Choice and consequence
Published Mon, Oct 29 2007 12:20 AM
Technorati Tags: Abortion
I'm "pro-life". My wife is "pro-choice". This is something we rarely talk about. At our age it isn't likely to be a "choice" that we'll have to make, but we do have children, and grandchildren. They may have to make the choice someday.
The very terms we use to name the positions we take in this particular "discussion" are loaded. By saying that I am "pro-life" the implication is made that my opposition is "anti-life" or "pro-death". By saying that my wife is "pro-choice" the implication is that I am "anti-choice".
Of course what we are really talking about is our positions on abortion. Considering all of the vitriol that surrounds this issue, I think it might be a good idea to start from the basics. According to MedlinePlus, an "abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy". That should be straightforward enough to be used as a starting point for our discussion.
Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary defines the term "pregnancy" as "the condition of being pregnant" or "an instance of being pregnant". So what the procedure known as abortion does is end the condition of being pregnant or an instance of being pregnant.
I suspect that already some of us are starting to be a bit rankled about the terms we're using. "An abortion ends the condition of being pregnant?" That sounds an awful lot like being pregnant is a disease doesn't it? Well, those of you who are irritated by this, get ready to be rankled a bit more…
Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary defines the term "pregnant" as "containing a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring within the body". Those of us on the "pro-life" side, please note… there is no mention of the word "baby" or "child" in this definition.
Those are emotionally charged terms, and I think that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been very careful to avoid their use in their discussion of this highly controversial topic. That should only be expected though. I certainly don't want my government taking a position on this, at least not at this point in our discussion.
Except, of course, by carefully choosing such seemingly neutral terms it appears that the government has already taken a position. On the page referenced above where they define an abortion, they have this to say… "The decision to end a pregnancy is very personal." Clearly the NIH has taken the "pro-choice" position.
The "pro-choice" position has been described as being "all about a woman's right to choose". Of course there's much more to the position than that, but let's examine "a woman's right to choose".
To begin with, nowhere in the U.S. Constitution, nor the amendments to it do we find an explicitly named "right to choose". That does not mean that the right does not exist. The ninth amendment to the constitution makes it clear that the people may have rights that were not enumerated.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
This doesn't mean that the right exists either. Nevertheless, ours is a nation "conceived in liberty". Perhaps we should continue looking to definitions and examine the definition of the word "liberty". Dictionary.com defines liberty as
- freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.
- freedom from external or foreign rule; independence.
- freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.
Of course they give additional definitions, but it's this third one that I want to focus on. The "power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice." I believe that our founders had the first and second definitions in mind when they build the framework by which our nation exists. It could easily be argued that they had the third definition in mind as well.
In any case, the concept of liberty certainly carries with it the idea of freedom of choice. So let's assume that the "right to choose" is one of the unenumerated rights retained by the people.
The ninth amendment implies more than simply that there are additional rights retained by the people above and beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. It also implies that the Constitution is not the source of our rights. People often speak of their "constitutional rights", but I believe that is a misnomer.
We don't have constitutional rights. We have rights. The fact that some of them are enumerated in the Constitution doesn't make them "constitutional rights", although it does make them "constitutionally enumerated rights".
So what is the source of our rights, and what does that imply for a "woman's right to choose"? Well, I suppose we can look to another of our founding documents, this time the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Clearly the founders believed in a Creator, "Nature's God". They also clearly believed that all of the rights of man are a gift from that Creator. It is also important to note that the very first right enumerated by the founders wasn't Liberty, it was Life. It is almost a certainty that the "right to life" is yet another of those "unenumerated rights" retained by the people, and protected by the ninth amendment.
If you recall, I began this posting by stating that I am "pro-life". It is this unalienable right to Life that "pro-life" people are asserting against the "right to choose" of the "pro-choice" people.
I'm going to try, for the most part, to avoid "religious" arguments in this discussion. I believe that the case against abortion can be made without them. Nevertheless, I think that the intent of the founders is important in interpreting our Constitution, and that it is also clear that they never intended a "right to abortion" when they wrote it, since they were protecting what they perceived as our God given rights.
You'll note that I used the term "right to abortion" for the first time in this discussion a moment ago. This is after all what is so often euphemistically referred to as "a woman's right to choose."
That's not the only thing that "pro-choice" people mean by "a woman's right to choose" though. Oftentimes they will assert that they are talking about a woman's right to "reproductive freedom". By this I understand them to mean that a woman has a right to choose whether to reproduce or not, and I can certainly agree with this statement.
I don't agree though, that the right to choose whether to reproduce or not implies a right to abortion. Remember, an abortion is a procedure by which a pregnancy is ended. It would seem to me that the best way to choose not to reproduce involves choosing not to become pregnant in the first place. Clearly, contraception is a preferable alternative to abortion in supporting a woman's right to "reproductive freedom".
We'll come back to whether the right to abortion is implied in a woman's right to choose or not in a bit. For the moment though, let's address the other alternatives that a woman has when choosing whether to reproduce or not.
Let's begin with "the morning after pill". I'm not including abortifacients in this part of the discussion. An abortifacient is a drug that can be used to terminate an existing pregnancy. The American Medical Association does not consider emergency contraception such as "the morning after pill" to be an abortifacient, because it prevents the establishment of the pregnancy following conception.
I'm sure that some other pro-lifers will disagree with me on this one, but if contraception such as the use of birth control pills, condoms and diaphragms are acceptable ways to prevent pregnancy, I think that emergency contraception is as well. Of course there are some people that think that "preventing implantation" after conception is essentially the same thing as aborting a fetus, and that arguing about it is splitting hairs a bit too finely.
