Discussions of abortion seem to leave out a lot of details. They typically try to prove life begins in the womb (saying it’s “science”) and then from that arrive at the absolute that you can’t “kill”.

There are at least four main components of the abortion issue you need to think about. Sorry, it’s not one quick little soundbite.

When does life begin?

Folks are not in agreement as to when life begins. What actually is “life”? Some folks say their religion says a “soul” is assigned to the unborn at some point. Some folks say “fetal heartbeat” means life has begun. But for thousands of years it’s been “first breath of life” and that’s what’s still used to assign civil identity and citizenship. And then as if that’s not enough confusion some scientists point out that the brain is not developed enough to support human consciousness until the infant is around 6 months old. So maybe just maybe it’s life but it’s not even human life.

In summary there’s not a clear science-based way to say life has begun and we’re left trying to define something that the majority is comfortable with.

Is death bad?

This may seem to be a silly question but there are many areas where we do not treat life as sacrosanct. Let’s set aside the above discussion of when life actually begins and assume we do have a new life involved.

We have many areas where we do not accept that causing death is inviolable. Killing is accepted in war. The death penalty still exists in many places. Self-defense says it’s OK to kill if you are being threatened with bodily harm (or even less). And although we could virtually eliminate traffic deaths by setting the speed limit to 45 we will not accept the inconvenience of that and put up with a certain amount of death stemming from traffic accidents. And there are many other areas where we trade off life against convenience or even what you might call “common sense.” Yes, I know those cases are different from abortion but all of them are different from each other but serve to demonstrate that protection of life is not an absolute, it’s a gray area where causing death is usually bad but not always.

The mother’s life

The mother definitely has a life. We tend to blame her for the “unwanted pregnancy” as if she had total control and should have just kept her legs crossed. But let’s look at reality. Although women aren’t known for having as intense a sex drive as men typically have, they still have a strong drive to reproduce. Add in the fact that men can be incredibly persuasive in the moment, promising eternal love or whatever it takes to move things forward. Men can use even more forms of persuasion or peer pressure or even implied competition with some other female. It can be pretty unrealistic to say the woman should have been able to stop things. And we haven’t even gotten into the areas of violence where the man is using his superior physical size and/or strength and/or weapons and/or age to force his way upon the woman.

And then faced with having a child, a woman faces a whole other array of complexities. She’s only got one life and having a child may cause her to have to forego her one chance to follow her dreams, have a career, achieve in sports, find true love, what have you. She may be faced with the fact she doesn’t have the resources to raise a child. She may be bringing a baby into harsh, unsupporting circumstances. Her family may ostracize her for becoming pregnant out of wedlock. She may be flat out too young to be expected to care for another life. There is a lot to think about regarding both her well being and the well being of the child.

What about the guy?

Almost always missing from discussions of abortion is the role of the man. As discussed above the man can be incredibly persuasive. But then the man is also known for frequently disappearing from the scene leaving the woman to fend for herself. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the technology to affirm with complete certainty that a given male is the father using DNA and then require that the man take responsibility, at least financially. The woman just would need to provide the names of boyfriends/lovers and then some lucky guy gets to pay for the child. It’s not hard.

It’s a complex issue

Again, this cannot be reduced to a soundbite. We didn’t even touch on health implications to the mother, incest, or some of the other corner cases that come up. There is plenty of evidence that we need abortion to be legal and safe even aside from the corner cases. As is often suggested, if your religion suggests you shouldn’t have an abortion, then don’t have an abortion. But you shouldn’t force your personal decision on others.