"I had an abortion when I was young," says actress Jameela Jamil, "and it was the best decision I have ever made. Both for me, and for the baby I didn't want, and wasn't ready for."
How could abortion be good for the baby? "So many children will end up in foster homes [if abortion is not legal]," Jamil explains. "So many lives ruined. So very cruel."
Most arguments for abortion either ignore or attempt to devalue the human being whose life abortion ends. This is different. Abortion, on this view, may actually serve the best interests of that human being.
Maybe the child will grow up to experience poverty, abuse, or neglect. Maybe the child has a disability or illness that will make life challenging. In such cases, the argument goes, abortion is an act of compassion—it is for the child's own good. It is tantamount to "mercy killing" or euthanasia.
This argument might make abortion seem more palatable, or even benevolent, but it's clearly mistaken. To see why, apply the same reasoning to human beings who are already born: May we kill (or legalize the killing of) toddlers because they might suffer in the future? No, we may not.
We don't kill toddlers whose parents have fallen into destitution. We don't kill toddlers who have abusive fathers. We don't kill toddlers from unfit homes who could find themselves placed in foster care. And we don't kill toddlers with conditions like Down syndrome or spina bifida.
These are, after all, human beings. Their lives are important and worthwhile. They have human rights that others ought to respect and society ought to protect. Of course, they might face immense challenges, but our response should be to try to correct or alleviate those difficulties—and to always seek that which is good for people.
Killing isn't good for people. As philosopher Christopher Kaczor explains: "Intentionally inflicting an actual, present, and greater harm, such as taking someone's life, cannot be justified in order to prevent possible, future, and lesser harms."
And so it is with abortion. If unborn children are valuable human beings who have human rights—like toddlers—then we shouldn't kill them because of their (possible future) difficulties either.
The mercy argument, then, fails to justify abortion. It also relies on false assumptions. It assumes that children born into less-than-ideal circumstances will experience great hardship, but that's frequently not the case. (Many abortion supporters made this assumption when they argued that legalizing abortion would reduce the incidence of child abuse. Child abuse actually increased substantially following legalization in the United States.)
The mercy argument also seems to assume that such children would not want to live if they did, in fact, grow up to face serious hardship. That's both condescending and nearly always wrong. As Monica Snyder writes, "Those advocating for abortion as mercy rarely seem interested in the voices they are allegedly advocating on behalf of—the very people who have grown up in foster care or lived with disabilities or poverty."
Do most people in the foster care system want to live rather than die? Absolutely. Do most people who experience domestic abuse value their own existence? Of course they do. Are most people with Down syndrome happy? Yes, they are.
The argument that abortion is merciful isn't just mistaken. It's hopeless. It supposes that circumstances can't be overcome and that death is best when life is hard.
Every day, millions of people, in every corner of the world, prove just how wrong that thinking is.
This article appears in the July 2019 issue of NRL News.