When Does Life Begin?
I never want to bring this topic up. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it, and no one wants to believe in views from the other side.
Wait, I should probably explain what I’m talking about here. When I listen to talk radio, I hear Republicans all for the death penalty (I won’t go there), but they are so against abortion. They find a way to justify killing something that has been alive and has done something wrong, but they can’t justify stopping a fetus — a collection of cells, in the first trimester — from coming to term and becoming a full-fledged life (even if they can’t get food, they can at least breathe on their own). Now, the only reason I could guess these people think abortion is wrong is because people believe that a fetus (which cannot live on its own) has more rights than a living female human being, so it should to tax its host — I mean, potential mother — until it can become a life.
Oh, wait, that’s what people argue about. When does it become a life.
Wow, I was just so slanted with all of that. And the thing is, no one can really talk about how they feel about the subject of abortion, because everyone will use religion as their foundation, or personal experience from something traumatic happening to them, and everyone gets quite heated about the subject.
I know where I stand, but I can’t just go around ranting about my beliefs and expect everyone to understand and accept my views. And I know that if we want to talk about this topic, I can’t let me personal biases get in the way of rational thought. So, I better start looking for the history of all of this, and get some facts and evidence to get to the heart of this matter.
First things first, the concept of abortions isn’t new.
Abortion induced by herbs or manipulation was used as a form of birth control in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome and probably earlier. Abortions were common in the Greco-Roman world in which Hippocrates lived, even if the Hippocratic oath states that no assistance should be given to women who choose the end their pregnancy. Fast forward to the Middle Ages in Western Europe: abortion was generally accepted in the early months of pregnancy. However, in the 19th century, opinion about abortion changed. Abortion laws began to appear in the 1820s in the US, forbidding abortion after the fourth month of pregnancy (similar to the middle ages...). In 1869 the Roman Catholic Church prohibited abortion under any circumstances, and most abortions in the US had been outlawed by 1900. Since then, and since abortion practices have been safer for the woman’s health, attitudes toward abortion grew more liberal in the 20th century. By the 1970s, abortion had been legalized in most European countries, the United States and Japan. Since the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling, several state legislatures passed restrictive abortion laws in hope that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, but in 1992 the court reaffirmed the ruling to allow women’s rights.
As of late, U.S. abortion opponents have been more militant in their opinion (often encouraged by Roman Catholics and other militant Christian groups), first in the organized blocking of access to clinics which provided abortion services, to sometimes bombings or assassinations.
Which lead, lucky us, to now, where people try to ban third trimester abortions (calling them partial birth abortions), but our leaders have stopped these practices because it goes against the constitutionality of the Supreme Court’s decisions. We’re at the point now where we have people bombing medical clinics that do legal abortions saying that they are giving a “gift to Jesus” by killing people,
In other words, we’re in a mess, it’s like we’re Roman gladiators fighting in the Colisseum, but we’re not willing to listen to other people or agree to live fairly and peacefully together. So, we can be like some, and get our swords out, ready to fight to the death (fight to the death to ban abortion? That sounds so wrong...), or we can come to the bottom line rationally.
As I started researching, I started reading notes like “Roe v. Wade has corrupted the law by defining the innocent unborn child as a nonperson.” Sara Diamond wrote in Abortion Politics, that “Christian Right leaders ... want to keep up the drum beat about ‘abortuaries’ and a fetal ‘holocaust’.”
I read on Mr. Israel Steinmetz’ site http://www.mrdata.net/ state “that the abortions (murders of the unborn) are continuing at the rate of FOUR THOUSAND ABORTIONS PER DAY in the USA.” I knew they used all caps to make that figure sound startling, so I researched percentages for populations around the country for abortions, and saw that the US’s abortion rate was below the worldwide average, and that the US was not even listed as having the highest abortion rate (never mind if abortion is legal at all in the countries analyzed).
You see, this is why I have to do the research. Because anyone will say anything to try to make situations sound terrible.
Then I read an AP article titled “Federal appeals panel: Web site targeting abortion doctors is protected speech” ... Now, to quote this AP article, “The defendants maintained they were political protesters collecting data on doctors,” but after the verdict came through, the circuit court judge Alex Kozinski still called the Web site “blatant and illegal communication of true threats to kill.”
