Looking Beyond Politics and Orthodoxy in the Abortion Debate

This Republican is actually pro choice. Yes, we do exist. But that does not mean that there are no limits to a woman’s right to choose. I do believe as does my Church that life begins at conception. Personally I find abortion as a means of birth control reprehensible and immoral. But we do not live in a theocracy and no democracy can long survive if it adopts absolutist ethics. So I am willing to tolerate abortion within reason. For me the clear dividing line is the viability of the fetus. Only when the life (not the convenience, self esteem, career or other lesser consideration) of the mother is threatened should an abortion be performed after that point. If a woman has not made up her mind to abort within a reasonable time frame (and for me that is before the end of the second trimester) she forfeits that right as the life of the child in her womb takes precedence to her right to make choices regarding her body.

I know reasonable people on both sides of the abortion debate will take issue with my stand and I respect their views. But the number of hands raised on one or the other side of this agreement or the accompanying volume of the rhetoric of partisans on this (or any other vital) issue should not carry the day as no one should be cowed into silence on the issue. In a country obsessed with the rights of the underrepresented to the point of absurdity, where language, history and logic are thrown out the window or gleefully revised  in an effort to give offense to no group anywhere on earth, the most powerless, vulnerable, disenfranchised group of all–unborn children–are dismissed as irrelevant and until very recently, delivering such children to term only to suck out their brains within their mother’s wombs or having their spinal cords severed by a scalpel so that they would not qualify as “a life” by being denied the chance to  draw their first breath through a brutal, inhuman, willful act that should rouse any rational human being to anger, was quite legal. Sorry, that is just not good enough and is little different from labeling a particular group–Jews, Muslims, Catholics, etc.–as subhuman so that any atrocity against them may be justified while “right thinking” people turn their eyes elsewhere to the concerns of those more deserving of the label “human” and the protection that label affords.

I am a feminist and have always been. The glass ceiling, unequal pay for equal work, and the historical oppression of the majority of humanity by the minority–men–throughout recorded history can only pain and anger any rational human being. I have been angered beyond all bounds of civility by images on my television screen in the recent past of man’s continuing inhumanity towards women, and moved to tears by the bravery of girls facing death in an effort to attend school, to learn to read and write, to become productive members of societies that treat them as chattel because of their sex. But that does not mean that I must turn my sight elsewhere when a woman in a conspiracy with her doctor decides to terminate the life in her womb in the seventh, eight or ninth month of pregnancy. Roe v. Wade does not require it (the decision grants a woman an absolute right to abort, in consultation with her physician, only during the first trimester, not some absolute right to abort until a child takes his/her first breath or is delivered alive). Nor do concerns about equity, justice, expediency or reason.

A particularly troubling analogy that I have seen rational, intelligent proponents of abortion on demand without limits is the comparison of a woman’s right to abort as equivalent to her right to make health care decisions, such as excising a cancerous growth. Such reasoning is fatally flawed. A baby is not a cancerous growth, He/she is not an illness. While scientists and religious scholars can debate when life begins (or, from a religious perspective, when a soul enters the body), it is patently absurd from a biological perspective to argue that life begins when the baby fully exits the birth canal and takes his/her first breath.  The beginning of life is not the issue legally or morally for me, but rather the demarcation of a viable human life that can exist outside of the mother’s womb with or without medical intervention (such as the use of an incubator).

I’ve already articulated that I find abortion as a means of birth control to be morally wrong. But I thankfully do not live in a theocracy, and would not impose my belief system on others. Hence, I am willing to tolerate abortion until the point of viability–but no more other than in cases involving the life of the mother. In such cases, when the fetus poses the risk of death to the mother due to an underlying health condition, then I would support abortion until the moment before birth if the mother (or her proxy if she is incapacitated) chooses the option to abort. Abortion in other circumstances  is a compromise I make for the sake of civil society. As I’ve already said, I am a pragmatist. But there has to be a line drawn somewhere lest unbridled pragmatism devolve to anarchy. My stance is no different on this issue than that of most rational people of conscience who see a difference between personal ethics and societal ethics in a pluralistic democracy, and who understand the need to distinguish among the two in order to preserve democratic values and the rule of law.

