It is universally entertaining to discuss abstract and hypothetical situations, the life-and-deathier the better. For instance, many people apparently find it extremely entertaining to discuss the possibility of a terrorist parachuting into, oh, Round Top, Texas and detonating a neutron bomb or something, and whether we should prevent it by anaestheticlessly removing the fingernails of every Swedish grandmother or Palestinian-sympathizing penguin or whatever figures in their imagination.
One of my favorites is the one about "when does life begin?" After all, all sorts of things come into the picture there. Ensoulment, individuation, the meaning of life, 42, all those wonderful issues we get to debate. It's an awesome thing to do when you're high on Mountain Dew.
But when it comes to any actual law related to the concept, the simple question becomes this: even if you do have an opinion on the deep philosophical question of when life "begins": at what point are you willing to tie up and intubate a woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy in order to prevent her from doing so? Because, you see, that's what it takes. If you're like me, you'll recoil from the concept. That recoil keeps the debate safely in the hypothetical realm, the world of fun and innocent lunchroom philosophical debates that everyone ought to have. If you don't recoil from the idea, then you'll be very happy to base laws on the severe restriction of women's freedom on your lunchtime hypothetical musings about the origin of human existence. There are, in fact, people like that. For what it's worth.
I am willing, however, to take a crazed chainsaw murderer from a horror movie and, in fact, restrain him or her until I can figure out what to do with this person. That is why I support the existence of laws on the prosecution or prevention of murder in some form or another.
Why are these two situations different for me? First and foremost, there is an emotive one. I am unashamed to say that I do judge some moral situations on an instinctive inner evaluation of relative suffering. I know that I have to inflict months of torture on some women in order to prevent them from having abortions. Unless we play silly semantic games with the concept of "suffering," I don't have to do this in the case of the crazed chainsaw murderer. Even if I did, I would be saving large numbers of people---beyond the mere victims---from a potentially great deal of suffering. My inner emotive evaluation of suffering forces me to see these things differently.
Even the debate-club ethical discussion forces me to take a position distinguishing these two situations. In the case of the pregnant woman, she is facing a situation in which her very being and personal existence may be altered by carrying the pregnancy through. To put it metaphorically, the very weight of her existence and consciousness is an order of magnitude greater than that of any fetus. We cannot easily say this for the chainsaw murderer or his/her victims.
Of course, I realize that this is the argument that abortion criminalizers are least moved by. But the correct and honest response is to persuade us that their debate-club notions of life, the universe, and everything should be used as a basis for law. Unfortunately, they have recently embarked on a strategy in Canada to circumvent that. This strategy may very familiar to my American readers. It is to consider the harming of a fetus during a violent act as a crime separate from that of harming the woman during that act. I am not saying that this is a stealthy end-run around the distinction between the abortion-seeking woman and the chainsaw murderer. I'm saying that it is a direct and open end-run around that, and extremely transparent to boot, which exploits the suffering of a small number of victims to enshrine in law a certain kind of debate-club ethics.
I don't normally write about this issue, as I have no personal direct or indirect experience of the matter. But I thought I would do so this once, as it vaguely appears that it might have a chance to pass in Canada, which would be a bad idea for the same reason that it is a bad idea to enshrine in law anything that has so obviously not made it out of the high-school debating club level of thought* and for the same idea that it's a bad idea to allow any party to get around an up-front discussion of their political motivations. It also connects a lot of other issues together. Like why it's wrong to torture Swedish grandmothers or suspected members of the man-penguin armies, or anyone else for that matter.
*No offense to high-school debaters. I was one too, and I enjoy that sort of thing. Well, actually, some offense intended. I think the formats are highly artificial and weird and possibly adversely affect the public discourse when debate-club graduates actually start careers without getting it out of their systems.