Yeah, there’s a lot of hatred out there. I’m going to have to put on my hip-wader boots to get through it all — I mean, even though President Bush is a Roman Catholic who himself opposes abortion, he has said that real Christians don’t murder. And even former President Clinton is quoted as saying “No matter where we stand on the issue of abortion, all Americans must stand together in condemning ... tragic and brutal act(s)” such as sniper killing doctors at abortion clinics.
Hmmm. So I think we all agree that killing someone for doing something you don’t agree with is not a way to make anything better. But if I’m going to figure this out, I’m going to have to come up with pros and cons about abortion to get somewhere.
Pro lifers say that human life begins at conception. Pro Choicers say that “personhood” at conception is a religious belief, and not a provable biological fact.
Well, that seems pretty straightforward. But the two sides argue on so many points... Pro lifers say that the right to life must be protected, so abortions should be made illegal. Pro choicers say that laws never stopped abortion, but only relegated it to back-alleys using unsafe practices. Pro lifers say that abortion is morally wrong, but pro choicers note that most Americans reject the absolutist position that it is always wrong to terminate a pregnancy — in some situations, it can even be seen as the morally “right” decision. Pro lifers remind us that a fetus is a separate and distinct human being fro, its mother, but pro choicers say that the fetus is totally dependent on the body of the woman for its life support and is physically attached to her by the placenta and umbilicus.
Wow, that reminds me that a fetus can’t live on its own, and has to tax its host — I mean, potential mother — until it can become a life.
Sorry, I can stop the list of differing opinions between pro choicers and pro lifers, but I need to mention one more (that I’ve noted before): pro lifers think an abortion is wrong because it is taking human life, but pro choicers note that pro lifers say that about abortions, but not about the death penalty. To pro lifers, are people who are convicted of murder are no longer human?
And speaking of these “titles” these two groups have for each other, calling yourself a “pro life” group makes them sound much holier than they actually are (you know, if these are the same people that are for the death penalty), and calling the other side is “pro choice” implies that choicer have the right to choose anything — like choosing murder, which is what the pro lifers say they are doing.
It’s great to see how both sides can work so hard to give themselves names that people can misconstrue as both good and bad.
Okay, seeing these differences didn’t help me out much, so I thought I’d go to Planned Parenthood to see what information they had about abortions. Now, they have a lot of information about retaining women’s rights, like: Laws against abortion kill women, but forcing abortions into non-sterile-non safe procedures, because making abortions illegal doesn’t stop abortions. And having abortion legal is healthier for the woman, and it allows the woman to be more than an incubator. But the point I found most noteworthy was that a free society, there is nothing more personal and private than this, and making abortions illegal is the most extreme invasion of privacy. I like their government thoughts on this: “If government is permitted to compel a woman to bear a child, where will government stop?”
Then again, did I just choose to go to a place that is so slanted for women’s rights that I’m missing the big picture? I was told to look further into the foundations of Planned Parenthood, and I found out that Margaret Sanger was the founder of Planned Parenthood, and probably also the one who inspired Adolph Hitler in his views of eugenics,
You think I’m kidding? The woman who’s actions later formed groups which merged into Planned Parenthood advocated abortions on Afro-Americans in order to eliminate what she called “socially undesirable people.” She even referred to blacks, immigrants and indigents as “...human weeds,” “reckless breeders,” “spawning... human beings who never should have been born.”
Don’t believe the nature of this woman? Sanger believed that, for the purpose of racial “purification,” couples should be rewarded who chose sterilization (is that starting to sound more like something that Hitler would have loved?).
So I guess there are always two sides to every coin...
But while looking for information, I stumbled across John Ku (who in 2005 is working toward his Philosophy PhD at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who has also written “Objections to Objectivism”), who pointed out that “the view that abortion is murder has implications that hardly any Pro-Lifer would be willing to accept.” Considering the number of abortions performed in a year, this would equate the “problem” with abortions to the Holocaust, because “bombing of abortion clinics would be unquestionably justified” and killing abortion doctors would be preventing their future murders. But pro-lifers distance themselves from these extremists who kill in the name of the unborn.
John Ku jumps to a fantastic conclusion in his writing “A Challenge to Pro-Lifers”, by stating, “Where then is the trouble with killing abortion doctors? The trouble is that abortion is not murder.”
