I just stumbled upon an interesting post by Timothy Mills (HT: James McGrath), which claims the pro-life movement is inconsistent to argue so vehemently against abortion, while ignoring that more (far more, according to him) conceived embryos die of miscarriage than are aborted intentionally:
About 10-20% of pregnancies that the mother knows about miscarry. In studies that use detailed detection techniques, about 30% of clinically-recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. (In this case, "clinically-recognized" means "exhibiting the hormone produced on uterine implantation of the embryo".) Extrapolating to those fertilized eggs that never get implanted and so are currently impossible to medically detect, 75% of conceptions may fail to carry to term.
So three quarters of conceived (and thus fully-human, by the anti-abortionists' lights) embryos miscarry - die without anyone setting out to kill them. And of those that survive this natural winnowing, 25% are then aborted intentionally (about 6% of total conceptions).
The vast majority of pre-birth deaths are miscarriages - twelve times as many as are aborted. If abortion is genocide, miscarriage is a plague unparalleled in human history, claiming 75% of all human lives.
So if [pro-life advocate] Matthew and his colleagues are indeed pro-life, and not simply anti-abortion, what obligation does this knowledge place on them? Isn't miscarriage a more immediate and profound problem than the relatively minuscule one of abortion?
I have to admit that this is not an aspect of the abortion debate that I had ever considered before, but I have serious problems with his argument. First, notice how he introduces the 75% figure as a possibility ("may") but then immediately employs it as a certainty. More basically, however, I fail to see how he justifies this number at all. How exactly can he "extrapolate" from a clinically established 31% rate of miscarriage (based on a small trial at that – the study he links only involved 221 women) to a 75% rate based on a variable that no one even knows?! The link he provides gives no source or justification for this figure of 75%, and I’ve been unable to find anything like it through Google (most sites I’ve seen suggest that somewhere between 20-30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage).
If we instead accept the 31% figure given by the study he cites, that still means that nearly a third of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. I’ll be the first to admit that this is indeed a terrible thing; my wife and I have lived through two of them ourselves and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But this figure certainly does not dwarf the number of abortions. His 6% figure (which he does not explain) seems to be based on the assumption that 75% of conceptions miscarry, which allows him to divide the actual ratio of abortions to live births (23.5% in North America) by four, but as he has given no proof that we should accept this 75% figure, I don’t see why we should accept this calculation either.
The truth is, we simply do not know what percentage of conceptions miscarry before they are detectable. What we do know is that today in North America, more pregnancies that are detected are aborted as miscarry on their own. Timothy himself notes that only 10-20% of known pregnancies miscarry, whereas in the USA and Canada about 23.5% of known pregnancies end in legal abortions (and other developed nations have much higher abortion rates; Russia's is over 50% relative to live births). Miscarriage is a tragedy, so how much worse is abortion, which despite Timothy’s claims, appears to take many more lives, and unlike miscarriage, is almost entirely preventable?
But for sake of argument, let's assume he’s right and far more fetal deaths are "natural" than intentional, I truly don’t understand what he thinks this proves. Consider an illustration: If murder were suddenly to become legal (but no more prevalent than it is today), would we be unjustified in loudly condemning the practice despite the fact that far more people die of natural causes? Would a group that sought to publicize the evil of murder be suspect for not spending a greater amount of their time advocating better safety regulations or health care? If not, why should abortion be any different for those who believe that no innocent human being should be killed for the benefit of another?
Timothy, however, does not accept that human beings have innate dignity:
To me, human rights derive from those properties of human existence that we most value: consciousness, sentience, free will.
Personally, I have some sympathy for this view. After all, human dignity is not arbitrary nor unrelated to these features of our nature, but I’ve never understood why people think this should make abortion acceptable. Unless he is suggesting that only those who currently possess these properties deserve to live, what difference does it make that an unborn child is not yet conscious, sentient, etc, when if left alone it will naturally become so? Don’t all of us lack these properties from time to time (while asleep or under anesthesia), yet killing a person is still murder even if they are asleep. What’s the difference?
Yet once again, let’s assume he is right and, since a fetus lacks these properties, it cannot be murdered. Even in that case should it not still concern us that literally millions of people every year now choose – often for no better reason than convenience – to actively deny one of their already conceived children from attaining those capacities, that is, from living the life they would otherwise have enjoyed? This was not always so, and quite apart from any inherent human dignity, this seems a profoundly tragic state of affairs.