Questions & Answers on Abortion


I recommend that you read through all the answers in the order given, as later answers rely on material covered in earlier answers.

Fetus & Embryo

What is an embryo?

An embryo is the product of conception from implantation in the uterus through the eighth week of development.

What is a fetus?

The concept fetus is used to denote the unborn human from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo. A fetus contains all the organs and has the basic human form.

Is a fetus a human being because it has a complete set of human DNA?

A fetus is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA; however, a fetus, like an embryo, is not a human being, as it has no means of independent physiological existence (as does a baby, child, or adult). As such, it is a potential human being, just like an acorn is a potential oak tree (to use Ayn Rand’s example). It contains all of the DNA of an oak tree, but it is not an actual oak tree. [2]

Toward the end of a woman’s pregnancy, a fetus does have the means to live physiological independent outside its host, the pregnant women. At this point we say the fetus is physiologically viable, as from that point on the birth of a healthy child possible, though it remains physically dependent for sustenance from the mother until birth.

At birth, the fetus becomes a physically independent baby/child.

Is a fetus an independent being?

A being is a physically independent entity.

A fetus is physiologically dependent on the woman (host) for its survival—especially during the early stages of pregnancy. On birth it is physically independent of the woman’s body, an actual independent being.

A baby, in contrast, though socially dependent on the actions of other human beings for its survival, is physiologically independent of the body of its mother. [3]


What is abortion?

Abortion is the termination of pregnancy by the induced removal of an embryo or fetus (that is incapable of survival outside the body of the woman) which results in the death of the embryo/fetus.

What is the essential political issue concerning abortion?

The essential political question concerning abortion is: does the embryo/fetus have a right to be in the body of a woman against the will of the woman? Or: does a woman’s body belong to her, or to the government to forcibly dispose of in favor of the embryo/fetus?


What are individual rights?

Political rights are scientific, moral principles that guarantee freedom of action in a social context. The source of an individual’s right to life is are the requirements based on one’s nature as a rational being. Rights are requirements necessary for an individual to live as a rational being (human) in society. For a more-indepth discussion of the nature of rights see the Capitalism Visual Tour. Also see Ayn Rand’s essay “Man’s Rights” published in her book Capitalism: The Uknown Ideal.

Doesn’t a fetus have rights because it is “life”?

Life is a state of a cell or organism characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction. A fetus is life, just as an embryo, a sperm, an ant, an acorn, and a tree, are all life. Yet, all these forms of life have no rights. The characteristic of life is necessary to possess individual rights, but it alone is insufficient.

Isn’t an embryo “life”, and thus has a right to life?

A right is a moral sanction to freedom of action in a social context. [1]

Rights only apply to human beings, because only human beings survive by the use of reason (unlike cows, trees, bacteria—and fetuses).

Rights only apply to human beings, because only human beings—and not parts of beings—survive by reason.

An embryo and fetus has no rights, as it does not need freedom to take any actions, but survives on the sustenance of its host. The only rational action it must take is nothing, i.e. wait for itself to develop using the sustenance provided by its host.

Doesn’t the embryo/fetus/unborn baby have a “right to live inside” the woman?

A fetus (“unborn child”) does not have a right to be in the womb of any woman, but is there by her permission. This permission may be revoked by the woman at any time, because her womb is part of her body.

There is no such thing as the right to live inside the body of another, i.e. there is no right to enslave. A woman is not a breeding pig owned by the unborn child, state, or church. Even if a fetus were developed to the point of surviving as an independent being outside the pregnant woman’s womb, the fetus would still not have the right to live inside the woman’s womb.

What applies to a fetus, also applies to a physically dependent adult. If an adult—say a medical welfare recipient—must survive by being connected to someone else, they may only do so by the voluntary permission of the person they must be connected to. There is no such thing as the right to live by the efforts of someone else, i.e., there is no such thing as the right to enslave.

Is abortion a political right?

Abortion (the right of a woman to remove a fetus from inside her body which results in the termination of the fetus) is an inalienable right.

Abortion is not a violation of anyone else’s rights because there is no such thing as the right to live inside (or outside) of another human being as a parasite, i.e., against the will of that person. This principle applies to both fetuses and adults.

As a woman has a right to choose who she has sex with (as her body is her property), so is it a woman’s right to choose what can and cannot remain inside her body (as her body is her property). As it is evil for someone else to dictate the use of her body by raping her, so it is evil for someone else to dictate the use of her body by forcing her to remain pregnant.

