I had a discussion about abortion with someone on Facebook. This person - who is an animal rights activist - asked whether 'a man should have a say if a woman wanted to kill their unborn child'.
I always try to engage in sensible debate so I said that he should have a say but the ultimate decision has to be the woman's. A lively discussion ensued. She then asked me if I thought a woman who has an abortion was a 'murderer'.
This was my reply:
"Human life starts as an embryo which may be expelled or resorbed without a woman even knowing it was there. An embryo may develop into a foetus which may naturally die and be expelled at any point in the pregnancy. A foetus may go full term and be stillborn. A foetus becomes viable in medical terms these days at around 24 weeks - assuming of course that its family has access to the sophisticated medical care that such a premature infant needs to survive. That sort of care is not available universally and a baby born that prematurely to a poor family or at a distance from advanced pre-term care, is highly unlikely to survive.
"Even if a child is born full term, if it is born into a poor family - especially in the less developed world - it may become one of the 3 million babies that are stillborn each year, or one of the 6 million children who die every year before the age of 5 - 45% of whom die in the first 28 days of life. It might end up being a slave or trafficked as a sex object or be killed in a drone strike or any of the many hideous fates that befall so many innocent little children.
"You might stop and consider, in the time it took you to write your question, how many hundreds of innocent children worldwide died from a myriad of mainly preventible causes - e.g. for want of clean water, basic medicines and food? How many women died in childbirth? How many women became pregnant who do not want a child because they simply don’t have the financial, emotional or physical resources to carry it and care for it? How many women became pregnant as a result of forced sex?
"As things stand in our society, the new human stops being a foetus and becomes a baby when it can live independently of its mother and in legal terms that is the point at which ending its life may be deemed to be murder - or infanticide or manslaughter or failing to provide the necessities of life …..depending on circumstance.
" Clearly a woman who has an abortion within legal limits is not a murderer but the sub-text of your question is whether a foetus should be seen as a human being with full legal rights from the point of conception and therefore the deliberate ending of its life be classified as murder - i.e. whether anti-abortionists are right in their attempts to turn back the clock to the time when women could not get safe, medically supervised abortions.
"I think anti-abortionists are wrong - in pretty much the same way as I thought the burning of witches and heretics was wrong.
"If they succeed - anti-abortionists will be responsible for killing many women and children because women will still try to terminate unwanted pregnancies as they always have done - and they will suffer and some will die as a consequence. You might also like to consider that the leading cause of infanticide is - as it always has been throughout human history - an unwanted pregnancy.
"The answer is safe, reliable, easily available contraception and education, full legal equality and full employment - and an end to religious fundamentalism, phallocracy and bigotry."
If you are wondering if my words had any effect on the woman - I doubt it. You can lead a dogmatist to the facts but you can't make them think.