Murder or Abortion: What’s the Difference?

CNN reported on a tragic story about a woman whose boyfriend tricked her into taking an abortion-inducing drug after she told him she was pregnant. The boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, is now facing first-degree murder charges for killing the unborn child. Welden told his girlfriend that his father, a doctor, had prescribed her an antibiotic for an infection. In reality, Welden gave her an abortion-inducing drug, and the pregnancy was terminated.

This story is undoubtedly tragic, and Welden deserves to face punishment for first-degree murder. However, the undercurrent of this story is working against the tide of abortion-rights advocates. Note with me the inconsistency of the logic of our laws and of abortion advocates.

The pregnancy of Remee Lee was terminated by her boyfriend, the supposed father of the child. Since it was against the will of the mother, Welden is being charged with first-degree murder. However, if Lee had terminated the pregnancy herself, it would have been perfectly legal and perhaps even applauded by abortion advocates. Even if the abortion had been against the will of the father, the mother would have been within her legal rights to have an abortion.

Why is this a problem? The charge of first-degree murder implies the pre-meditated killing of innocent human life. It implies value in the life that is lost. In this case, it is the life of an unborn child.

What makes an abortion elected by the mother any different? The charge of first-degree murder cannot be levied against Welden for any physical harm incurred by Ms. Lee. Instead, it is directly centered upon the loss of life for the baby. The attorneys may even argue that the life was taken against the will and rights of the unborn child. In the same way, abortions performed according to the will of the mother take the life of an unborn child against his/her will and rights. Why is it murder for the boyfriend to induce an abortion and not when a woman chooses it on her own?

The inconsistency is glaring but unspoken in our culture.

20 thoughts on “Murder or Abortion: What’s the Difference?

  1. Just to try and respond to your initial question, there’s an enormous and important difference between abortion and murder under one condition: viability. If a fetus is too early in its development to live outside the womb, it can’t be considered legally equal to a baby. It MIGHT become a baby. It’s a POTENTIAL human. And it certainly is alive. But it is NOT “a baby”. It could fail to survive, or be miscarried during gestation (natural, biological abortion) for thousands of reasons, or die from complications during birth. A human has to be reasonably potentially able to survive the birth process and thrive outside a womb to hold full legal status. You may disagree or feel that’s wrong, but that is the law as it currently stands. That is why Gosnell could be convicted of murder, and why it’s doubtful this man will be. It may be a strategy on the part of prosecutors to force a plea to lesser charges.

    1. I understand your logic, but the laws have already proven your case to be wrong. There are multiple convictions for vehicular manslaughter where babies are killed in the womb even though they had not reached a stage of viability. Also, a prosecutor cannot simply bring charges on a whim. This has already gone to a grand jury who deemed it worthy of first-degree murder charges. The most interesting thing about it all is that you will not find abortion advocates making the case that he should not be charged with murder. If they were consistent, they would claim he is being charged for something he did not commit. Otherwise, they would probably be satisfied with a charge of assault against his boyfriend.

    2. One other question for you: What makes potential for healthy birth the dividing line for legal rights? 30-40 years ago, that might have been at 30 weeks gestation. Now it could be at 24 weeks. Does that mean the line keeps moving?

    3. Peter Singer, no fan of the right to life for an unborn child contradicts your logic. He writes:

      “The central argument against abortion, put as a formal argument, would go something like this:

      First premise: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
      Second premise: A human fetus is an innocent human being.
      Conclusion: Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

      The usual liberal response is to deny the second premise of this argument. So it is on whether the fetus is a human being that the issue is joined, and the dispute about abortion is often taken to be a dispute about when a human life begins.

      On this issue the conservative position is difficult to shake. The conservative points to the continuum between the fertilized egg and the child, and challenges the liberal to point to any stage in this gradual process that marks a morally significant dividing line. Unless there is such a line, the conservative says, we must either upgrade the status of the earliest embryo to that of the child, or downgrade the status of the child to that of the embryo; but no one wants to allow children to be dispatched on the request of their parents, and so the only tenable position is to grant the fetus the protection we now grant the child. . . .

      The liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right, in a way that clearly shows fetuses to be in the latter category at the stage of development when most abortions take place. The conservative is on solid ground in insisting that the development from the embryo to the infant is a gradual process.”