As there is no such thing as the right to live inside another, whether the fetus is removed, because of incest, or rape, or “convenience” does not matter politically—whatever the reason, it is the woman’s inalienable right. Such a decision may be immoral; but, politically it is within a woman’s rights.

Is abortion murder?

Murder is the taking of the life of another human being through the initiation of physical force. Abortion is not murder, because an embryo is not an actual human being—it is a potential human being, i.e. it is a part of the woman. The concept murder only applies to the initiation of physical force used to destroy an actual human being, i.e., such as when “pro-life” terrorists bomb abortion clinics.



What is the the status of abortion under capitalism?

Under capitalism (a social system based on the principle of individual rights) abortion is an inalienable right. Any one who advocates the outlawing of abortion (especially in the first few months of pregnancy)—like American Religious Conservative Politicians Paul Ryan and Rick Santorum—is an enemy of individual rights in principle, and thus an enemy of capitalism. As for those on the Left, who think one can have a right to property without a right to one’s body, they are guilty of context dropping.

Sex & Choice

Are abortion rights are based on the sexual choices of the mother?

The source of the right to life is not the choices of one’s parents, e.g. a two year old child’s rights are not based on any decisions made by its parents. The source of the right to life is one’s nature as a rational being (see Man’s Rights by Ayn Rand, published in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal).

Similarly, an embryo’s lack of rights, are based on its nature as human tissue—and not on the choices of those who brought it into being.

If a woman chooses to have sex with a man, and she becomes pregnant, then doesn’t a fetus have a right to be inside her?

The essential issue is not a matter of ones sexual history, but the scope of one’s freedom of action, i.e., one’s rights. As there is no such thing as the right to live inside another, whether the fetus is removed, because of incest, or rape, or “convenience” does not matter politically—whatever the reason, it is the woman’s inalienable right.


Do children have rights?

Children, unlike embryo’s or fetuses, do possess individual rights. A new born child, unlike a fetus, is a physically separate entity. It is an individual: an independent being. A child is an actual human being, with a capability to reason, and thus a child has the same right to life as any adult.

Do children have the same rights as adults?

However, the application of this right for a young child differs in practice from that of an adult, as a child’s conceptual faculty is not fully developed. This is why a three year old girl does not have the right to choose to enter into a sexual relationship—and an adult does.

Why does a child, or adult, have a right to life, and not a fetus?

A child, like an adult, exists as a physically independent entity. A fetus cannot exist as a sovereign entity, but requires a host to survive. A fetus’ so called right to life boils down to the “right to remain in the womb”—and such a “right” is only possible by the violation of the actual right of the pregnant woman to her body.

In contrast, observe that a child’s right to life does not contradict the rights of anyone else. The principle here is that any alleged “right” that by nature entails the violation of the rights of another is not a right. There is no such thing as “trading one’s rights for the rights of others.” Proper rights, i.e., rights that are objectively defined, are non-contradictory.

Do parents own their children like they own their house?

Parents do not own their children, but are their guardians.

Guardians are individuals who make decisions for the child—in the child’s best interest—until the child’s mind is developed enough so that the child can make decisions for himself.

If a parent gives birth to a child—and claims to be its guardian (which is the prerogative of the biological parent)—then that parent is responsible for taking care of the child, unless the parent revokes guardianship, and turns the child over to someone else for adoption.


[1] Ayn Rand.

[2] Writing on this issue in “The Age of Mediocrity” writes Ayn Rand:

“If any among you are confused or taken in by the argument that the cells of an embryo are living human cells, remember that so are all the cells of your body, including the cells of your skin, your tonsils, or your ruptured appendix—and that cutting them is murder, according to the notions of that proposed law. Remember also that a potentiality is not the equivalent of an actuality—and that a human being’s life begins at birth.” [“The Age of Mediocrity” The Objectivist Forum, June 1981, 3]

[3] An argument can be made that a viable fetus that is fully developed (physiologically independent), but still inside the womb (physically dependent), should not be aborted, but should be delivered early. But this argument, is only valid within a context that holds that a non-viable fetus does not have a right to live within the womb, i.e., abortion is a women’s right within the first trimester of pregnancy.

Note: The views expressed on this site represent those of the owners, and do not necessarily represent the views of Leonard Peikoff or Ayn Rand, unless explicitly stated.

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