The inconvenient truth with regard to this issue is that everyone knows a nine month fetus is in fact a child–not a thing, not a disease, not a cancer  but a living human being who does not need to breathe only because the mother’s womb sustains him/her through the umbilical cord and to whom we deny for the sake of political expediency the protection we provide to lower animals–even to chickens and rodents. I have no problem eating a fertilized chicken egg which was at one time a living organism; it contains only the potential of becoming a chicken. But if I allow the egg to come to term, viewing quite clearly the life it contains through a sonogram or similar technology, and wait until the chick inside begins its struggle for life by pecking at the shell from the inside until the first crack appears and at that moment I stomp on it, can anyone have any doubt that I have killed a chick? If we don’t care what Jesus would say, why do we care about what PETA would say on the issue? Am I not guilty of animal cruelty, a felony in my state and to my knowledge  in most others, by stomping on an egg that a chick has cracked in its fight for life?

Am I the only person who has a problem reconciling the ethics and politics of people who loudly profess the right of every woman to abort at nine months while screaming bloody murder should I step on a chicken egg at the cusp of hatching? The disconnect in those views is at once ironic, humorous and irrational. If the point has not been driven home, consider this. Assume arguendo that dog and cat fetuses are a delicacy for certain subgroups within our culture. Further assume that these people wait until the moment of natural birth for dogs and cows to insert a probe into bovine and canine uteruses respectively to suck out the brains of the as yet unborn cattle and puppies in utero and then deliver the animals dead, either whole or in pieces, depending on their preferred practice. Anyone care to argue that the victims of this travesty are not guilty of animal cruelty because the “unborn” puppies and baby cows killed in utero were only the equivalent of cancerous growths and not dogs or calves? Would we allow a young serial-killer-in-training to suck out puppies, kittens or even unborn rats from pregnant animals for his amusement with a modified vacuum cleaner attachment and say it is all right for him to do so (as long as he does not injure the mothers, of course) because these are not yet animals who have drawn a breath and therefore have no rights (or souls, presumably)?

The answers are self evident. The little sociopath engaged  in the practice described above would doubtless be given more than a time out by the most liberal of parents–even non vegan ones who do not contribute to PETA. I suspect the practice would be punishable even in San Francisco and in the state of Vermont. Yet people of conscience have absolutely no problem with denying human babies the protection we provide viable rat embrios–or chicken eggs in the process of hatching.

Nor does the argument “my body my choice” hold sway when the fetus reaches the point of viability and has the ability to live outside of the mother’s body. A woman should have the legal right to make the choice by the second trimester, and I support that rights whatever my personal feelings may be on the issue of abortion. Wait beyond that and the rights of the viable child supersede the woman’s right to choose. The state has both the right and duty to protect the life of a viable fetus, not just the woman’s right to make medical decisions. As a male, the rights over my own body are also not absolute. If I get into financial straits or simply would like to buy a newer car as my current one is 11 years old, I can’t sell a kidney–even though I have a spare–or a testicle (ditto), or an eye, or a piece of my liver.  The law prevents it in every state–and in every civilized country. The law likewise has the right to restrict abortion on demand. Arguments to the contrary are simply incorrect–that’s not an opinion but a fact based on current and past law.

People are free to have any opinions they like on the subject of abortion and irreconcilable differences will remain based on both politics and the related schools of ethics that inform them. But there is no honest debate possible on abortion on demand until a baby takes its first breath being an unqualified right in the U.S. States can, do and should restrict late term abortion involving a healthy fetus other than in instances involving the life or a serious threat to the health of the mother. In this as in so many other issues, taking an extreme stand only hurts the cause of a woman’s right to choose and invites state regulation which have been and will continue to be upheld for the foreseeable future by the U.S. Supreme Court.

My stand angers both the right and left on the issue equally. Pragmatic solutions to difficult problems almost always have that effect on true believers who are predictable in their perpetual inability to see beyond the limits of their own orthodoxy (and prejudice) and who believe themselves entitled to force their opinion, their political point of view and their system of ethics on the rest of us by any means necessary. If we are cowed into silence by their tactics and shrill voices seeking to silence dissent, we will not long live in a democracy, nor will they.

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