Abortion: A Necessary Evil by Craig Carter Edwards – July 6, 2012

CFN – When I chose euthanasia as last week’s topic, I knew that I couldn’t address the concept of choice at the end of the life spectrum without also addressing choice at the front end.  While abortion is one of those topics that makes for awkward dinner conversations, there’s obviously still an appetite for it, as evidenced by Conservative MP Stephen Woodsworth’s  somewhat disingenuous Private Member’s Bill addressing the issue.

Abortion is an emotional, polarizing issue; if you’re pro-life, it’s a matter of life and death.  If you’re pro-choice, you focus on a woman’s right to reproductive choice; it’s an individual freedom thing.  Within each of these positions, however, there are contradictions.  If a woman has a right to choose what happens to her body, should not a fetus have the right to choose what happens to its body?  If you feel, as Wordsworth does, that a fetus doesn’t deserve to be punished (aborted) for a crime it did not commit (conception), what of children who are born into lives of poverty?  At what stage do you declare that the by-product of a fusion of gamete cells becomes a living organism?  What were those cells the day before that declaration?

There’s a good reason why all but the most ideological politicians are loath to touch abortion as an issue.  If a woman has an obligation to carry any pregnancy through, what are society’s obligations to that woman, or to that child?  How do you tackle the use of abortion as a form of selective birth control?  Is there an obligation to teach our youth about the birds and the bees so that they can make informed choices – and does that obligation rest with parents or with society?  What about cases of rape, of mental illness, etc?  Is it hypocritical to be pro-life but pro-capital punishment, or pro-choice and anti-capital punishment?  While abortion might be a black-and-white issue for the pro-choice and pro-life partisans, for policy makers it’s a Pandora’s Box of complex legal ramifications that touch on fields ranging from justice to education to healthcare.

Faced with polarizing topics like abortion, it pays to step back and look at the content, context and consequences of the issue.  In this case, we could say the content would be life and the context would be choice.  But what informs the choice and how does that influence how we define life?  If you agree that abortion is an emotional issue that people tend to have default positions about, then emotionality itself is a good place to start.  That’s all well and good, but how do you deconstruct emotion?  If you believe in evolution and accept the principle of natural selection, then you probably accept the premise that all human traits, including emotions, have genetic value; that’s why they’ve been selected in the first place.  While we tend to think of broad genetic traits in terms of brain size and bipedalism or more nuanced traits such as hair or eye colour, how we react to (or rather, feel about) things can equally have genetic value.

Not convinced?  Consider this – why are kids afraid of monsters in the dark?  If you’re born in an urban setting and have never been exposed to nocturnal predators (human or otherwise), you really have no accumulated experience that tells you the dark is threatening.  Yet urban kids are still afraid of the dark.  There’s a clear genetic advantage to this emotional response that predates urban living; when you’re afraid, you’re body goes into fight-or-flight mode.  If something untoward came out of the dark at our pre-urban ancestors, this level of anxiety might have given the split-second advantage needed to escape and survive.  Acrophobia gives another example of a reactive response that triggers useful behaviour.  If you’ve ever experienced fear of heights, you might have felt an uncontrollable impulse to lie down or hang on to a supporting pole or railing; having an instinct to reduce your chance of falling by clinging to a stable surface makes obvious sense.  Both of these phobias have been selected over time for their genetic value.

Like it or not, this emotion-as-genetic-motivator model can be applied to any of our feelings; fear, hatred, even love correspond to neurochemical changes in our bodies that trigger reactive behaviours.  We eat because we feel hungry; if we didn’t feel hungry, we might waste away.  We have sex because we have sexual yearnings; without those feelings, we might not have sex and therefore, not reproduce.    Conditions like depression and anxiety throw this neurochemical balance out of whack, impacting our normal physical responses around things like sex and food.  The pharmaceutical industry has capitalized on this; everything from diet pills to anti-depressants are designed to alter our neurochemistry, repressing or enhancing an emotional state.

By now you’re probably asking – what does the genetics of emotion have to do with abortion?  Well, if you believe that our emotions exist because they serve a genetic purpose and you agree that abortion is an emotional issue, what are the odds that pro-choice and pro-life positions offer genetic advantage?  They’re actually pretty high.  If you look at traditional social-conservative positions (anti-birth control, pro-life, pro-traditional family, minimal social rearing, tough-on-crime), they present a selection-of-the-fittest model; have more kids, put them through continual trials to determine endurance and remove criminal behaviour from the gene pool through imprisonment or capital punishment.  Conversely, more liberal perspectives (pro birth control, pro-choice, in favour of strong social safety nets, restorative justice) present a model of reduced offspring generation but greater social investment in the rearing process through public education, healthcare, etc.  Call it a matter of quantity reduction leading to individual quality vs. fostering individual quality from the onset, but in a social context.

