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World Health Day: Abortion is Not a Health Issue

April 7th, 2011 by Matt

Fetus7 April is “World Health Day” and some are using this fact to argue that “abortion is a health issue, not a crime” by way of a “blogswarm”. I find this contention a little curious; claiming that abortion is simply a health issue is an assertion which is supposed to mean that abortion is not a moral issue in any way. However, an assertion is not an argument and proves nothing.

If a fetus is a human being then feticide is homicide and this obviously makes abortion more than a health issue. But suppose (contrary to what I think is the case) a fetus is not a human being. How does it follow that abortion is a health issue?

Cutting tissue out of a person’s body does not make something into a health issue. Suppose, for example, that a woman has a boob job. Is this a health issue? No, this  is cosmetic surgery. It might be done in a hospital and by a surgeon but this does not make it into a health issue any more than the fact that a chef might kiss his wife in a resurant makes his romance of her a question of diet. Contrary to what some juvenile males may think, having small breasts is not a disease.

Of course, one can imagine situations where a boob job might be a health issue. Suppose a woman has breast cancer and the surgeon surgically removes her breast tissue to prevent the cancer spreading. This would be a health issue because cancer is a disease; it is something that threatens life, limb or bodily function and the surgery is necessary to prevent the body succumbing to the disease.

Pregnancy, however, is not a disease and I find it quite odd that people who claim to be pro-women would suggest that it was.

Of course, there might be some types of abortion which are a health issue; cases where the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or threatens to cause her serious injury, for example. But these are not the normal cases or reasons women have abortions.

I suppose an obvious rejoinder will be raised here; any time a woman does not want to be pregnant carrying the pregnancy to term will be a source of anguish. Similarly, as the World Health Organisation (“WHO”) likes to tell us, health is broader than simply physical integrity like the absence of disease, loss of limb or death. Health is more holistic – it includes economic and emotional well-being, it is the absence of stress and so forth. Hence, abortion is a health issue because women use abortions to gain health in this broader sense.

We can define health the way WHO does if we like; and if we do, abortion is a health issue. But the problem is that on this definition almost anything one does is a “health issue”. My choice to take a particular career path, marry a particular woman, live in a certain house all can adversely effect my economic well-being, cause me emotional stress and so on.  We can call abortion a health issue only by calling everything a health issue and once we do this the fact that abortion is a health issue becomes of little significance – there would be little point in observing World Health Day.

So abortion is not a health issue. Moreover, even if it was, it is hard to know what saying it is a health issue is supposed to prove. The whole reason there is a field called medical ethics is because even “health issues” can be subject to moral and ethical critique.  Perhaps instead of chanting slogans about abortion, people should actually examine the moral and ethical issues the abortion procedure raises and engage in some moral reasoning and analysis. Hiding behind “it is a health issue, not a crime” is simply avoidance.

Check out the counter-blogswarm.

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15 responses so far ↓

  • If I were a legislator then I wouldn’t find this line of argument convincing in terms of amending the abortion terms and conditions or banning abortion outright.

    I’d need a series of surveys and studies and reports over a period of time, and then I might think about it.

    Both you and Glenn are great Philosophers but I don’t think you quite appreciate how to make change happen.


  • Paul, the fact you don’t find an argument convincing or that a legislator does not is really of no consequence. The question is whether the argument is sound.

    Legislators often buy ridiculous arguments.

  • Granted, pregnancy is not a disease, but are you suggesting that pregnancy is not a “health issue”? If you aren’t, then my apologies, but if you are that’s fairly absurd. Additionally, if pregnancy is a “health issue”, it seems pretty clear that terminating a pregnancy could be seen as a “health issue”.

    Also, it’s not a matter of a arguing that a fetus is not a human being. It’s pretty clear that a human fetus is human. You’d need to argue that a human fetus is a person. That’s a much more difficult row to hoe I think.

