The Instigator
Pro (for)
The Contender
Con (against)

Abortion should be legal

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: Select Winner
Started: 5/1/2018 Category: Society
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 1,280 times Debate No: 113361
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (3)
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Pro has to defend abortion being legal for some period of time during pregnancy. Con has to defend bans on all abortion except in cases where abortion is required to save the parent's life and in cases of sexual assault.

First round is for acceptance. No new arguments in the final round.


I accept. Thanks to tejretics for the challenge.
Debate Round No. 1


== Intro ==

In this debate, I'll defend abortion being legal for some period in the pregnancy. This precludes Con from making arguments relating to abortion being immoral after a certain point in the pregnancy. The BoP in this debate is shared, both because of a lack of a clear status quo (though in most countries, abortion is legal) and because this is a normative resolution.

Con needs to argue that abortion should be illegal *throughout* the pregnancy, with the two exceptions listed in R1. Note that Con has to defend bans on abortion even in cases where it is required for good mental health of pregnant individuals, and in cases where, for instance, contraception fails or there's fetal impairment. I also have fiat over measures to make abortion more safe, accessible, and cheap, and I support measures to ensure that.

== My case ==

I'm going to advance three claims: (1) that pregnant individuals have a right to abortion, (2) that allowing abortion prevents dangerous back-alley abortions, and (3) that legalizing abortion reduces the numbers of unwanted children in society, which is a benefit. Each of these three contentions affirms the resolution independently; if I win even one of them, vote Pro.

(C1) Pregnant individuals have a right to abortion

A. Autonomy

Bans on abortion prevent pregnant individuals from exercising a choice in terms of what they are allowed to do with their bodies. Governments ought not prevent people from exercising choices unless there is direct harm to others. As John Stuart Mill explains, "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against [their] will, is to prevent harm to others." [1] If the state bans abortion, it prevents people from exercising free will.

Why should states follow this standard of respecting free choice? There's three reasons for this: (1) The state derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed. The harm principle acts as a mechanism to ensure that the state is protecting the will of its people. (2) The harm principle is the best utilitarian goal, because each individual is best placed to decide their own interests and to weigh their own pleasure and pain. Given that calculations of pleasure and pain are subjective, when these are felt by the same person, that person should be able to make these decisions. (3) Empirical evidence suggests that states with more political and social freedoms also have greater rates of human development. [2]

Now, Con might argue that abortion harms the fetus, and is therefore immoral. However, the fetus isn't conscious until 24 weeks of pregnancy. Consciousness only arises between the 25th and 30th week of pregnancy. [3] [4] Given that the fetus is not a conscious person, killing a fetus is akin to killing a plant -- a living being which cannot feel.

B. Self-defense

Pregnant individuals have a right to self-defense. People who are denied abortions face immense psychological harm. According to a University of San Francisco study, "women are much more emotionally stressed if they are denied an abortion initially than if they received one upon request." [5] A 2013 study by Roca, et al. concludes that "[c]ompared with women who obtained a near-limit abortion, those denied abortion felt more regret and anger, and less relief and happiness." [6]

This offers an independent reason to allow abortion. First, it means there's significant harm to people who are denied abortions. The state has an interest in preventing psychological harm to its citizens. Therefore, abortion should be legal. Second, it means people should have a right of self-defense, against psychological harm. If Con concedes that abortion should be legal to protect the lives of pregnant persons, then they concede that there's a balancing of rights here. Given that the fetus cannot feel mental states, the right of people to escape psychological harm and exercise their autonomy outweighs.

Conclusion: Given that the fetus is a non-conscious entity dependent on the parent for survival, banning abortion is an unjust restriction on the free will of individuals to control their bodies and to defend themselves against psychological harm.

(C2) Allowing abortion prevents back-alley abortions

A. Bans on abortion cause people to turn to harmful back-alley abortions

The alternative to legal abortion in licensed clinics is back-alley abortions. There's two warrants for this. First, on an analytical level, people continue to want abortions even when it's illegal. They're often in desperate positions which prevent them from having kids or are afraid of the emotional harm which will result. They also often don't have access to adoption, and don't want to carry the fetus to term. This means they're likely to turn to illegal means of abortion when they don't have access to safe, legal abortion.

Second, there's empirical evidence that proves this claim. Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times explains, "A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it. Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely." [7]

Indeed, back-alley abortion accounts for 13% of deaths due to pregnancy. [7] At least 22,800 women die each year from complications of unsafe abortion. [8] The reason these back-alley abortions are harmful is the lack of regulation and the lack of clinics to approach. Illegal clinics and pregnant individuals themselves (when self-aborting) tend to use brutal methods such as beating the abdomen hard, piercing the amniotic sac with a sharp object, and using poisons. [9] [10]

B. Legal abortion reduces back-alley abortion rates

There's two pieces of analytical justification for this. One, these unregulated clinics (as well as self-abortion) are illegal, meaning people are disincentivized from pursuing them, when there's access to legal clinics. Two, people recognize that a legal, regulated clinic is much safer. Together, this means that the existence of legal clinics takes down the business of unregulated abortion, due to a lack of demand.