He said what? He didn’t defend it. He jumped to a conclusion. But in his defense, he wrote that if an abortion doctor is killing innocent persons, then “he should be punished. But if he should be punished, then one must judge that the belief that abortion is murder is unreasonable, and therein lies the dilemma. Either one admits that the view that abortion is murder is false and unreasonable or one must endorse or at the very least, condone the killing of abortion doctors.”
Hmmm. Well, statistically, abortion doctor aren’t considered murderers, meaning the belief that abortion is murder is unreasonable.
Well, that’s the view of our laws. It doesn’t get to the ethical heart of the matter, the stuff we’re all so willing to blindly argue over without facts. Maybe we can come to a better conclusion if we know as many facts as possible, so we can arrive at a good educated opinion.
Since John Ku, who wrote about the problems with Objectivism, helped me out on my last point, maybe I should look for an objectivist (you know, to balance the references here...) for thoughts on the issue. I found on the web site http://www.abortionisprolife.com/ (which seems to be a screaming Objectivist site), a lead quote on abortion by Ayn Rand: “I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, ... but hatred, a virulent hatred...”
My husband read that quote and said that if this “collection of cells” is just an embryo, then he asked why a loved one of ours felt so depressed over the miscarriage, it if is only an embryo.
And all I thought when he said that was that there was a difference between finding out you’re pregnant and deciding to carry something to term to start a human life and have a child, and finding out you’re pregnant and deciding to halt the production of the embryo so that it wouldn’t become that human life. When it comes to a woman trying to become pregnant, as soon as their pregnancy is discovered they are gratefully planning and anticipating their child after their pregnancy. They start buying clothes for their eventual child. They decide on a name. They decorate a room for them. They anxiously await their future child’s arrival. To these parents, they have ascribed meaning to this “embryo,” they have given it an identity before it could ever breathe on its own.
I would guess that for someone who had no intention to get pregnant (whether or not preventative measures to stop pregnancy is irrelevant), an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy wouldn’t leave them waiting with baited breath for an eventual child. That potential mother wouldn’t be “personalizing” this potential child (by giving it a name or buying them clothes or stuffed animals or decorating a room for them); they would never attach themselves to the idea of this pregnancy becoming a child.
And although historically women can feel a sense of loss after having an abortion (because they are stopping a potential life), their sense of loss is extremely different from someone who was anticipating a child, who had a miscarriage.
So yeah, it’s an emotional issue all around. And Leonard Peikoff noted, “Abortions are private affairs and often involve painfully difficult decisions with life-long consequences. But, tragically, the lives of the parents are completely ignored by the anti-abortionists. Yet that is the essential issue.”
And you know, I tried to use a quote from Ayn Rand before (but it didn’t help out much at all), so let’s see if she had a better stance on this issue with this: “Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born.” (Hmmm, maybe she did have something appropriate to say about this subject...)
In the first trimester, the status of the embryo is the focus of this discussion. The embryo has everything that can become a human, but it is only religious beliefs that call this embryo a person. I think it’s also interesting that historically (even from the Middle ages, or when laws first came into effect in the US in the 1800s), laws against abortions only applied to after the fourth month. Considering science now, doctors can keep incredibly premature fetuses alive, but no science even today can sustain a first trimester fetus until it can function on its own. At that point, there is just no way that a fetus could ever function on its own without the dependency of its mother to help it get to the point of being able to exist as a life form on its own. Leonard Peikoff also noted that “an embryo is a potential human being,” and we all know that the embryo can (as long as the woman choose it) develop into a human child. But in that first trimester, it is something that cannot function on its own at all — and we can’t assume that the embryo is what it wants to become. According to Mr. Peikoff, “we must acknowledge that the embryo under three months is something far more primitive” than an infant.
So maybe this starts to answer the question of when life begins. Most agree the notion of life beginning at inception is based solely on religious beliefs (which are always not provable). If you adhere to these beliefs, then you’ve already decided. But to those who don’t use a religion as their moral compass, or for those who whose to use logic and science and reason, it could also be difficult to condone abortions at second or third trimesters — because the potential mother has known that she is hosting a potential life form, and has waited until after the point where it is medically possible to keep the premature baby alive. But at a point where this potential life form is still a mass that cannot under any circumstances survive on its own without a mother helping it to grow, the question becomes more obvious that it is all in the hands of the woman — and it is their right to decide if they choose to carry the fetus to term, so that it can become a life of its own. But before that fetus is ever capable of understanding choice, the choice is all in the woman’s hands.
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