Still with me?  Let’s say my theory is right, that hard-wired emotional responses subconsciously determine individual positions around abortion.  From this perspective, content is quality-of-life; context is all the internal and external factors that determine quality of life.  The third element, consequence, isn’t just about individual choice; it’s about the genetic legacy our emotion-fueled choices are guiding us towards.  We want future generations to have the best genetic mix, which means providing quantity.  However, in a social context, fitness is about more than good genes; it’s also about resource access (shelter, diet, education, accommodation).

This last point is worth dwelling on.  If you look at global statistics, there is a strong correlation between incidences of poverty, a lack of education and quality of life.    There’s also a link between poverty and violence.  Key to this equation seems to be the empowerment and education of girls.  The more opportunity girls have and the greater control they have over their own lives, the better the quality-of-life outcomes are for everyone.  The conclusion is pretty clear – providing women with choice leads to better resource-access for all, resulting in greater general health and wealth.  Wealthy nations have lower birth rates than do poorer ones, but they also have lower crime rates, greater life expectancies and lower incidences of infant deaths.

Of course, pro-choice doesn’t necessarily mean pro-abortion.  Based purely on conversational evidence, women who aren’t ready to be mothers would rather not get pregnant in the first place – the ability to manage procreation is part of the choice they’re looking for.  You might suggest complete abstinence from sex is the best birth control; that’s true, but advocating abstinence in the absence of broader reproductive education is mitigating choice.  You can deny your children sex education in the hopes that sex will elude them until marriage but again, that ignores their genetic programing to keep the species going.  Given the challenges at the front-end of procreation, perhaps the debate shouldn’t be between being pro- or anti-abortion, but between pro-abortion or pro-sex education and the provision of birth control.

If the goal is to have healthy children that grow into healthy, contributing adults who in turn beget their own healthy children, it’s not a numbers game; it’s about quality.  We want to have an equitable playing field that empowers all children to reach their full potential, adding value to society while also maximizing their own individual opportunity.  Of course, this means broad public education, ensuring proper nutrition and access to healthcare (including birth control) when it’s needed.  This also means ensuring our children develop a certain level of social responsibility, learning to control their emotions rather than be controlled by them.

Until such time as we have perfected medicine, universalized and personalized education, ended poverty and eliminated crimes of passion, the reality is there will be children conceived who can’t and won’t ever have equitable opportunity.  As the weight of responsibility for these offspring falls most heavily on the mothers – not just during the pregnancy, but the life that follows – it is the mothers who must have ultimate responsibility on what happens to them.  Ultimate responsibility includes the option to choose abortion.  The best thing that society can do is empower potential mothers (and, for that matter, potential fathers) to make the best, most fully-informed choices possible.  It’s through education that we learn the value of consciously planning ahead.

Craig Carter Edwards

Born and raised in Cornwall, Craig has lived in or travelled to nearly 30 countries and currently resides in North York with his wife and son.  A political veteran, Craig brings a wealth of government, private and not-for-profit sectors experience to his current role as strategy consultant for the social entrepreneurship sector.

I am the way


  1. Hi Craig,

    I really didn’t want to be negative but here’s the thing…

    A women’s right to choose is not up for debate. Full stop. No need for theory.

    And abortion isn’t evil as indicated in the title of the article. It’s a simple medical procedure. We don’t judge wart removal or vasectomies, why judge abortion?

    And the opposite of pro-choice is anti-choice, not pro-life. Because the opposite of pro-life would be pro-death, which, I can only guess, most pro-choice activists are not.

    Be well,


  2. Shannon,

    I don’t take that as negative, but as constructive criticism. In my experience, when you land on contentious issues, people on both sides of the equation tend to say “there’s no room for debate, full stop.” But then you have positions that are at odds with each other. Fights and wars get started over that kind of deadlock. The more solidly you can make a case for a position, including poking holes in the rationale of an opposing argument but also seeking commonalities to build on, the greater your chances of resolution.

    Really like your last line. Pro-choice is about choice, and the more choices we have the more likely we are to land on sustainable solutions. Choices like access to birth control and sex education, which is where I think the conversation really needs to expand.

    As for the title – I tried to find wording that would engage both sides of the debate. Seeing how you’re the only commenter on an article about abortion, I guess I could have chosen better!



  3. Excellent article. It is for sure one of the most contentious issues today, with hard-core opinions on both sides, and little middle ground. The curious thing about the anti-abortion side is that they are also dead set against birth-control as well.

  4. Now that I’ve re-read this tool’s three articles I see where he gets his info. It is plagiarized or paraphrased from the Huffington Post and Toronto Star.
    Admin please stop posting his drivel. And somebody wipe his nose. He’s creepy.

  5. Wow – don’t leave out the National Post and the Sun! If you’re really keen, I’ve got a blog out there where I list many of my academic sources. Come find me so you can tell me to leave from there, too!

    PS – I actually do have a cold, how did you know? :o)

  6. I like the thesis. By being pro-choice we end up with a society that is wealthier. 2012 economy in the dumps? Let’s kill some kids!!