This is also empirically true. For instance, in South Africa, after abortion was legalized, abortion-related maternal mortalities reduced by ninety-one percent. [11] This means that, in Con's world, abortion continues, and is far more dangerous. Vote Pro because legal abortion saves the lives of individuals.

(C3) Bans on abortion lead to more unwanted children

Banning abortion means there's a large number of unwanted children, insofar as some people still choose to not break the law and don't engage in abortion. Adoption isn't enough to give homes and families to these children. Randie Bencannan of Rewire explains, "Recent statistics show that approximately 14,000 newborns are adopted annually in the United States through voluntary placements, a number that has remained flat for about 20 years. Meanwhile, in 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed -- the lowest number in decades." [12]

These children experience massive challenges. In some cases, they're sent to a broken foster care system. Children in foster care are four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than other children. [13] Moreover, as Pam Fessler of the National Public Radio notes, "many former foster kids have a tough time out on their own. When they age out of the system, they're more likely than their peers to end up in jail, homeless or pregnant. They're also less likely to have a job or go to college." [14]

In other cases, they're retained by their families. In these cases, the children face significant problems. (1) They're more likely than other kids to die at an early age. According to one 2016 study in the US, "[S]tates with restrictive abortion policies increase IMR for black women by 2.214 infant deaths per 1,000 live births." [15] Another study in Finland found that children born due to denied abortions had an infant mortality rate of 24 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. [16] (2) They face economic and psychological disadvantages even in the long term. They perform worse in school, are more likely to face mental illnesses, and more likely to be poor. [16] (3) This hurts economic productivity. For instance, in Romania, "children born after the ban on abortions had worse educational and labor market achievements as adults . . . [and] crowding in schools, due to the large increase in fertility immediately following the abortion ban, lowered educational achievements of the cohorts affected." [17] There's even some evidence that legalizing abortion reduces crime rates, which, even if questionable, is disconcerting. [18]

More unwanted children hurts the parents. Parents who're denied abortions are more likely to face psychological problems, have worse relationships, and are twice as likely to face intimate partner violence. [19] Moreover, women who are denied the ability to abort are also adversely affected in terms of economic productivity. Indeed, "[w]omen who were denied an abortion are three times more likely to be unemployed than women who were able to access one." [20] People denied abortion are also four times more likely to be pushed below the poverty line. [21] Conclusion: Banning abortion causes parents to have unwanted children without access to adoption, significantly harming the future prospects of these children, throwing these parents into poverty and unemployment, and causing significant negative impacts to society.

For all the above reasons, vote Pro.



I concur with the observations of this debate that Pro mentioned, although I dispute the assertion that abortions are sometimes necessary for the mental well-being of pregnant individuals. I must also note that the resolution does not require me to defend its legality in the special circumstances Pro outlined; rather, I must defend bans only the cases that are pertinent to the resolution

=Con’s Case=

1. Abortion unjustly takes life

The central premise of my case is that abortions violate the right to live that Pro and I can agree exists to an extent. I aim to show that humanity extends to the unborn as well as the born, and that beyond the moment of conception, there is no valid criteria by which to dictate that the unborn is less human than those who are born. Thus follows my syllogism:

P1. Living humans are members of the human community.
P2. Living humans come into being at the moment of conception.
P3. It is prima facie morally wrong to end the life of an innocent member of the human community.
P4. Every successful abortions end the life of an innocent member of the human community.
C. Every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

The first premise is a given: certainly, if one is alive, they are an indisputable member of the human community regardless of whether or not they possess all the same characteristics as other members of that community do.

The second premise is one that is evident upon examination of a zygote’s nature: the first single cell, from the very initiation of existence, contains the full genetic blueprint that a human being will ever need. Their sex, hair and eye color, height, and skin tone are all immediately present in the genetic code. While the physical development of these characteristics occur later on, the complete instructions already exist.

The scientific consensus on this is sound. Found in Patten’s textbook, Human Embryology, we read: “It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual” [1][2]. In Encyclopedia Britannica, we find the following: “A new individual is created when the elements of a potent sperm merge with those of a fertile ovum, or egg” [1][3]. Internationally-acknowledged geneticists and biologists agree, such as Dr. Michelle M. Mathews-Rohs, from Harvard Medical School, asserting “It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive...It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception” [1]. Dr. Landrum Shettles, known as the “Father of In Vitro Fertilization, stated: “To deny a truth [about when life begins] should not be made a basis for legalizing abortion.” [1].

