Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2019-20/Truth in Abortion

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The abortion debate is one of the most polarising everyday controversies, dichotomizing people into being either "pro-choice" or "pro-life". "Pro-choice" insists that women should be able to choose whether or not to abort, whereas "pro-life" prioritises the life of the embryo.[1]

The abortion debate is considered to be a moral dilemma, as people's views on the matter typically stem from their opinions on the following:

  • when life begins. Is an embryo alive upon conception, or does life begin at its first heartbeat?
  • whether or not life implies "personhood"[2]. Killing a person is considered murder, whereas killing a living thing isn't. For example, a fish is alive, but it isn't a person, so killing a fish is not murder. Is an embryo a person, in which case, is abortion murder?
  • and whether one's quality of life is significant. Is knowing that an embryo would have a poor quality of life sufficient reason for abortion? And if completing the pregnancy would result in a worse quality of life for the mother, should she be able to terminate it?

Professor Lejeune's Dilemma[edit]

Down Syndrome Karyotype

Servant of God, Jerome Lejeune was a twentieth century French geneticist and theologist. He was the first scientist to discover, in 1958, the existence of an extra chromosome on the 21st pair, proving a relationship between a state of mental disability and a chromosomal anomaly [3]. Whilst his work led him to receive numerous scientific awards, he was furious and miserable that his research was used to identify disabilities including Down syndrome with the aim of terminating pregnancy. His research forced people to consider whether or not it was morally appropriate to give birth to a child if there's a high chance of them having a poor quality of life. Lejeune's theological understanding of truth prevailed, bringing about his view that people should not abort, and instead endeavour to improve the quality of life of the unborn child. As pro-abortion movements began growing in size, Lejeune starting giving conferences around the world, fighting against abortion and arguing that pregnant women weren't given enough information and foresight about life with disabled children. Just before his death, Lejeune stated: "I was a physician who should have saved them and I am leaving them. I have the impression of abandoning them".[4]

Interpretations of Truth by Academic Disciplines[edit]


Biology is the study of living organisms, comprising many sub-disciplines.[5] It is a science, and the scientific approach to knowledge is rational, objective, impartial and often seen as positivist.[6] It aims at drawing a precise and accurate account of the phenomenons of the real world, or "models", using rigourous methods of measurement and experimentation.[7] Biology and science therefore have a very limited conception of the truth: they constitute more a field of evidence or a basis for other disciplines to then draw their own conclusions. For example science isn’t concerned with the right or wrong in abortion. The scientific study only seeks to deepen the own knowledge of itself.

Regarding abortion, 81% of American adults participating in a survey said they would trust a biologist in the first place if they were to make a decision about abortion.[8] Developemental biology is a branch of biology focusing on the anatomical growth of organisms (plants and animals). It is in particular concerned with embrayonic and fetal developpement, and hence pertinent in understanding abortion. Stricly speaking, the first cell after fertilization, called the zygote, has within itself all the necessary material to sustain life and develop into a complete individual. The zygote is a form of life. However so are the germinal cells from the parents (sperm and egg) and so are the billions of cells we lose everyday. Then, the neurological system is seen (by who? ref needed) as a crutial point on determining whether a living being is "sentient". It is a slow and continuous process and therefore it's hard to pin-point a specific time when a fetus feels pain. 7, 18, and 26 weeks and are all proposed dates for the begging of an efficient sensory system. In the US legislation, after 22 postovulatory weeks, a doctor performing an abortion must resort to the use of pain reducing drugs.[9] Science is good at describing the growth of tissues and organs, but it doesn't suffice in telling when a "worthy" form of life begins.

Then, a branch of biology is dedicated to the study of genetics and genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome. In those cases, biologists look for a description of the symptoms, and in establishing links of causalities between the phenotype (physical aspects) and the genome of an individual. We understand that the scientific mindest was an important aspect of Lejeune's morality because of his professional life.

Biblical Theology[edit]

Simply defined, theology is the study of god, and we can regard the study of god according to the Bible as Biblical theology.[10][11] Whilst truth is essential to faith, understanding its nature in Biblical theology has always been one of the most fundamental questions tackled by theologists. Pontius Pilate, the unbeliever that ordered Jesus' crucifixion asks in the New Testament of the Christian Bible: "Quid est veritas?"[12], Latin for "what is truth?", a rhetorical question to which Jesus replies "I am the way, the truth and the life"[13]. Theological truth isn't quantifiable, coherent, nor existentially relevant[14], it is that what is consistent with God, with God's will, character, glory and being. Hence, theological truth is the "self-expression of god".[15]

The abortion debate unfolds important life issues, such as its meaning and origin, when life truly starts and what is right or wrong, and is therefore meticulously decorticated by theologists. The cornerstone of all Biblical theology is a list of ten commandments, originally written in the old testament. One of these stands to be "You shall not kill"[16], a statement which can be regarded from two different perspectives: On one side, a theologist can argue that human life begins at conception: "As a man's sperm fertilises a women's ovum, a new, genetically unique, single-celled identity, is created. This is the beginning of human life" [17]. Hence, theological doctrines forbid abortion even if the life of the women is at stake, from day one. On the other hand, it may be argued that the portrait of humanity starts with the creation of Adam & Eve in the Bible, not with an objective explanation of conception. A person is portrayed as a complex being, with the ability to make irrational decisions, the ability to kill, to lie, to commit adultery etc. One may even argue that this illustration is god-like, as god created "man to be an image of his own eternity"[18]. Following this line of reasoning, a fetus does not match anything close to this portrait, but a woman old enough to be pregnant does. We now open the debate of personhood against possible personhood. If a fetus is not to be considered as a person until it matches the description of Adam & Eve, the life and arguably well-being of a women should be placed above the life of a potential newborn, and abortion may be viewed as less of a crime.

