The issue of abortion rests on whether the fetus is regarded as a human being. Peikoff recognizes this in his article celebrating the Roe vs. Wade decision. “[A]bortion-rights advocates [should not] keep hiding behind the phrase ‘a woman's right to choose.’” Peikoff wrote. “Does she have the right to choose murder? That's what abortion would be, if the fetus were a person.” Objectivists are certain that a fetus is not a human life. How do they know this? Because, as Rand argued, a fetus is only a “potential” human life. But why is it only a potential life? To say that a fetus is only a potential, rather than an actual life, is merely to repeat that it is not an actual life in other words. It is, in short, to assume the point at issue. If we are to be strictly honest about his issue, we have to admit that it is not obvious whether a fetus should be regarded as a human life or not. At the stage of conception, it is only a few cells—and how can a few cells consitute a human life? Quickly, however, in the matter of a few weeks, it develops into something more interesting and substantial, gradually taking on human form and characteristics. Perhaps the most reasonable position would be to regard a fetus as an emerging life. Granted, this would mean that we couldn’t quite determine when a fetus becomes a human life. Abortion would thus remain what it is for most people: morally problematic. That, indeed, appears to be the attitude of the majority of Americans who, while regarding abortion as immoral, nevertheless believe it should remain legal in the first (and possibly second) trimester(s). Where many Americans differ decisively from Objectivism is in their view that late term abortions (i.e., partial-birth abortion) should in most instances be illegal.
Objectivists in their own way are every bit as unhinged and extreme on the issue of abortion as are those “pro-lifers” who would charge those who have abortions with first degree murder. They are constantly comparing fetuses to tissues, useless body organs, collections of cells, etc. Peikoff goes so far as to describe a fetus as a “cluster of lifeless cells”—a contradictio in adjecto if ever there was one! Such descriptions, besides betraying an imbalance of mind, are in bad taste. Whether we are for or against the criminalization of abortion, surely there is no reason to regard a fetus as only a clump of meaningless cells!
The arbitrary and inconclusive nature of the Objectivist argument for abortion rights can easily be appreciated if we compare it to Objectivist-based arguments against abortion. Yes, such arguments do exist: there are indeed self-proclaimed Objectivists who delight in using Objectivist modes of argumentation to reach the opposite conclusion on the question of abortion. Mark La Vigne argues as follows:
[The Objectivist position on abortion], of all things I have read and understood of objectivism, as advocated by A.R.I., is the single most inconsistent area of the Institute's intellectual endeavors. Human life is human life. "A is A." Mr. Peikoff would lead a reader to believe that an infant developed instantaneously, at the moment of birth, into a "real human being." This defies all known logic. Rather than simply stating the facts, perhaps what is needed is a further demonstration of them:
Mr Peikoff claims that the embryo "exists as part of the woman's body." True or false? False. It is dependent upon the woman's body, but the real test of it as an integral part of her body is whether it can successfully be removed without harm to her, and implanted in another woman without harm to either the surrogate or the embryo. The answer is "yes" in each instance. Can it, at this stage, exist independent of some woman's body, other than by freezing? No. That does not, however, make it part of a woman's body.
La Vigne makes a few good points against Peikoff’s arguments, but his points hardly constitute an argument for the pro-life position. It is merely an argument against Peikoff’s bad arguments. Nor does the “A is A” reference help one jot (unless it is inserted for reasons of satire).
A more serious argument (perhaps too serious) along Objectivist lines is presented by G. Stolyarov.
The question then becomes, “When does a potential cease being a mere alternative among many?” Prior to the conception of a child, there is absolutely no guarantee that a particular genetic code will be furnished to serve as the basis for the uniquely adjusted rational faculty of a child-to-be. Therefore it is moral to prevent conception by means of abstinence or contraceptives, and the couple will therefore possess a genuine choice of whether or not to expend a substantial portion of their lives and finances on the upbringing of offspring. However, once conception has occurred, the peculiar genome is already in place, which will result in the inevitable development of a rational creature absent intervention. Granted, the fetus does not yet possess volitional consciousness, but neither does a man who is asleep. Does that grant a serial murderer the right to enter his home, loot his property and kill one whom he mistakenly judges to be “potentially awake”? The fact that that particular man (or child) will, if unhindered, be able to exercise his volitional consciousness, classifies him as a human being.
Although hardly a convincing argument, I must give Stolyarov credit for originality. A fetus is not a “potential” human life because, once conception takes place, there exists a guarantee of a particularly genetic code for a uniquely adjusted rational faculty! Okay, if you say so Mr. Stolyarov! Yet once again I must belabor the obvious: all such verbalist arguments, regardless of which side of the debate they come down on, are utterly futile precisely because no one would ever change their mind after being exposed to them. They seem effective only to those who have already made up their minds and agree with the positions asserted in them.