Despite my better judgment, I got drawn into a abortion conversation the other day. It seems to me that there are three common positions, regarding when a fetus or embryo has moral standing as a “person”:
- Conception: Whether because it is the moment that human life begins, conceptions of the embodiment of a soul, etc.
- Viability: Once it is possible to live outside the womb, then a fetus is an individual with moral standing.
- Birth: Someone does not become a person until they are born.
No matter how you slice it, the distinctions are arbitrary. Let me propose a thought experiment.
Suppose we invent a human gestation device. We could take the cells of any embryo and transfer them to this device, and eventually a human being could be born. This could enable viability at any point from conception forward.
If this were possible, at what point would a person focused on viability agree that a fetus or embryo has moral standing? I think the question essentially collapses into a position on conception. The only reason why viability works, at the moment, is because of the limits of technology. However, it is clear that viability is a function of technology, as it improves you move closer to conception and the window for an abortion gets smaller.
Let’s go the other direction. Is a baby that is born today, less of a baby than it would be the day before? Clearly, it seems that the birth day minus one day isn’t much different. If we accept that point, then we are all on the viability spectrum, which as technology advances will narrow the allowable window, however defined.
It seems to me that the abortion debate is really about control over conception. The best course is to prevent conception before it happens. It gives women control over their fertility and their lives.
The problem is that most of the technologies that we use to control conception are not fool-proof. There is also the issue that many are based on control of hormones, which creates some ambiguity. If it allows conception to occur but it prevents a pregnancy, then from the perspective of a embryo has moral standing beginning at conception, hormonal birth control that happens after conception is the same as abortion.
But, there are solutions. For example, Nexplanon is an hormonal implant, good for up to five years, that releases the hormone progestin that both thickens the mucus of the cervix to prevent sperm from getting to the egg, and it stops eggs from leaving the ovaries. It reliably prevents conception with little required of the person with the implant, and it costs anywhere from $0-$1,300.
So, the question is, if we are concerned about abortions and the killing of a fetus with moral standing, why aren’t we subsidizing Nexplanon implants for any woman that wants one?
Back of the envelope calculations for the United States, let’s assume:
- $250 per implant
- fertility is from the ages of 15 to 45, ~40% of all women
- 157,000,000 implants
- a five year effectiveness for each implant
So, that’s $250 * 157,000,000 / 5 years = ~$8 billion a year. And that’s maximum cost. Depending on how you implemented it, it could be much less.
This approach gives women choice, and it, for practical purposes, eliminates the problem of abortion. For any accidental birth on Nexplanon, it seems likely the adoption system could handle this small fraction of births. Obviously, male contraception options would also be useful for addressing this issue.
Strikes me as a solvable problem, if this were only about stopping abortions and not about controlling women’s sexuality.