THE ARGUMENT about abortion rights was thrust into the national spotlight last week, after students at the University of Strathclyde were banned from forming an official Pro-Life society by the university’s student association (USSA).
Labelling the group – Strathclyde Life Action – “anti-choice”, the USSA argued that the official formation of such a society would “violate campus safe spaces”, and create “barriers to freedom, equality, and body autonomy”. The SLA hit back, however, stating that the decision was “an assault on the right to freedom of expression”, and vowed to challenge the decision.
Changes in modern attitudes have rendered pro-life sentiment something of a fringe ideal, with detractors often arguing that anti-abortionists are naturally opposed to female emancipation, and motivated by backwards traditional or religious ideologies.
Is this truly the case? To find out, I interviewed Edward Ashdown, a politics student at Aberystwyth University. Edward is a recent convert to the anti-abortionist cause, having undergone something of a change of heart some six months ago. He identifies himself as a libertarian and a Christian, but states that his opposition to abortion is informed by the political ideology, not his religious beliefs.
So, your position was only a recent revelation. What inspired your change of heart?
I was thinking about what self-ownership means, and also looking into the biology of abortion and foetal development, as I was rethinking a lot of my political opinions. I’m a politics student – one of those people, I know – and that means I have a lot of time on my hands to think about my own opinions, premises, why I hold them, and whether they make sense. This made sense.
What is your basic argument against abortion?
I’m a libertarian. Libertarianism primarily means believing in freedom. I believe that the most important concept for humanity is self-ownership – and thus individualism. Every human has an inalienable right to life and property that no one else should contravene. I believe a baby is a human. It’s as simple as that.
Abortion law in the UK allows abortion up to 24 weeks. As early as five weeks, there is a heartbeat. By eight weeks, the foundations of all organs are in place. Even as early as 13-14 weeks, babies can move voluntarily, many babies start sucking their thumb, and a female baby already has up to two million eggs in her ovaries – the seeds of the next generation. I think civilised society will realise that this kind of violence against the most vulnerable human is not really civilised at all.
The most common Pro-Choice argument seems to be that women should have full, unconditional control over their own bodies. Why do you consider abortion an exception to that rule?
All people should have full, unconditional control over their bodies, and I don’t consider limiting abortion as a contravention of that rule. It’s about recognising where a woman’s body starts and ends. It can be easy to think very practically and talk about the convenience of the mother, but on a deeper, philosophical level, we have to talk about what we are sanctioning when we say it’s okay to ‘abort’ a ‘foetus’ (kill a child).
Within weeks of conception, a foetus shows so many signs of life. Scientists themselves are divided about when life actually begins, so we can’t be sure when it might be acceptable to end it. We can’t know for sure when that baby becomes a human. What we do know for sure is that without complications, that child will be a human. Think of it like this: you’re going to demolish a building, but you’re not sure if that building is fully evacuated, even though there are no clear signs of any people. Do you demolish it, or exercise caution first?
Would you permit abortion in the case of rape?
This is a really difficult discussion, but I have to say no. I’d like to think we can live in a society that doesn’t punish its children for the sins of their fathers. It is not the fault of the most innocent and unaware being that their father is an egregious criminal.
I think, instead, that there should be structures available for counselling and adoption that can help women in this circumstance, as well as protecting the child. I also think it’s important that the other people in their lives – if they are married or have a companion – help them and accept this. Just as I can’t imagine what it would be like for a woman to conceive as a result of rape, I struggle to imagine how, as a partner, I would feel dealing with the situation. But life is about growing, and even the most horrible circumstances can help us do that.
Do you believe in the idea of life at conception, and, if so, do you oppose the morning-after pill as a form of contraception?
That’s a really tough question. I think, because my argument is not a spiritual one, and I don’t see the significance of the soul binding to the embryo at conception, I wouldn’t see it as life or oppose the morning-after pill. Most people who take the pill are usually using another form of contraception anyway; it may have failed, or their circumstances were extenuating. The morning-after pill is a ‘solution’ that can be used up to five days after the act, but people often forget about it. There are also similar medication abortions that are available until ten weeks after conception, although I think these should be discouraged. Being small and mentally limited doesn’t make a baby of that age any less human.
What legal measures would you put in place regarding abortion? Would you completely criminalise the practice, or make provisions focused more on education and a change in attitudes?
Judging criminality is really tough and subjective; the problems runs deep and beyond just abortion. For instance, we have so many peaceful people locked up for committing non-crimes like smoking the wrong plant; which means children that have been born grow up without a parent, or with a parent ‘in the system’ who is irrevocably changed when they come out. As with how society judges most crimes now, the problem is a cultural one. There are many bad and deeply offensive aspects of all cultures all around the world; there are cultures where women’s rights are seen as unimportant, and within our culture we tend to demonise the less educated, value wealth above happiness, and believe the murder of children in the womb a ‘right’.
Of course, abortion in self-defence – if the child is going to kill or seriously harm the mother – is necessary. But otherwise, just as we protect people who are in a comatose state with reduced brain activity who may not wake up, we should protect foetus’ that – we already know – will develop. I think the main goal should be changing the culture; educating people about contraceptives, about natural rights and self-ownership. Any punishments for abortion should be focused on rehabilitation, not penalisation. I think in time that would positively affect a range of attitudes towards babies, parenting, crime, and even society in general.
What do you think is the most powerful pro-life “weapon”, so to speak, to change minds on this issue?
Well, firstly, I’m not really “pro-life” as much as anti-abortion. I’m pro-euthanasia, for example, and believe in the principle of self-defence. Rather, I believe that each person’s life is their own – a baby’s included – and that no one else has the right to violate that principle.
To the question; I think it’s worth watching some of the undercover videos of abortion clinics, interviews with doctors, and explanations of the processes with pictures of the babies. That’s the most effective, I think, but it’s also just really based on feelings. I don’t believe that an argument can be based purely on feelings, so it’s good to try to look past the feelings of both sides, especially in such a polarising debate like this one. Think about your own premises; are they consistent, is your logic consistent, and how else could you apply your logic to other circumstances?
Are there any Pro-Choice lines of argument that resonate with you?
All of them. They all make sense to me. That I disagree is no disrespect to them, especially as I consider myself ‘pro-choice’ in all sorts of ways. My simple opposition to this is that we do not get to ‘choose’ other people’s right to life based on our own convenience, however hard that may be to hear.