Simply put, there is no sound reason by which to assert that such an entity, with its own unique genetic code, does not meet the criteria of membership in the human community. The lack of physical development is clearly not a valid parameter, as development is a continuous process that doesn’t end until long after birth. Neither is the residence of a fetus -- the womb -- sufficient reason to see such an entity as having a lower status than of that which is outside it. A car is just as much a car whether or not it is inside a garage.

The third and fourth premises should follow intuitively: ending the life of a member of the human community prima facie, especially an unequivocally innocent one’s, is morally objectionable. From there we deduce that, because successful abortions do exactly this, they are prima facie just as morally objectionable as the homicide of a born person would be.

2. Psychological Damage

An oft-ignored consequence of abortion is the mental and emotional damage the women and their significant others bear. A study by the Iranian Journal of Psychiatry found that a significant portion women who underwent abortions suffered depression, had worries of not being able to conceive again, and abnormal eating behaviors. Additional psychological side effects were prevalent rates of decreased self-esteem, nightmare, guilt, and regret [4]. In Norway, a similar study was conducted, and the conclusion of higher depression rates concurred with that of the aforementioned one [5]. Women who had undergone abortions were also found to have “significantly higher” anxiety scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale than those of the general population [6].

Among Finnish women, those who had prior induced abortions were three times as likely as the general population to commit suicide [7]. 173,000 American women who aborted were 154% more likely to choose suicide than those who carried to term, according to a peer-reviewed study by the Southern Medical Journal [8].

By making available the option to abort, we subject women to a wide array of issues that can affect them long-term. This procedure also affects their partners: research shows that men can be just, if not more so, negatively affected by their significant other’s decision to undergo it [9].

=Pro’s Case=

I don’t have room to respond to all of Pro’s contentions, so I’ll address some here and reserve the right to address them all next round.

1. Right to abortion

a. Pro’s autonomy argument is *entirely* dependent on the premise that abortion is absolutely harmless. If we can buy that abortion poses any harm whatsoever, regardless of how great or small that harm is, then this point is completely null. My immoral argument does this and more.

b. The assertion that consciousness confers value is *completely* unfounded. A man in a coma is unconscious, yet Pro would have us believe that it is completely moral to end the life of an unconscious man. Pro needs to support this assertion before he can take it anywhere.

c. Being denied an abortion in a country where the procedure has very few restrictions is not the same as simply not having access in a country where access is limited. Of course disappointment will ensue when one is expecting to receive a service and unexpectedly gets denies; in the scenario in which abortions are generally illegal, this expectation disappointment would not exist.

d. Pro doesn’t prove (1) how “self-defense” is relevant to supposed psychological harms, or (2) that the state has an inherent interest in preventing psychological harms to its citizens. The state has interests, Pro doesn’t show why the state has this one or why it’s relevant to this argument.

e. Cross-apply my studies that show across-the-board harms to women and their partners as a result of obtaining abortions. Until Pro can show that an abortion ban would have quite the harms my studies showed (i.e. higher rates of suicide), his point doesn’t hold up.

2. Back-alley abortions

Pro’s arguments show correlation, not causation; they can only be seen as somewhat true for developing countries. Pregnant individuals there are generally not going to have as much access to well-trained physicians as people in developed countries will. Before Roe v. Wade in the United States, when abortion was banned, it was estimated that “90% of all illegal abortions are presently done by physicians” [10].

Ireland, despite its tight abortion restrictions, has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world [11]. Malta also has substantially tight restrictions, and their maternal mortality rate is lower than the US’s [11]. Poland’s maternal mortality rate actually dropped, from 13 per 100k people when abortion was legal in 1995, to 3 per 100k people in 2015, when it had been banned for some time [12].

This argument is merely just a developed country phenomenon. The NY Times article Pro cited admits that “The data also suggested that the best way to reduce abortion rates was not to make abortion illegal but to make contraception more widely available”. Even if we buy that legal abortions reduced the South African maternal mortality rate, this does, that wouldn’t have been the only, and arguably, it wouldn’t have been the best way to do it. We needn’t legalize procedures that end the lives of the innocent just to make the life-ending process less hazardous.

= Sources =

2. Human Embryology, 3rd ed. Bradley M. Patten, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1968), 43
3. Encyclopedia Britannica, "Pregnancy," page 968, 15th Edition. Chicago 1974
10. Mary Calderone, "Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem," in American Journal of Health 50 (July 1960):949.
Debate Round No. 2
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Debate Round No. 3
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Debate Round No. 4
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by tejretics 3 years ago
cool -- thanks.
Posted by Varrack 3 years ago
Posted by tejretics 3 years ago
Are you fine with me putting sources in an external link?
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