]