That's a moral argument based on religious convictions about when life begins. That type of argument is exactly what I'm trying to avoid in this discussion. Not because I don't agree with it, but because abortion supporters won't be swayed by moral arguments, especially when those arguments are based in religion.
In any case, I believe that preventing the implantation of an embryo after fertilization is preferable to surgically removing and dismembering a developing baby.
So what about using condoms, diaphragms, spermicidal creams or birth control pills to prevent conception in the first place? Those are certainly preferable to emergency contraception or abortion when it comes to "choosing not to reproduce". None of them is 100% effective though. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals has been quoted as saying that one-half of U.S. pregnancies are the result of contraception failure. (I'm sorry, I would supply a link for that, but the one I have points to an article that is no longer available).
There is yet another alternative to both contraception and abortion that a woman has available to her if she wants to "choose not to reproduce". It's effective in nearly 100% of cases, with the only known exceptions so rare as to be statistically insignificant. That alternative is abstinence.
Of course, that's one choice that the "pro-choice" people at Planned Parenthood don't want to offer. They like to remind us that abstinence education doesn't work in preventing pregnancies. Never mind that abstinence actually does work, unless we're ready to witness an incredible number of "virgin births". I don't know about you, but I was never taught that the human species reproduces via parthenogenesis.
Given that pregnancy is a consequence of sexual behavior, it seems natural that not engaging in sexual behavior is the most effective method for a woman to assert her right to "choose not to reproduce". It gives her more effective control over her body anyway. If she doesn't engage in sexual behavior, it's extremely unlikely that she'll become pregnant, contract venereal diseases, or suffer a "bad reputation".
Contraceptives, "emergency" contraception, and abortion are all simply ways to avoid the consequences of the poor choices that men and women make. That's really what the entire argument on both sides boils down to anyway.
A "woman's right to choose" an abortion interferes with her mate's right to choose to reproduce. But, we're taught, it's her body not his, and the man's rights don't matter, at least not relative to hers. Besides, until the "fetus" is fully developed and delivered, there's no way to verify that the developing embryo actually carries any of the man's genetic material without invading the woman's privacy.
Without being able to prove paternity the man is simply out of luck. Why he might not really be the "father" anyway and merely be interfering with the woman's right to an abortion. So naturally we weigh the "actual" "harm" being done to the woman's rights and the "possible" harm done to the man's rights. "Actual" versus "possible". Guess which one wins. The man's rights are ignored in favor of the woman's rights to escape her licentious behavior.
Nevertheless, even though unenumerated rights may exist and be protected, I don't honestly believe that the right to abortion is one of them. Remember the "source" of our rights. If the source of our rights is a "creator" I doubt that that creator would want its creation destroyed merely for convenience.
Aside from that, there is the question of whether the "fetus" or "developing embryo" is actually alive or not. At what point does a "fetus" become a "person"? Is it simply at birth? Or does it happen when that "fetus" is viable and capable of living outside the womb? Or does it even happen later?
This is really an important question. Society doesn't allow the taking of human life for convenience. That's usually considered murder. If a "fetus" is a human life then destroying that fetus by terminating the pregnancy is nothing short of murder.
This is what makes "partial birth" abortion so controversial. There's little doubt that when a partial birth abortion procedure is carried out that the fetus is "viable". It's my contention that that means that the fetus is a human and has a human life. That would make the procedure murder.
Leaving that aside though, what about other forms of abortion? Are they less foul simply because they use a different procedure or because they occur earlier in the "fetus'" life cycle? I think not.
Why else do laws exist upon the books that allow a man that brutally beats a pregnant woman and causes her to lose her "child" to be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter? These laws have been upheld.
Does it matter that in one case the woman wanted the child and in another it was an inconvenience to be excised? Does the woman's desire to have the child make all of the difference? Is it the woman's attitude that determines whether the developing embryo she carries within her body is alive or not? Some women who opt to have an abortion understand this in a way, even while they let their need for convenience override the developing embryo's need for life.
Somehow, I don't think that the woman's attitude matters when deciding whether the embryo is a human life or not. Surely a woman has a right to choose. Surely she has a right to reproductive freedom. Neither imply a right to abortion to my mind, and all of our rights are tempered by common sense. If she wishes to exercise reproductive freedom, then she should do so by either not engaging in the behavior that leads to reproduction, or she should exercise caution when she does. But she shouldn't murder a living, developing child simply for convenience and to escape the consequences of her mistakes.
If we're going to weigh "relative harm" in the abortion debate and deny a man his reproductive freedom in favor of a woman's right to choose, then we should consider the argument further. After all, there's the developing child's right to life to be considered as well. The certain destruction of that life aught to be weighed against the mere convenience of the woman wanting it destroyed.
And, as the founders implied in the way that they enumerated mankind's unalienable rights, the right to life trumps the right to liberty. After all, what good is liberty without life?
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Angel responded with:
hiya Perri...difficult subject matter to cover!..In the case of rape..I dont think a woman should be forced to have that baby.......but alas...i know it is a life indeed...complex issue..no simple answers eh?..:)
Perri Nelson responded with:
Very difficult. And you're right, there are no simple answers.
I can see and understand the argument for abortion in the case of rape, since that completely skips over all of the other rational about restrictions on a womans right to reproductive freedom. I can't accept even that case though, since I believe it's a human life that will be destroyed.
There is still the option, even in cases of rape of "emergency contraception" or the "morning after pill".
ablur responded with:
I like how you tied it to the framers and the Declaration of Independence. I wrote a couple of pieces on the subject one was called "When do you say life begins?"
I have tried looking at this from the four basic positions. I take the pro-life side on the issue for both medical and religious reasons.