    One point you hit on is where to draw the line. The birth is just as arbitrary a date as anything else (heck Obama supported an Illinois law that would allow the killing of children that survivevd botched abortions and were born and we know Canadians love Obama, right?). So, why not be able to kill kids right up to age 18? That would make household discipline a very different conversation, wouldn’t it.

    Essentially, Craig’s argument is utilitarian. We’re better off if we kill more kids. I’m looking forward to Craig’s next essay on how we can have a more prosperous society by euthanizing the old and the sick.

  7. So, Billy Bob, where do you stand regarding access to birth control?

  8. I have no issues with access to birth control, go ahead and fill your boots. Thanks for asking.

  9. That’s good Billy Bob. Just wondering.

  10. Billy Bob….yep we love Obama, what he stands for and what he is doing……..NOT

    Craig I must say you can pick the most controversial issues for discussion…..**s** We can discuss this until doomsday and never have the answer. Too many different scenarios and situations play into this subject. Having an abortion because one has made a bad choice, is sorry afterwards and just doesn’t want the child is WRONG!! But like I said….too many scenarios play into this to be able to say whether it is right or wrong.

    Next time choose a subject that would be somewhat easier…..but PLEASE I beg of you…not language LOL

  11. Sooooo, you, Ed? Abortion?

    BTW, Gotta admire CCE’s “jump right into it” attitude

  12. I don’t know BB. I’ve never had one.

  13. Shannon commented: “And abortion isn’t evil as indicated in the title of the article. It’s a simple medical procedure. We don’t judge wart removal or vasectomies, why judge abortion?”

    This is beyond pathetic…putting a wart and a human life in the same category. It’s far from a simple medical procedure. It’s always a complicated medical procedure because at least one person dies every time an abortion is performed. (Craig referred to it in his article as “an individual freedom thing.” Hmm. How nauseatingly trite.)

    It is science itself that has shown us with certainty when life begins. If anything nearing the marvel of a fertilized ovum was ever discovered on Mars it would be breaking news for months on every news network on this planet.

    Why judge abortion and Canada’s abortion laws?….because some Canadians think a human life is as expendable as a wart. Wake up Canada.

  14. LMAO!!!! Ed that is too funny!!!

    Cheryl…..absolutely….life starts at conception. But there are so many different scenarios it’s difficult at times to say whether abortion in certain cases is necessary or not. But like you I believe that no matter the circumstances…..it amounts to taking a life.

  15. also…..to see how it’s done is barbaric and heartbreaking.

  16. what are the alternatives to a safe medically contolled abortion in the 21st century ? going back to the days where women have to use clothes hangers or potions in back alley abortion rooms that reek of desperation and infection! Women or young girls bleeding to death or dying from diseases as a result of horrible conditions. the fact that many ended up sterile and never able to have children in stable homes because of one`s lot? its a woman who always bears the responsibility….!!! usually the poor end up with no personal choices . this is not a form of birthcontrol like popping a pill or using a condom. .No one can decide for her…..end of moral lesson…….and if all unwanted babies were born, who`d all the freakin antiabortionists want to pay tons of taxes to keep them fed and clean and healthy?? Or adopt them..? don`t think so…

  17. I have experienced two abortions at seven and eight weeks of gestation, one miscarriage at seven weeks gestation, and I have given birth to one very lovely child. I could not pay my rent when I had to pay for my first abortion, and in order to avoid being kicked out of my apartment I explained my situation to my landlord, not knowing what his position was on the issue. Imagine how I felt the second time I became pregnant. to say the least I felt like a massive failure. We all make mistakes. We all have lapses in judgement. I again found myself having to choose between paying for food, for rent, or gas for my vehicle when my month’s salary was spent on the medical procedure. My subsequent pregnancies were planned following my graduation from college, and my marriage to my husband. I appreciate the way you broached the subject in this article. I never have, nor ever will regret my choices, nor will I ever think of my abortions as a necessary evil. I will always support the right of any woman in any situation to choose (perhaps before a reasonable gestational age) when to become a parent. I fully understand the complexity of the arguments on both sides of the issue, and could never decide for any other person what is and is not the right choice for them. Every situation is different. Every abortion is different, just as every conception, pregnancy and delivery are different. There are so many factors contributing to these decisions. In a cascade of poor decisions made such as unsafe sex, or neglecting to correctly administer my birth control prescriptions, I have had to make a vital choice. Twice. I own those choices. I do not think any woman should ever be forced into becoming a parent. It is a huge responsibility that needs to be fully accepted. The notion that Women who receive abortions, or physicians that perform them are evil is abhorrent. It is dehumanizing. When people are labeled as such, without consideration for each and every person’s circumstances there is a vial part of each story that is missing.

  18. Induced abortion has a long history and has been facilitated by various methods including herbal abortifacients, the use of sharpened tools, physical trauma, and other traditional methods. Contemporary medicine utilizes medications and surgical procedures to induce abortion. The legality, prevalence, cultural and religious status of abortion vary substantially around the world. Its legality can depend on specific conditions such as incest, rape, fetal defects, a high risk of disability, socioeconomic factors or the mother’s health being at risk. ^,;.

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