Humans have an aversion to the sufferings of others and extend this empathy to animals. Opponents of abortion can't understand how animal rights activists can be indifferent to foetal pain during an abortion.People who oppose abortion often do not understand why animal rights' (AR) activists are not concerned with condemning abortion. While some AR activist are opposed to abortion, others believe that the two issues are unrelated.
- Most developed countries have laws that require pain and distress be kept to a minimum in research, teaching or testing.
- As sentient beings, animal right's activists consider it discrimination to deny animals 'personhood.'
- As soon as a pain mechanism is present in the foetus, abortion methods will cause pain.
AR supporters consider that the key criterion for rationalising the dehumanisation and destruction of others (in this case the human foetus) is cognition or sentience.
Sentience and Discrimination
Sentience is the consciousness of pleasure and pain. An icecream on a hot day is a source of pleasure. Equally, standing on a drawing pin in bare feet brings consciousness of sharp pain.
Humans have an understandable aversion to pain. They sympathise with friends who are suffering a painful illness. This consciousness of another’s suffering is called empathy. It is considered a measure of one’s humanity to develop such consciousness.
Abortion and sentience
While medical evidence indicates that the human foetus feels pain during an abortion after twenty weeks, there is as yet no consensus about when pain can be felt in the earlier stages of development.
A British commission on foetal sentience summarised that “...there is a considerable and growing body of evidence that the foetus may be able to experience suffering from around 11 weeks of development.”
An article “The Experience of Pain by the Unborn”, written by John Noonan, a professor of law at the University of California observes that:
“Human infants and all animals brought up by parents will cry and scream. What we do with animals to be able to say that they are in pain, is precisely what we do with the newborn and the infant: we empathize. We suppose for this purpose that the animals are, in fact ‘like us’ – and we interpret the context of the cry.”
The pain is more substantial and lasts longer, the later the abortion is performed.
“We may conclude that as soon as a pain mechanism is present in the foetus, the abortion methods will cause pain. The pain is more substantial and lasts longer, the later the abortion is performed.”
“Whatever the method used, the unborn are experiencing the greatest of bodily evils, the ending of their lives. They are undergoing the death agony. However inarticulate, however slight their cognitive powers, however rudimentary their sensations, they are sentient creatures undergoing the disintegration of their being, and the termination of their vital capabilities.”
People are attracted to the animal-rights movement through empathy for the alleged suffering endured by animals.
In the modern western world, there has been a growing consciousness of the need for more humane policies in animal husbandry. Battery farming and confining pigs in small pens are increasingly unpopular as the general public learn of the alleged suffering the animals endure.
In New Zealand, animals are killed instantly in freezing works with a “captive bolt gun.” The Animal Welfare Act of 1999 (Section 80, 2a) requires that in research, teaching or testing, any pain or distress to the animal is “reduced to the minimum possible in the circumstances.”
People are attracted to the animal-rights movement through empathy for the alleged suffering endured by farm animals and those used for laboratory testing. They believe that the animals’ sentience of fear and distress, outweighs any claimed social benefits.
They also believe that animals are victims of discrimination. As sentient beings they have rights too. “Animals are autonomous beings,” writes Vasu Mirti, “possessing levels of conscious awareness comparable to those of small children (or at least the mentally handicapped).”
“Full-grown animals are highly complex creatures, possessing a brain, a central nervous system and a sophisticated mental life. Animals suffer at the hands of their human tormentors and exhibit ‘such human’ behaviours and feelings as fear and physical pain, defense of their children, pair bonding, group and tribal loyalty, grief at the loss of young ones, joy, jealousy, competition, territoriality, and cooperation.”
"The question is not, ‘Can they reason?,’ nor ‘Can they talk?,’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”
Mirti quotes Jeremy Bentham: “A full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month old. But suppose they were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, ‘Can they reason?,’ nor ‘Can they talk?,’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”
“The animal-rights thus rejects belonging to the human race as the criterion for ‘personhood,’ membership in our moral community, as a form of discrimination, comparable to racism or sexism. Sentience, or the ability to experience pleasure and pain, is recognized as the only morally relevant criteria (Mirti).”
While the animal rights movement has no official position on the issue of abortion, some abortion advocates are concerned that recognition of animal rights will pave the way toward recognition of foetal rights. Anti-abortionists, on the other hand, argue that failing to apply the same rights and protection to a human foetus is unreasonable.
If sentience is to be the argument for giving moral consideration to non-humans, then abortion opponents say that it is a logical step to give that same moral consideration to the human foetus, which is sentient through most of its development.