Agora Debate: Is Abortion Murder? Depends on Who’s Doing the Killing

From time to time, an issue emerges and inspires various minds to converge, often at odds with one another, to discuss it. Hopefully, collective enlightenment will result from such conversations. The Ancient Greeks did that in the Agora, the original marketplace of ideas, and we, their modern-day descendants, aspire to continue that tradition.  

We respect one another’s opinion very much, but often times we will disagree on particular issues. Anything we write here is our sincere, heartfelt thoughts.

We will share them with you every two weeks. We hope you enjoy them, and we look forward to your taking part in the discussion as well – by contributing letters to the editor in response, and/or commenting on our website:


Dan, a recent and heartbreaking news story has prompted me to re-examine the abortion issue from a different perspective. A Florida man named John Welden pleaded guilty to tricking his then-girlfriend, Remee Jo Lee, into taking a pill in order to terminate her pregnancy. Welden’s plan succeeded, and the seven week-old fetus died.

Lee had been overjoyed about the pregnancy, but, unbeknownst to her, Welden wanted no part of it. Accordingly, Welden forged the signature of his father – who is an OB-GYN – in order to fill the prescription for the ulcer pill, Cyotec, which is used to induce labor. He then relabeled the bottle “amoxicillin,” falsely claiming it was an antibiotic that his father had prescribed for Lee.

The Daily Mail reported that Welden carried out this plan because he did not want his other girlfriend to find out about his relationship with Lee, let alone that he was the father of her unborn child.

And, if the story possibly could become any worse, Welden handed the pills to Lee on (Western Christian) Good Friday and directed her to keep on taking them; Lee went to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain on Easter Sunday.

Lee was devastated to begin with when she miscarried, and became even more so when she learned that her boyfriend, and father of her child, was behind it.

Obviously, any civilized and compassionate human being would agree that Welden’s actions were despicable. Certainly, we all hope that justice is delivered soon, and that he receives an enormously stiff penalty for this horrific crime.

The issue that has piqued my interest, however, is that the prosecutor charged Welden with murder. The crime of murder – in Florida and everywhere else in the United States, no matter what some differing nuances might exist from state to state – involves the unlawful killing of a human being.

Later on, some experts said that the prosecutor would have a difficult time proving murder, because it would be nearly impossible to determine, scientifically, that the pill had been the murder weapon.

But no mention has been made about the fact that the seven week-old fetus was considered to have been a human being.

To put it another way, suppose that Lee’s child was not seven weeks old inside the womb, but seven weeks old after being born. Suppose, further, that Welden – whether or not he was the father – killed it. Surely, that would be murder. Even if Lee, the baby’s mother – killed her own child, that too, would be murder: the intentional killing of another human being.

Consistently, that Welden killed that same “human being” inside the womb is also considered murder, but if Lee had gone to an abortion clinic to have a doctor kill her unborn child, neither Lee nor the doctor would be prosecuted for murder – or for anything, for that matter, because abortion, particularly at that early stage of pregnancy, is perfectly and entirely legal.

Whether abortion should be legal is a different matter altogether – and it is an issue that I find to be far more complex than most. But the narrower question: how can an intentional act to kill, not done in self-defense, be considered murder in one instance and not in another, seems very simple to me.

If abortion is murder, then every mother that consents to one and every doctor who performs one are murderers. And if it is not, then no one who kills a fetus is a murderer – even a mugger in a dark alley.

Granted, I have absolutely no sympathy for those whose crimes result in the death of unborn babies, least of all Welden. I maintain that he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Not for murder, though.

A murder conviction would establish precedent that all abortion is murder, and therefore illegal and punishable by severe penalties, such as life in prison or even death.

And in that case, if pregnant women and doctors were not convicted for murder, but killer expectant fathers were, then that would raise a whole different Constitutional issue altogether: a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Dino, there has been an update since you wrote concerning the murder charge faced by James Welden. He has pleaded guilty to tampering with a consumer product and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He faces a sentence of 15 years in prison.

The bigger issue you raised remains relevant. Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow wanted to charge Welden with murder. Muldrow arrogantly took it upon himself to decide when life begins. His intent was clearly political, even if it stemmed from genuine religious belief. He wanted to establish a legal precedent. Once we have defined when life begins, judgments on whether an act is murder or not become a matter of fact rather than speculation.

Many Americans believe that life begins when a sperm successfully unites with an egg. At least as many other Americans have different views. Some believe that only a full-born infant should be defined as an independent human being. Others identify a time period that they believe determines when a fetus has independent life. Scientists note that the sperm and egg are also living organisms. Does that make masturbation or inducing menstruation murder?

The anti-abortion movement speaks of the born and the unborn as having equal status. They almost always believe a human being has a soul and apparently that soul comes into being when a sperm fertilizes an egg.

I am not a theologian, but I wonder how that concept applies to miscarriages and fatal premature births. If these are humans with souls, why is the divine force that gave them that soul taking it from them before they are even viable entities, much less beings capable of making moral decisions?

I am not so arrogant as to assume I have the definitive answer about the nature of the soul or when conventional life begins. What I do know is that unwanted pregnancies have been with us since the onset of recorded human history.

Before modern times, abortions for most women were quite dangerous and the fate of most unwanted children was not enviable. I am troubled that the anti-abortionists who like to call themselves pro-life offer no viable programs to care for the unwanted children once they are born.

Many of these children will have serious medical problems. Moreover, the parents of unwanted children are usually confronted by severe economic, social, and psychological pressures.

Given that it is virtually impossible to agree on when human life begins, I think the decision of whether it is best to abort or not should be made by the parents, not the state or a religious doctrine imposed on them.

In any dispute between the male and female about what to do, the female should have the final word as it is her life that may be endangered in any action taken. That makes me pro-choice with the woman having the deciding vote.

Returning to the case you spotlighted, the sentence given John Welden seems just and we can be relieved that Asst. U.S. Attorney Muldrow did not get a chance to establish his belief unilaterally as a legal precedent binding on others. Abortion, thankfully, remains a right guaranteed by federal law.