  • World Health Day: Abortion is Not Health Care…

    The following blogs have published articles demonstrating that abortion can never be considered health care… World Health Day: Abortion is Not a Health Issue – Dr. Matthew Flannagan, PhD…

  • I think there is an element that people who speak of abortion as a “health issue” are disconnected from reality. I came across an article by Msgr. Charles Pope, where he terms this root tendency the Cartesian Anxiety. The process is as follows:

    1. The retreat into the mind and loss of connection with reality. In radically distrusting his senses, Descartes disconnects himself (and us) from the world of reality. What is real is only what is in my mind. The actual “is-ness” of things is no longer the basis of reality. Now, it is just my thoughts that are real. Reality is not “out there” but it is only in my mind. It is what I think that matters.

    This leads to a lot of the absurdity of modern times where we tend to overlook reality and reduce everything to opinion. We often think of things abstractly and as “issues.”

    For example, abortion is an “issue” for many people, rather than the dismemberment of a human baby. Many tend to think of abortion abstractly and repackage “it” as choice, or a woman’s right. But abortion is not an abstraction. There is something actually happening “out there” in the real world. An actual child is being dismembered and suctioned into a jar. But the Cartesian retreat into the mind allows many to continue to think of abortion abstractly and as an issue. And the mind, detached from reality can do some pretty awful rationalizing. Showing actual pictures of abortion seems to have little affect on those who have retreated into their minds and think of abortion abstractly as an issue, rather than a real thing.

  • @ Matt:

    “Paul, the fact you don’t find an argument convincing or that a legislator does not is really of no consequence. The question is whether the argument is sound.

    Legislators often buy ridiculous arguments.”

    Then that would be why your argument will not change anything then.

    To make political change happen, assuming that you want to achieve that, then you need more than simply believing that you are right or that your argument is sound.

    If you don’t want to make change happen then I would have to ask what exactly is the point of what you’re trying to do by making these sound arguments ?

  • One other way Abortion could be a health issue is in the other direction – abortion can often be the cause of health issues.
    I’ve read in passing that there are links between previous abortions and subsequent depression and other mental health issues in women. I’ve also read there are also some links between previous abortions and some gynaecological conditions.

  • Paul, I think that this blog entry by Matt (like mine on the same subject) was written for blog readers and not a parliamentary committee.

  • @ Glenn and Matt

    “Paul, I think that this blog entry by Matt (like mine on the same subject) was written for blog readers and not a parliamentary committee.”

    I kinda got that, but to what end ?

    If I engage in a protest of some description then it’s usually for more than making the point that I’m right.

    Otherwise, “Carry On Protesting” seems apt.

    You’re content that you’re right.
    You’re not too concerned about changing anything.
    Same time next year guys ?

  • Adulcia, you are right that there are links between abortion and mental health issues in women. More than 30 studies published in the past five years alone have documented this. You can find a list (with links to some studies), here: On the flip side, there have not been any published studies demonstrating that abortion improves the mental health of women, a point noted by the authors of a New Zealand study (led by a pro-choice researcher) published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008. They wrote: “In general, there is no evidence in the literature on abortion and mental health that suggests that abortion reduces the mental health risks of unwanted or mistimed pregnancy. Although some studies have concluded that abortion has neutral effects on mental health, no study has reported that exposure to abortion reduces mental health risks.” (You can find the quote here:
    It’s also worth noting that research and anecdotal evidence suggests that most abortions are unwanted by the women undergoing them, and many coerced. So the whole idea that abortion is something that benefits women’s health is dangerous and outrageous.

  • And I guess you would disallow women who are inflicted with AIDS any help as well.

  • Yeah Richard, that follows…. not.

  • Richard, AIDS is a disease that causes ones immune system to dysfunction and eventually kills the person who has it. To suggest that pregnancy is a disease that destroys the immune system resulting in death is really not plausible.

    Moreover, you’ll note my claim was not that pregnant women should not get “help” it was that abortion is not a health issue. So even if the two were analogous, your conclusion does not follow.

  • Regardless of equal rights pregnant women should be treated differently