Why Abortion is Synonymous with Homicide

Tue, 2 Aug 2011 Source: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power)

The ethicality or otherwise of abortion has been one of the most difficult and fiercely debated moral issues since the last four decades. The abortion debate apparently reached its crucial stage in 1973 when following a marathon legal battle between Jane Roe and the Dallas County District Attorney, Henry Wade, (Roe v Wade), the US Supreme Court ruled that women have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies; and that fetuses also have rights, but only after the pregnancy has progressed to the point where the fetus can be viewed as an independent person. In medical terms, this is defined as the viability threshold or the point at which a fetus can survive outside of the womb, which I understand is currently 24 weeks.

Debates about abortion are usually embarked on from a political cum legislative and religious cum theological perspectives. In fact those whose approach to this ethical question is heavily informed by their religious beliefs and doctrines have been accused of making their religious values the determining factor in this delicate debate and trying to make it the basis for laws that apply to all people. Approaching this question on this occasion from a biological, natural law and logical angles, this three-part series article argues that human life commences from the very day of fertilization, and that deliberately terminating a human entity at any stage of its development or growth (i.e. from conception to adulthood) is plain murder, and should thus be discouraged in human society.

The Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia defines abortion as the ‘expulsion of a fetus from the uterus before it can survive on its own.’ This definition seems to view induced termination of a pregnancy as unethical or homicide only when the entity in the womb has reached a point at which it can live outside of the womb. The renowned Italian ethicist and bioethicist, Giacomo Perico, however has a contrary opinion. He defines abortion in these Italian words: ‘Per aborto s’intende una azione intenzionalmente programmata e realizzata per provocare come mezzo o come fine l’interruzione della gravidanza di una donna.’ That is to say: abortion refers to an action deliberately programmed and realized to provoke as means or an end the interuption of the pregnancy of a woman (translation mine).

In brief, abortion is the termination of a pregnancy (which is the process of human gestation that occurs in the female body as a fetus develops from fertilization, through the embryonic stage, to birth) by the deliberate removal or expulsion of a zygote, an embryo or a fetus from the uterus, resulting in its death. People are advised not to confuse abortion with miscarriage; the former refers to the induced termination of a pregnancy, the latter on the other hand, is the spontaneous termination of a pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the number of abortions carried out each year is escalating beyond imagination, as the practice is legalized in many states or countries. Singh S et al reveal that in 2008 alone, approximately 41 million abortions were carried out worldwide. This means that one in five pregnancies worldwide end in abortion. Sedgh G et al however make the shocking revelation that there are more abortions than births in some places like Eastern Europe (105 abortions for every 100 births). It is also established that of the over 41 million abortions carried out in 2003, close to 6 million occurred in Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.2 million unsafe abortions are conducted every year in “the dark continent”, representing one abortion for seven live births. It defines unsafe abortion as a procedure for terminating a pregnancy carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both. It is estimated that unsafe abortion accounts for about 13 per cent maternal mortality every year globally, and the highest number occurs in Africa due to the generally strict abortion laws.

Some of the common abortion techniques are: the use of RU-486 or mifepristone and other abortifacient drugs/devices, vacuum aspiration, dilation and suction curettage (D&C), dilation and evacuation (D&E), use of prostaglandins, saline amniocentesis or salt poisoning (common in the70s and 80s), hysterectomy (surgical removal of the contents of the uterus), and partial birth abortion or brain suck. In Africa where abortion is largely illegal, ingesting poisonous substances or inserting tools into the uterus are common abortion methods. This probably explains why Africa has the highest percentage of maternal deaths resulting from abortion.

The negative consequences of abortion are innumerable; and it is estimated that five million women are hospitalized each year worldwide for treatment of abortion-related complications. The following are some of the common unpleasant effects of abortion: tearing of the uterus; haemorrhage (severe bleeding) and sepsis; long-term health problems such as internal infections and infertility; stigma and the sense of guilt; blood poisoning; ectopic pregnancy; premature delivery in future pregnancies; and death.

It is understood that abortion practices are usually motivated or caused by the following factors: the desire to limit family size or inability to rear a child properly usually due to financial difficulty; to evade the social stigma associated with procreating out of wedlock or through illicit relationship; to protect a career or an occupation; to prevent the birth of a child with medical problems; to avoid bring to term a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest; and to preserve a woman’s life or health. The ethical justifiability of these issues – the factors that motivate abortion, will be discussed in the final part of this three-part article.

Homicide has always been recognized as the worst of crimes and the most glaring example of a morally evil act. The term homicide generally covers murder and manslaughter, which are distinguished by the civil law for the purpose of preferring different charges and imposing different penalties. In this article, homicide is used to mean murder, which can be defined as the direct (plus deliberate) and unjust killing of a human entity by another human being. Surprisingly, not all people are convinced of the injustice contained in certain types of direct or deliberate killing such as abortion or feticide.

In their attempt to justify abortion, some pro-abortion campaigners argue that any entity that is not yet a “person” has no moral or legal rights and can thus be treated anyhow. These campaigners thus propose various stages at which an entity in the womb could be classified as a person. For some, it becomes a person only when it reaches the viability stage (i.e. the stage during which the fetus can survive outside the womb), they however differ on how old a fetus should be in order to be considered viable); others contend that the entity is never a person until after birth; and there are those who even argue that an entity is considered a person only when it is able to reason or rationalize (which implies that adults who due to old age or serious illnesses lose the ability to reason also cease to be classified as persons).

Defining the term ‘person’ simply as ‘a member of the species homo sapiens (the human species), naturalists and anti-abortionists argue that the unborn entity in the womb clearly has the same DNA as everyone else, and should without question be viewed as a person. Hence, terminating it is tantamount to murder and should be illegal. My question is: Why in the first place, should the definition and understanding of the irrelevant term or vocabulary, ‘person’ decide the legality of abortion? Even if the entity in the womb is not scientifically proven to be a “person”, does that necessarily justify abortion? After all, many non-persons or non-human beings, like animals and plants are provided massive protection by society; so why can’t a “potential” human life enjoy even superior protection?

This is only the beginning of the argument; call it an introduction.


Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (aka Black Power) is a lecturer and an investigative journalist in London, UK. He is the author of ‘Fourth Phase of Enslavement: unveiling the plight of African immigrants in the West’. He may be contacted via email (andypower2002@yahoo.it).

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong