- By Paul Hughes
I know I’ve already written about the topic of abortion, but I feel a need to write about it again. In the last post I wrote regarding this controversial topic, I wrote that I was disappointed that there is no “common ground” between the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers. However, I am happy to report that I may not have been entirely correct in that assertion. But first some background on where I sit in the debate…
It is important that I note that I completely understand both sides of the argument. For the pro-life camp, the embryo and fetus are seen as a person; it is as simple as that. It is an un-disprovable (or rather, “unfalsifiable”) perspective that is just as valid as any other viewpoint.
It is a person, and there is no reasonable excuse to kill an innocent person, including rape, incest, etc. After all, what did the baby (and I use the term deliberately, in this case) do to deserve death? The pro-life people claim to see it as no different from killing a 4-year-old. That said, I also can understand the pro-choice argument. To the pro-choice arguers, it is a simple belief that the fetus is not a person until a certain stage of development (on where that is, not all of them agree, but the basic premise is the same). For all intents and purposes, it is not a person—it is still a part of the mother, thus making it her choice whether to keep or remove it. I absolutely understand this argument as well. Ultimately, neither argument is provable or disprovable; rather, it simply comes down to the question of what an individual believes about the embryo and fetus’ development.
That all said, what makes zero sense to me is any argument that falls in-between the two. For example, the classic “Yes, it is a person and therefore has a right to life; however, in the case of rape, the mother should not be expected to have to deal with the trauma of bearing and raising a child that she had no choice in creating.” Um… what? So, because the mother was raped, it is allowed that the child should be killed? The act of murder is made acceptable (remember, you said it was a person and had a right to life) simply because allowing that person to live would impose a certain amount of trauma on the mother? That would be the same as saying “It is hard to take care of a family member who has become senile, and it places a great amount of stress on the person forced to take care of that person, assuming there is no means of passing the responsibility to a nursing home or similar institution. Therefore, it should be ok to kill the elderly person.” I think we would unanimously agree that that is an unacceptable proposition. So why is it ok to kill the unborn baby, just because the mother would be forced to endure a certain (perhaps great, yes) amount of stress? That argument makes no sense, unless you are inadvertently admitting that the fetus is not a person and does not have the right to life in all situations.
That “in-between” argument (along with any other than one can think of) got me thinking that if there ARE arguments that fall in the middle of the spectrum, perhaps there is some uniting common ground that would make debate possible as to the societal status of the embryo and fetus. After much consideration, I think that I may have found it. Last night, I posted on my Facebook wall a hypothetical situation: A fetus has been diagnosed with a congenital condition that will make it impossible (100% impossible—not even 99%) for it to survive outside of the womb. Unfortunately, after approximately nine months of gestation, that fetus is going to be born, and it will then promptly die. Of course, there is the high possibility when considering such a condition that it may die in the womb, resulting, of course, in a stillbirth. In either event, the fetus will not be living post-natum. No exceptions.
I requested especially that persons who consider themselves generally pro-life respond to the post (I’m sure the pro-choice people would unanimously agree that this is a reasonable situation to abort the fetus). What I discovered from this proposition was something very interesting… Not a single person said that the mother should be forced to carry to term and give birth to the already (or soon-to-be) dead fetus. Many of the pro-life respondents, perhaps expectedly, said that if placed in said situation, they would still choose to follow through (what if a miracle did occur?), but they would not hold other previously nascent mothers to that same decision.
Now, let’s remember for a minute that according to these same people, the unborn child is a person, and therefore there is no reasonable excuse to murder it; it has a right to life just the same as you and me. The pro-lifers believe that it is a person—that it is alive and a distinct entity (pardon my repetition, but I feel it is important to remember quite blatantly the central premise of the argument). Apparently that is still, however, an oversimplification. This unborn person does not, in fact, in all cases have a right to life; it merely has a right to life outside the womb. This is a crucial exception to the previously simple explanation: the person inside the mother only has the undeniable right to life if it will survive past birth; one might say that these pro-lifers accept that prenatal life is not quite the same as postnatal life. Why is it that this person’s life is only essential to be protected if it is going to survive more than nine months? What about those nine months of existence—why does it not have a right to that period unless it is going to additionally have life after it?
I bring this up not to be an unfair writer, pointing out hypocrisy within the pro-life argument; on the contrary, as stated at the beginning, I am gladdened by the pro-life response to this hypothetical because we may have actually found a “common ground” for the abortion debate. To me, that means progress. We have found something that both pro-life and pro-choice people agree on; life inside the womb is somehow, at least slightly, different from life outside the womb. I am not taking away the personhood of the fetus from those who are pro-life, I am merely saying that the person in the womb is different from the person outside the womb. Life inside the womb must be protected, according to pro-life arguers, as long as there will be a period of survival outside the womb. This, to me, is a big development. The next piece of the puzzle, of course, is to figure out how we can use that common ground to speak constructively with those who disagree with us, and continue to move forward as a society, although I know not what direction this figurative “forward” is in actuality. What are your thoughts? Is this common ground a basis for productive debate, as I propose it is? I certainly hope so, but I’m definitely interested in what you think.