Washington Monument

Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life

This is an ugly one. There isn't single subject in the american experience that generates more hatred and vitriol toward the other side. For a long time, I was undecided on this issue. For a longer time, I felt that as a male, I was rendered incapable of opining on the subject. But the two sides are gearing up for a battle and they have forced me into a corner.



The mainstream pro-life holds the position that abortion should only be legal in situation where the mother's life is in danger and in the cases of rape or incest. The life of the unborn is less important than that of the mother. Furthermore, if the woman is forced to conceived through an immoral/illegal act, then the mother has the right to terminate the pregnancy. Given the legal status, one would either need a court order or a doctor's permission to have an abortion.

The fundamentalist pro-life movement takes the stance that there should not be abortion under any circumstances. Their reasoning is that the life of the unborn is more important that the life of the mother and should be protected at all costs. This position isn't very politically strong and in the case that Roe vs.Wade is overturned, I would expect that that the mainstream position would win out.

In each scenario, one does not have to worry about sticky issues like the definition of life and when it begins. Both positions give the benefit of the doubt to the unborn. While the mainstream pro-life position appears to be a good compromise position, it raises some troubling scenarios. First, this would eventually lead us back to the Pre-Roe vs.Wade era where women went to underground clinics to get the services that they needed. These "clinics" typically run by midwives, medical students or even profiteering individuals were the cause of many deaths. Weird as it may sound, there would be a number of internet sites springing up that would specialize in providing women with the necessary ingredients to perform a home abortion. If the government cracked down on these "clinics", women would simply go to countries where abortion was legal.

Another scenario that could emerge would be that of desperate women seeking abortions, crying rape every time there was an unwanted pregnancy. While this might seem ludicrous, remember that these women were risking their lives to get abortions. A simple accusation would be far less risky. Our overloaded courts would have to hand these bogus claims and lives could be ruined in the process.

Yet another scenario would be appear if the law was framed such that one needed a court order to get an abortion. Given the law, one would need to prove rape or incest. That means a criminal trial. If the rapist had sufficient resources, he could drag the trial out until after the birth. Even worse, what would happen to the poor woman that lost the case? She would be both forced to bear a child that was forced upon her while simultaneously her rapist goes free. Additionally, since the rapist was found not-guilty, he could file for parental rights and the woman would be forced to interact with her rapist as the father of her child.

I will ignore for now the problems associated with criminal investigations into miscarriages, prosecuting mothers for involuntary manslaughter and the such. While the possibilities exist and it is quite likely that there will be a prosecutor that would attempt this for some reason, I would expect that the backlash would be sufficient that it would not be tried again. Even with the potential for this type of abuse, I would expect the courts to take dim view on this.


Now we come to the pro-life argument. Essentially, it states that a woman can make all decisions concerning her body. It's the last two words that cause the problem. What is her body? Where is the defining line between her body and a potential child?

The first place to start would be the definition of life and when it begins. Cripes, that's easy. Life just is. Unfortunately, that doesn't provide an answer. There has to be some definition that can be formalized. It's pretty obvious that you're alive when you are born. And before conception, you don't exist in any form. Picking either one of these positions as the beginning of life is fraught with difficulties.

I think it pretty obvious to everyone that actual birth can't be considered the beginning of life. Were you any less alive they day before you were born? I'd say not. More than likely if I was day early, I would be the same with the exception of my birth certificate. On the other hand, conception as a definition of life gives the unborn the benefit of the doubt. It sounds pretty good, but has few problems itself.

Let's examine a hypothetical case. Let's say a woman is pregnant and something happens well into her pregnancy that prevents the fetus from growing any further, but to remain perfectly healthy in that state. Let 's also say that the woman was far enough along to have the physical effects of the pregnancy show, but not to have any serious health effects. She would be in effect perpetually pregnant.

Is the fetus a life? I would think that any reasonable person would say that this fetus is not alive and the woman would have the right to terminate the pregnancy. But then the conception argument goes out the window. What characteristic in the unborn is the dividing line between symbiote and baby?

