A Foetus is not a Person by Caroline Lund

Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations which are broadly defined as:

  • the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury of physical or mental health, or
  • there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

(via Wikipedia)

Recently, the Supreme Court permitted a rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy at 24 weeks, which is beyond the permissible 20 weeks limit prescribed under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

Abortion is a topic that is not as hot a debate in India, as it has been in the US. The basic difference being that in the US, the fight for abortion rights is at the point of consent of a woman of not having a baby. While in India, the legalities in abortion are focused on severe health risks for the woman or the baby, and that if the woman is a rape survivor where abortion is legally permissible before 15 weeks. There are obvious risks in the process of abortion due to sex-determination. But the point of consent of a woman is always missing. 

The biggest argument given in the abortion case is that a foetus is a human and killing it is a murder. Socialist and Activist Caroline Lund had written some wonderful essays, ‘In Defence of Abortion Rights’ in the socialist weekly. Here’s an excerpt:

“In a world in which adults control power and purse, the foetus is at a disadvantage being small, naked, nameless and voiceless. He has no one except sympathetic adults to speak up for him and defend him- and equally no one except callous adults to condemn and attack him.”

Thus begins a six-page glossy brochure published by the Constitutional Right to Life Committee in Rhode Island, entitled “The Child Before Burth.” Complete with magnified colour photographs of foetuses, it is an example of the main approach of the anti-abortion groups: an appeal to emotions rather than reason.

Just what is a foetus like? First of all, an 8-week foetus is about as big as an adult’s thumbnail (where abortion is legal, most are performed at around 8 to 10 weeks of pregnancy.)

Shown an actual photograph of an 8-week foetus, no lay person would be able to distinguish it from a pig foetus or a rabbit foetus, since all mammalian embryos develop in a similar manner. It cannot breathe, and it absorbs oxygen and nutrients from its mother’s blood.

According to scientific opinion, although a foetus will react to stimuli, it cannot feel pain. Pain is a learned response, and the fetal brain is not developed enough to interpret such stimuli as pain.

Of course the foetus develops a heart beat, circulatory system and a brain- so do foetuses of any other mammal. That doesn’t make it a human being. The whole point behind all their romanticizing of the foetus, behind their gory pictures, and behind their pseudoscientific pronouncements, is the claim that the foetus is a human being and therefore abortion is murder.

But the statement that a foetus is human does not come from science. This idea can only be based on a religious or philosophical opinion that some metaphysical “human” quality or “soul,” is present in a foetus, embryo or fertilised egg, whatever its stage of physical development.

While the anti-abortion people have the right to hold this belief and to conduct their reproductive lives accordingly, they have no right to impose this religious or philosophical belief on everyone else in this society.


This Excerpt has been taken from Abortion: Women’s Fight For The Right To Choose’ by Nancy Brown, Linda Jenness, Caroline Lund, Andrea Morell and Maxie Williams. Comments and discussions welcome.

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