Abortion and Social Justice

When I arrived at college, it took me a while to join my school’s pro-life group. I could theoretically wrap my head around the idea that terminating fetuses amounted to taking innocent human life. The thing was, being at a very socially conscious college opened my eyes to the myriad types of other suffering and affronts to human dignity in the world.

Racially motivated violence still marred our streets. The homeless still slept out in the cold. Countless humans were being used for sex against their will.  Child laborers on the other side of the world made products I purchased.

In the face of all that, fetuses the size of periods on this page just didn’t seem that important to me anymore. The pro-life community seemed myopic in its seeming obsession for them, even if they were unborn humans.

A lot of my friends were in a variety of groups pushing for social justice and change. There was a group that advocated for the local homeless, one organization brought more awareness to the genocide in Darfur, and another group tutored low-income children in the area. These were just several among literally hundreds of amazing student organizations doing great things.

As for me, I joined a group that dealt with reform of our criminal justice system and the notorious school-to-prison pipeline faced by young African-American men from tough neighborhoods and cities.

In addition to broadening my horizon beyond the abortion issue, I had another motive. I was a Christian. I wanted to show my secular friends that Christians cared about all issues. And that Jesus cared about everything they cared about.

But perhaps I was the one being myopic. Deep into the school year, I found myself free one weekday evening on a night that the pro-life group met. That night’s meeting was going to be a talk by a biology student on the pro-life position. I thought I’d go, even though interiorly I had developed some pride that made me think I was more enlightened than them and had a bigger heart.

The center of his talk was proving that fetuses were human beings. He argued that that the life of a human organism begins at conception. It does not depend on the organism’s location, capabilities, or physical features. And if fetuses are human beings, then abortion should be the most pressing social justice issue our generation faces.

For starters, the language that we use can seem to detract from the issue it involves. Take “fetus,” for example. Most pro-choice advocates would agree that during a woman’s pregnancy, the entity within her womb is called a fetus, rather than a baby. But if the fetus in the womb is not a human being, what is it? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “fetus” actually describes a stage in biological development, not the essence of its being. There are dog fetuses, but they are still dogs. There are “teenagers,” but they are not species unto themselves, however strange they might seem. They are humans at another stage of development.

From the moment that the sperm fertilizes the egg, a new human organism exists with its own DNA. Left alone, it will grow into later stages of development. Around the sixth week, the heart will begin to beat. The next week, though the fetus is only the size of a pencil eraser, the nostrils are present. In eight weeks, the eyes are visible. By the twelfth week, the fetus will have fingernails.[1]  A woman certainly has the right to do what she wishes with her body, as should anyone else. But one woman does not have two hearts, two heads, and two sets of DNA.

Some object to the personhood of fetuses because they are inside the mother. However, we do not, or should not, deny a person’s humanity based on where he or she lives. The question is where and when you began. Did you really begin only when you came out of your mother’s womb? Or earlier?

Others say the fetus cannot be human because it cannot support itself. But we do not even use this metric in other situations, at least not to decide a person’s dignity. The United States does not consider a person totally self-sufficient until they are 18 years old, but we still consider them part of the human family.

And some define humanity by intellectual capacity, yet civilized societies do not deny the mentally ill the right to live. Would it be right to pick and choose when to apply this definition of humanity?

Everyone would agree that a fetus can be a great burden on any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, especially if the father is not in the picture. However, if a person is a person, we cannot allow the value of one human life to devalue the other. If a family suddenly falls into poverty and cannot support their children, society does not give the parents the right to kill their children.

There is no doubt that we need to eradicate the factors that lead to abortions, such as poverty and a lack of resources for single mothers. The pro-life community is composed of many diverse peoples who do a lot to solve those issues.[2] In no other situation, though, do we allow the killing of victims because we cannot quickly solve the problems that victimize them.

The greatest burden for the woman, more than an unplanned pregnancy, is the burden of living but knowing that she felt her circumstances forced her to terminate a human life within her. Thirteen studies in the last twenty years have found that abortion is linked to depression or anxiety.[3] Abortion sends a message to a woman that we cannot do better for her and help her in her need and time of struggle–that we don’t care enough to expend the resources necessary to support another human being. Abortion hurts women, both the unborn woman and her mother. But we can do better for them.

We live in a visual world. Our hearts are moved when we see suffering – when we see maimed bodies and starved children. But suffering that is not seen is still suffering. Abortion is silent. It is a seemingly clean way to brush our personal and social problems into the shadows. But it is still death and it is still wrong.

I left that pro-life meeting convinced that fetuses were humans and all humans have rights. And when almost three thousand human lives are silently taken every day in our country[4], there is no social injustice that cries out more loudly. It is a foundational injustice that says no to the first of all human rights – the right to life. If the world does not face the tragedy of abortion head-on, the fight for all other rights becomes meaningless. It is not one issue among many. It’s three thousand issues. Three thousand people. If three thousand people died from gun violence every day in America, or if we were engaged in a war that killed three thousand of our troops every day, we would not tolerate the status quo for one more day.

This is why the pro-life community considers abortion a social justice issue. Innocent lives are ended every day, and justice cries out for an end to this tragedy. Fight poverty. Fight human trafficking. Fight genocide, and every other battle worth waging. But we cannot forget the smallest and the weakest amongst us. We invite you to join us in serving our unborn brothers and sisters and advocating for building a strong foundation for social justice for all humans.


1 http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-care/art-20045302?pg=1

2http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/health/pregnancy-centers-gain-influence-in-anti-abortion-fight.html?_r=0. There are some 2,500 crisis pregnancy centers in the United States. Many also help women find education and jobs.

3 See Carlo Bellieni and Giuseppe Buonocore, Abortion and Subsequent Mental Health: Review of the Literature. 67 Psychiatry and Clinical Social Sciences 5:301-310 (2013).

http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html. TheGuttmacher Institute is the research arm of Planned Parenthood. According to the institute, 1.06 million abortions were performed in 2011 in the United States. That is an average of 2,904 abortions per day. 


Please email berkeley4life@gmail.com or visit them at berkeley4life.org to find out about meetings and ways to help.


Allen Huang is a third-year law student who enjoys all forms of potato dishes. 


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