Autonomy. Life is separate. It exists on its own. When provided with the requirements that exist in nature, it should be able to survive. Before that, it is a symbiote. Something that requires another life to sustain it. Yes, babies can't survive on their own. They need feeding and general tending, but that's natural. They can breathe, cry and suckle. There are active participants in their lives, albeit limited.

What about a fetus delivered so premature as to not be able to function on that level? I believe that is where the parents become involved. They can make the decision to pursue heroic measures and thus in the course grant to the fetus the status of life by their actions. They in effect give the fetus the benefit of the doubt.

This definition gives us some interesting problems. What about a person in a car accident that needs a respirator? Do they cease to exist because they can't survive on their own? Obviously not. Once you're considered to be alive, that right cannot be taken away from you even if you become disabled. In the case of individuals in persistent vegetative states, it becomes up to family to interpret the wishes of the injured.

Given current medical knowledge, it is generally considered that a fetus less than 20 weeks is not viable. It is under this definition that Roe vs. Wade operates.

Now we have a definition, let's examine the drawbacks of the current status quo. First is the scenario that women will use abortion simply for birth control. Easy access to the procedure means that one isn't required to plan for contraception. This is a serious concern in that it is very likely that irresponsible people will use this approach.

From a societal concern, this is very troubling. I would think at the minimum that an abortion would be a serious decision and quite probably one that will haunt you for the rest of your life. What will become of a society that regards it as insignificant as having a mole removed? Would continual exposure to this as mainstream result in a devaluation of life?

Second is the benefit of the doubt argument. Perhaps life begins earlier. How do we know for sure? My definition of the beginning of life is sketchy at the least and is a pure thought argument based on my understanding of biology. But is biology all there is in this world? I've studied enough quantum mechanics to know that the universe is far more complicated than our experiences lead us to believe. Is there another mechanism at work here that we will only fully grasp 10, 20 or 50 years down the road?

Third is general rejection on moral grounds. It's wrong. It's murder. This is generally a faith based argument that depends on your values and socialization. I can't debate this argument as its basis is doesn't have a logical foundations to work with. You either believe or you don't.

Weighing the Positions

All the above positions trouble me. My knee jerk reaction is that abortion is abhorrent. I learned this at a young age when woman came to my 7th grade class and showed us pictures of aborted fetuses. This is something that a person that young does not forget.

There is also the fact that even potential life should have a special status. It's pretty obvious that is the case with our society. Is common to show pregnant women special attention in common everyday situations. Thus, I have a real problem with the status quo. But then I have to examine the alternatives.

I have to look at the consequence of having the government involved in the private lives of citizens. From past experience, I see the involvement of government in personal decisions as always ham-fisted and lacking of proper perspective. From the other point of view, intervention by the government is necessary to protect the rights of the citizens. A case can be made that this is one of those instances. I think these positions effectively cancel each other out.

The mainstream pro-life position has a glaring problem. The exception for the life of the mother makes sense. An existing life should trump a potential life. However, if abortion is wrong, then abortion after rape or incest is wrong. If I understand the argument, Pro-Life is about protecting the life of a child. Even if rape or incest has been committed, it's not the fault of the child. If the abortion would be allowed, then the mainstream pro-life position appears to be contradictory. Are we talking mental health now? Perhaps I can understand it as a political concession, but as practical alternative, it opens a whole host of problems. While protecting the unborn is a proper charge for the government, the side effect of determining what is legal and illegal copulation is definitely not. This is not sustainable public policy in my opinion.

The fundamentalist pro-life position is very clear and lacking in contradictions. However, I have to weigh this decision with the problems associated with the outlawing of the procedure. The social cost could be extreme. Young lives will be lost if it becomes illegal. History has shown us this. The question is how are the lives lost in weighed in comparison with the potential lives saved?

It's easy to say that unborn life should be protected at all costs. To hold ideals like that on faceless women has no bearing on me. I have the luxury of never having to directly make the decision. But, I know the government should not be charged with making decisions on personal matters. An individual is the best judge of their situation, not a civil servant. People may not make the best choices, but that is the responsibility placed upon them by a free society.


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