Could This One Question End The Abortion Debate?

2 September 2019

3.9 MINS

Could one simple question end the abortion debate?

Could this question bring clarity and agreement, no matter which side of the fence you’re on?

It might seem unlikely, but I think it could.

And it would do this by shifting the abortion narrative – the story that so much of our culture believes about abortion.

Ultrasound picture of my son Xavier at 12 weeks

The Current Abortion Narrative

TV host Rachel Corbett summed up the popular (pro-choice) narrative on Channel 10’s ‘The Sunday Project‘, when she said:

But I just can’t get my head around the argument that if I was in a position where I had to have an abortion – potentially I was in an abusive relationship… there’s a million reasons, but they’re my reasons. I don’t understand how anybody can think it’s OK to say to me ‘I know better about what you need in your life than you’.

In other words, the current narrative is around women’s reproductive rights. Many on the pro-choice side – are now adamant that abortion is merely a woman’s healthcare choice, and thus a basic human right for all women – including third trimester abortions. (This includes the main contenders for the Democratic nomination for US President).

Movements like #ShoutYourAbortion are angrily pushing back against any restrictions on abortion:

In this narrative, it’s all about a woman’s right to control her own body as she sees fit.

Thus having an abortion is no more morally significant than having a tumor cut out.

And yet, despite the pro-choice side painting abortion as nothing more than a morally neutral medical procedure, there is so much pain around it.

Many women feel guilty for having had abortions – or having been pressured into aborting their baby. (If by chance that’s you, then can I encourage you to read Claire Smith’s article on finding true forgiveness in Jesus Christ after abortion).

Let us now see out how one simple question could shift and clarify the abortion debate.

1) The Question That Clarifies The Abortion Debate

‘Is The Fetus a Human Person?’

Is the Fetus a human person? Are unborn babies human beings?

That’s the question that can bring clarity to the abortion debate.

If we ask this question first before discussing any other issue about abortion, then we’ll be able to make sense of this painful issue.

The abortion debate in the NSW Parliament has been driven by people who don’t want to face this question – at least not with the attention it deserves. MP Alex Greenwich introduced the bill, and has ignored the question by saying abortion is ‘nothing more than a ‘healthcare issue’ between a woman and her doctor:

But if we were to ask the simple question of ‘Is the fetus a human person?’, where would it lead us in the abortion debate?

2) The Fetus is a ‘Human’

Bioethicist Dr Megan Best points out:

In public debate, no educated person questions the humanity of the human embryo anymore…

Thus according to modern science, a fetus from its earliest conception has three key characteristics:
It’s Distinct: It has separate DNA from its mother (and sometimes a different blood type and gender).
It’s Living: Dead things don’t grow, but a fetus does.
It’s a Whole Human Being: It’s the ‘product’ of two human beings. [1]

Accepting that the fetus is a distinct, living, whole human being might sound like enough to clinch the argument, but in today’s secular world, it’s not enough. There’s another question that needs answering:

3) The Fetus is a Human Person

(And thus deserving of human rights).

While it is widely accepted that the fetus is a ‘human’, Dr Megan Best points out that:

The argument now focuses on when the embryonic human deserves protection.

Thus, a standard often brought out by less radical pro-choice people is that abortion should be legal up until the point of viability (often defined as the point at which a fetus could survive outside the womb with help from medical technology).

Now a fetus up to 22 weeks cannot (currently) survive outside of the womb, no matter how much medical intervention is given.

And so, the argument goes, abortions should be unrestricted up to 22 weeks (which is what the new NSW Abortion Bill allows for).

But there a number of problems with this view of ‘viability’:

Says who?

Who says that ‘viability’ is the standard that should determine the moral status of an unborn baby? Does such a standard even exist? As ethicist Scott Rae points out, any attempt to discern the point at which the fetus as a living human being becomes the fetus as a person is highly arbitrary.

In other words, it’s a made-up standard, with no moral authority whatsoever.

The Problem of Inconsistency

If ‘viability’ becomes that standard for determining when a fetus becomes a human person with all the rights and dignity pertaining thereto, then what about other human beings that are unviable on their own?

What about people hooked up to machines in ICU wards, or dialysis machines, or on oxygen? And what about newborn babies? They’re not ‘viable’ in any meaningful sense – they need intense and constant care if they’re to survive a few hours, let alone their infancy.

And if ‘viability’ is the determining factor for someone to be considered a human person, what happens to the rights of those that are ‘unviable’ according to this (arbitrary) standard?


Originally published at

[Photo by The Honest Company on Unsplash]

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