      Thus, Singer completely disagrees with the viability argument. In fact, he goes to great lengths in his Practical Ethics to show why it is philosophically and logically impossible to make viability the dividing line for right to life. Only conception or rationality are strong enough. If you choose rationality, then you have to support infanticide up to at least the age of 6 months, but probably closer to 2-3 years old.

      For more, see my post at

      1. I think you’re going way overboard in response. Different states define murder differently, as well as when abortions are legal, as well as when viability begins. This isn’t “my” logic, or even my own personal position, and I’m not here to argue with you. I was just trying to clarify, based on my past paralegal experience, some of the ways lawyers look at these cases. I don’t have personal experience in abortion clinics to draw on.

      2. Miley, I don’t think it is overboard to follow logical conclusions. You at least admit that viability is a subjective standard for establishing the right to life. That means it cannot be applied consistently in any law where it is used. Therefore, such a law would be unconstitutional.

  2. Well I can say I agree with Dr. Lenow 100%. This case is not the only one that has people asking why is it ok to kill an unborn baby. The Gosnell case has many people asking what is the difference in the baby inside the womb to a baby outside the womb? Why is it so horrific that Gosnell did what he did to a baby outside the womb but a child inside the womb can be brutally ‘disposed of’ by a D&E? The lack of consistency goes even farther than just this one case of the abortion pill. Dr. Lenow, I’m glad I had you as a prof and I enjoy reading these blogs.

  3. With regards to legal termination of a pregnancy the determining factor is desireability not viabilit. If the mother intended to carry the baby to term & deliver, termination of the pregnancy is a criminal offense. If the mother does not, then terminating is legal.

  4. I have asked this question before in discussions with pro-choice advocates. It basically comes down not to an inconsistentcy. It seems clear that the mother has the right to choose if the fetus is an innnocent human being or just tissue. There are some laws that limit the choice of abortion but beisdes those common sense rules it is completely the mother’s decision. So the pro-choice argument is consistent. I believe it is consistently poor however. So to use the premises above here it goes.

    First premise: It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
    Second premise: The mother decides which human fetus’ are human being.
    Conclusion: Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.
    in which its mother has concluded that it is an innocent human being.

    SO in the end the pro-chocie argument is consistent. It is all about the choice of the mother. Period!


    1. Thanks for the comment, Carl. To be completely consistent then, should the mother not also have the right to determine if the child should live after birth? What about late term abortions? If desirability is the standard, then the laws are unjust that prevent late term or after birth abortions and infanticide. If you want to be consistent, that is where you are required to go logically.

    2. If the choice of the mother is preeminent, at what point should she no longer have choice? I know you are not making that argument, but what would abortion advocates say?

      1. It is unjust, inconsistent & illogical. These cases put those wanting justice for a mother and the right to choose in a moral dilemma.
        For me the right to choose ends at conception. The typical person would probably say at viability, the abortionist no restrictions.
        Should we accept a compromise at 6 or 12 weeks?

  5. Great post. I saw the article and thought the same- the child’s life is no different regardless of who initiated the abortion drug. Whether or not it’s murder depends on who wants that life? If the mother, then its a child. If she doesn’t want it, then it’s not a child. Here the courts say it was a child and thus murder. If she had chosen the drug, then it wouldn’t have been a child. Your point above about charging one with double homicide if they kill a pregnant mother, stories like this one, and questions surrounding the Gosnell case will have to force us to really look at when life begins and establish objective standards about who/what is a “human”.

    1. You are right. The laws are inconsistent, and these cases are exposing that. I hope we reevaluate these laws and choose to protect life beginning at conception.

  6. I thought this blog post was really good and this is a huge inconsistency that you have pointed out and is an important one to look at. I think those who in the comments have just clarified the law have maybe missed the point a little in that morals and ethics is about is ethical and moral based on strong logical and philosophical arguments, not just what the law says. Coincidentally, in my research, I had read the same passages from Peter Singers Practical Ethics!
    please take a look at my blog post on the issue of abortion
    and maybe, if you have time, my post on personhood which may suggest we should be looking at abortion as a matter of personhood and not humanhood.

    Thanks for providing an interesting read with this post!

Comments are closed.