The Catholic church still forbids abortion today, although before 1869, abortion was not sanctioned before the stage of ensoulment, as it was claimed that a fetus could only be considered a human being once it had gained all specifically human features. [19]

Sociology & Law[edit]

Sociology is the study of the development and function of human society.[20] Sociology takes into consideration how humans interact in society, both currently and through history.

It's considered by many to be the "post-truth" social science [21], meaning that it has a more deflationary, interpretive[22] understanding of truth. That is to say, it doesn't typically aim to find objective truth, instead focusing on observations and human beliefs and patterns in order to seek an understanding of society. There are positivist sociologists who aim to seek truth in an analytical manner, through research and methodical testing, but this is a less common approach.

This discipline plays an important part in the abortion debate due to the influence it has on law-making. In order to apply rules to society, it's necessary to observe and understand how society functions on its own. The Roe v. Wade, 1973[23] case provides a framework from which to consider the legal position on abortion.

The concept of trimesters in pregnancy played a significant part in the arguments made during this case. The court inferred that a pregnancy should always be legal during the first trimester, legal only if necessary to protect the mother's health during the second and third, as a fetus becomes viable during the third trimester (able to survive outside of the womb). The positivist sociological perspective comes into play here, as evidence showing exponentially increasing rates of fetal survival in the third trimester[24] gave rise to their understanding of when life begins, as it is clear from the difference in the legality of abortion over time that a fetus is considered "more alive" in the third trimester than the first.

As of 1971, there had been no legal cases in which a fetus was considered a person; that is to say, it does not benefit from any of the rights a person has. That includes a right to life. This was a crucial argument made for the plaintiff, Jane Doe, which plays on the "observatory", pattern-seeking nature of sociological truth.

The factor of quality of life did not play an explicit part in this case, but the verdict maintained that a woman's right to privacy, stated under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution[25], fostered her right to an abortion on any grounds whatsoever during the first trimester.


Psychology is a science that involves the use of scientific and positivist approaches in studying the human mind and the ways it impacts human behavior. The positivist approach in the case of psychology involves uncovering facts as related to human mind, and confirming those facts using scientific methodology. The central objective for its use is to gain a better understanding of an individual’s measurable experiences.

Still working on this paragraph!!! - Truth in psychology can be defined as the beliefs and assertions which an individual or an institution holds. For instance, the correspondence theory of truth suggests that a plan is right if the world is as the plan articulates it is in reality. However, it is imperative to understand that to believe and affirm in something does not necessarily make it be true4.

Psychology is concerned with exploring the human mind, measuring the processes within the human psyche and as the human brain develops to the point of being able to reason only at 32 weeks, psychologists therefore would argue that only at this point the fetus is considered human and hence abortions before this point are immoral and unethical as it is essentially killing a human being. However, psychology as a science may not be the optimal choice when determining the point of the beginning of human life as it undermines the biological and psychological aspects of it.

Furthermore, from the psychological point of view personhood begins at 18 months, a condition of being an individual with unique attributions. If you are not thoughtful, then your personhood is non-existent, which implies you cannot kill something non-existent.

Psychologists would argue that abortion should be legal for up to 32 weeks as before that the fetus is not considered to be human, there is no reasoning or thinking involved yet. This is due to the fact that the human brain starts to reason at 32 weeks, and the personhood begins at 18 months.

Interdisciplinary views[edit]

Is it possible to achieve any conciliation between abortion and theology? One may argue that abortion can, in specific scenarios, may help to solve concrete problems, eliminating forms human suffering: if pregnancy presents a serious risk to the mother's health, or if social or economic living conditions are such that, if the child were to be born, it would cause further suffering to the mother and her child, abortion could be viewed as a form of compassion instead of the killing of an innocent child.

The dilemma faced by Professor Lejeune provides an example of how different definitions of truth within disciplines can play out in world issues. Lejeune wasn't able to reconcile theological interpretation of truth with his biological approach, eventually choosing to prioritize the former. An interdisciplinary understanding of truth doesn't stop this issue from being somewhat binary, however it helps us better understand where differing views come from.

Each discipline bring their own contribution to the debate, but also their divergences and boundaries. While biology solely searches to put into light a pragmatic understanding of foetal developpement, psychology focuses on the wellbeing of both the carrying mother and the child. Theology, particularly christology, evaluates the value of life and the moral right of men to act upon it in regards to God and Creation. Law. The overlap in multiple visions from different disciplines, who each have their own polar divisions within themselves, make the abortion opposition a very complex matter today.

See Also[edit]

Roe v. Wade

from Major Opinions on the Roe v. Wade Case

Beginning of Human Personhood, Ethical Perspectives


  6. ATK lecture
  7. p.vii Heilbron, J.L. (editor-in-chief) (2003). "Preface". The Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science.
  12. 38th verse in chapter 18 of the Gospel of John in the New Testament of Christian Bible
  13. John 14:6
  18. Wisdom of Solomon 2:23: 23
  19. Stotland,N. L., (1998). Abortion: facts and feelings: a handbook for women and the people who care about them. American Psychiatric Pub, p. 59.
  23. Roe v. Wade | Summary, Origins, & Influence | Britannica › event › Roe-v-Wade
  25. 14th Amendment | U.S. Constitution | US Law | LII / Legal ... › amendmentxiv