Exploring the nuances of the abortion debate
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 23:03
Defining human life for abortion debate
In the past few weeks, Republican controlled state legislatures have passed new “fetal pain” laws restricting abortions as soon as 6 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy.
There is very little doubt that these measures will be struck down by a federal court as unconstitutional under cases like Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. However, in spite of the impending mootness of these laws, I think their passage invites an important conversation about abortion as a moral issue. The dialogue between anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates strikes me as one of the most broken national conversations we have had in recent decades. So let’s get a few things straight: people who believe abortion should be outlawed are not all foot soldiers in a “war on women” hoping to violate fundamental rights to privacy and impose draconian religious codes of morality on the general populace. Likewise, pro-choice advocates are not all child-murdering “feminazis” (it’s a horrible word, but I can’t resist a good portmanteau) out to eradicate religion and force us to use single-sex bathrooms.
Additionally, I think we need to take pains to clarify the position of pro-choice advocates. Few of us believe that abortion is fun or should happen frequently. As President Bill Clinton once said, we generally believe abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” For us, it’s a matter of recognizing that abortions will continue to happen regardless of whether or not the law sanctions them, so it’s better to ensure they happen at the hands of a medical professional. Here, I totally understand my opposition’s perspective. From a more Aristotelian perspective, the law is meant to inspire good citizenship and civic virtue. This means that outlawing abortions should teach people that abortion is not favorable. If the goal is to reduce the number of abortions that happen though, I question the notion that simply outlawing the practice will produce the desired effect.
Now, that being said, I do not think it is particularly difficult to get to the heart of this debate. What separates pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates is an incongruent definition of “human life.” To an anti-abortion advocate, the unborn are alive in the same way you are alive as you read this paragraph. Every stage of the pregnancy, from zygote to fetus to birth, involves a living, breathing human being. If a pro-choice advocate were to buy this same definition of life, then yes, termination of a pregnancy at any stage would be senseless. However, to most pro-choice advocates, a fetus is not “alive” until it can support itself outside of the womb. Therefore, at any point before viability, terminating a pregnancy ought to be akin to preventing it medically with birth control.
I do not interpret anti-abortion legislators as believing that abortion should be outlawed so women can be more easily subjugated and controlled, and I understand their regard for the sanctity of life. But at the same time, the uniquely political nature of reproductive rights should not be ignored. Until the birth control pill about 50 years ago, women had significantly less control over the choice to have a child. In many instances, it simply never was a choice.
Moreover, the question of defining what entails human life is a difficult one. If a fetus cannot survive outside of a mother’s womb, is it truly alive? Is it a pulse that makes something alive? The ability to feel pain? Religious people might argue that one becomes a soul at conception, but what of us who do not believe in souls? Is it even possible (or advisable) to propose a positivistic and scientific definition of human life, or must we necessarily depend upon an existential metaphysic? Unfortunately, I don’t think I have an answer, but I think it’s better to be asking these questions than to fling vitriol at one another without considering alternate perspectives.
Bub is a junior majoring in English, political science and history.
Abortion Debate has no common ground
We decided to weigh in on the issue of abortion this week, which was a somewhat reluctant choice of topic for the both of us, but the issue is salient and deserves voice.
I am skeptical about the productivity of the abortion debate because no common currency of language exists between the two sides. More likely than discussion, anti-abortionists and pro-choicers are in a dead sprint toward centers of political power in order to push their agenda into law.
My view on abortion is certainly not novel, so I cannot pretend that I have anything to add that will progress arguments on either side. Many philosophers, clergymen and women, activists and journalists have put forth countless arguments and re-arguments into the disorganized mass. Admittedly, I should probably be counted as one of them.
For starters, I endorse a view that holds human life as immutably sacred, and I hold a similar view of the potentiality for human life.
Recently, North Dakota passed an abortion bill, the most restrictive in the nation, that makes it illegal to procure an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (that means as early as six weeks). These sorts of bills that try to pin-down, in an explicit way or not, the place where human life begins are thoroughly suspect. Instead, we should be looking at pregnancy as the potentiality for human life.
By potentiality, I do not mean the probability that such-and-such an embryo will become a fetus and be carried all the way to term; that would be another numbers game. Without drawing numbers or statistics into the argument, I want to mention briefly that from a naturalistic or a theistic standpoint doing away with the right to an abortion is viable.
Whether our goal is to continue the species or to live in line with a God-ordained view of human life, I think we can come to the same conclusion. However, the latter view ends up with a more sacred and reverential view of human life should the former view a fetus (or an adult human being for that matter) as a bundle of cells and nothing more.