Fri | Aug 12, 2022

Ethon Lowe | Is abortion murder?

Published:Friday | May 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In the article titled 'Abortion is murder' (Gleaner, May 17, 2018), Peter Espeut argues that "from a biological standpoint, foetuses are humans, too". Murder, by definition, is the unlawful killing of one human being by another. While seven out of 10 Jamaicans are firmly against abortion on demand, an equal number are adamant that it is the woman's right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and not the Government's.

Those who would defend the rights of women to decide for themselves whether to terminate a pregnancy should also engage with the argument that the developing foetus is equivalent to a person. If the foetus is morally equivalent to a child, even from the moment of contraception, abortion is morally equivalent to infanticide.

Christians (especially Catholics) go further. They claim that since God is the giver of life, life has to be holy, pure, and inviolable. He clearly said, "Thou shall not kill"(rather vague), and "we are made in His image" (whatever that means).

Forget biblical admonition. Let's deal with the factual and moral questions. Neither an egg nor a sperm is a human being. An eight-week-old embryo has recognisable human features, but its neuronal connections are still undeveloped. It is not until about 28 weeks that the foetus acquires some cognitive capacities typically found in newborns, and at 30 weeks, the EEG recordings of a foetus have the characteristics of the EEG of an adult.

Abortions are almost never performed after the second trimester (week 13 to week 28 ). That is after 28 weeks. Before this period, there is no evidence that the foetus is a thinking, feeling human individual, and abortions before this level are not comparable to the murder of a conscious, sentient human being after birth. True, a foetus is a potential human being, but potentiality is not the same as actuality. Given the choice between granting rights to an actual person (an adult woman) or a potential person (her foetus), which would the choice be, using reason and compassion?


Rights of the woman


Which brings me to the rights of the woman. Isn't a woman's right to life worth as much as a foetus'? Ireland, once predominantly Catholic and still floundering in the religious dark ages, doesn't think she does. Women who are pregnant as a result of rape and incest would be prosecuted for terminating the pregnancy even if her life is at risk (but not deemed fatal). How close to death do you have to be to have an abortion? In 2012, a woman died of septic abortion because her doctors (fearing prosecution) refused to carry out an abortion that would have saved her life.

The best path to take is education, contraception, and recognition of full female rights, human rights - not religious rights. Safe, effective, and inexpensive contraceptions will prevent millions of unwanted pregnancies. Millions of pregnancies will never be aborted because they were never conceived. Tell that to the Catholics, who ban both birth control and abortion. Presumably, they recommend abstinence, and yes, a cold shower.

The bleeding hearts might say, "What if a woman aborts a baby who would have gone on to become a doctor and discover a cure for cancer?" Accepted, but childbirth is more dangerous to a woman's health than an abortion. My rejoinder would be: "What if a woman who would have gone on to become a doctor and found a cure for cancer died in childbirth?"

- Ethon Lowe is a medical doctor. Email feedback to and