The internet is only rarely a conducive medium for rational, constructive debate. Free of the confines of normal behaviour, positions quickly become entrenched and participants rapidly become abusive. Even beyond this general condition, however, debating abortion on the internet is as close to a perfectly pointless pastime as it’s possible to get. Neither side is interested in hearing what the other has to say – neither side, in fact, appears capable of hearing what the other has to say.
Take, for instance, this post by Jack of Kent
. Now, David is a thoroughly sane, rational chap (albeit suffering from the usual attendant handicaps of a life in the legal profession). And accordingly his views on abortion are presented as simply a straightforward medical matter:
For me, it is a matter for the woman, and her doctors: a private surgical procedure which is none of your (or my) business.
To get this far, however, he has to resort to misrepresenting the basis of the debate:
On one side there is the autonomy of the individual (in this case a pregnant woman) competent to decide what should happen in respect of their own body; and on the other side are those who seem to resent and deny the competence of that person to make their own decisions.
And that's not it at all. On the one side there is the belief that the mother has the unchallengeable right to terminate her pregnancy; and on the other side there is the belief that the rights of the mother must be balanced by the rights of the subject of that pregnancy. By ignoring this point, David fails to address the underlying point of the abortion debate: just what is that thing in the womb?
If it’s a person, then it has rights, and the most basic human right of all is the right not to be killed. If it isn’t a person, then it has no such rights – but it must become a person at some point. When? First breath taken independently? If so, partial birth abortion must be fine, because that’s not a person you’re killing.
I’m a very long way from being a fundamentalist Christian (can you even be a fundamentalist Anglican?), but I have two small daughters, and I saw them wriggling on ultrasound scans at 6 months (the 24 weeks at which abortion is apparently an entirely private surgical matter concerning the mother's body and nothing else). They sucked their thumbs, kicked and generally behaved in much the same way as they did when they were newborns (except quieter, obviously).
This isn't (as I said above) an argument that tends to get anywhere. But an argument on abortion that doesn’t even consider this question is barely an argument at all.