Balance the scales of justice by reducing the emotion and increasing the logic in the abortion debate
Growing up I have always taken for granted a women’s right to choose abortion. It was an innately and intuitively held position, and for the longest time that was good enough for me. Since the pro-life position is traditionally a conservative view, I wrote off that position as zealots trying to impose their religion on all Americans in violation of the separation of church and state. Additionally, it seemed silly and quite counter-intuitive that a fetus should be endowed with constitutional rights since: a) a birth certificate (not granted until birth) is the standard proof of citizenship and therefore constitutional rights and b) a fetus is a fetus, not a person or a citizen or anything else that I would equate with myself. Recently, however, the GOP has gone on the offensive in the abortion and women’s rights arena, and I was compelled to examine my position and their position in order to justify one or the other. Intuition would no longer suffice. Abortion rights became important to me and much more relevant, especially considering that my partner and I have relied on abortion in the past and are now living in an aspiring severely abortion restrictive state.
I will digress for a paragraph, as a bit of background on my faith may be insightful. I was baptized but otherwise not raised religious. I seriously explored a few major religions as I sought to define my faith and thoughts on God. I dabbled in one or two and committed to another, but could never let pure faith overcome my reliance on empirical evidence and logical argumentation. I even tried to empirically convince myself that the historical Jesus is in fact God by seeking evidence like that presented by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. Ultimately I have embraced some of the main teachings of Jesus as valuable philosophical guidelines in my pursuit of living a good life as a good person. And my position on God has evolved to a position of suspended judgment, i.e. despite rigorous examination the evidence does not exist to prove the existence or non-existence of a God or Gods. Some have reduced this to pretense and avoiding taking a firm position, but this is in fact a distinct and reasoned position. In a strict sense it is a form of agnosticism, but due to the widespread misuse and broad definition of the term I prefer to avoid using it.
In my examination of the pro-life position I was obviously biased against it and my suspicions were played out in many of the exchanges I had with others. There was the sanctity of life argument. There was the obvious religious view that life begins at conception. There were the purely emotional rebukes at the horror of my comparison of a fetus/mother relationship to a parasite/host relationship. And there was even a compelling pro-life argument expounded by another blogger that I had to think about a bit in order to overcome. Although I am confident in my counter argument, the blogger referred me to the empirical evidence that I now rely upon for my position that life does in fact begin at conception.
This naturally led to a philosophical and ethical dilemma for me. I could not let go of the strong intuition that it is a woman’s right to choose, but that right to choose was now murder in my eyes. How could I reconcile this surprising revelation with what I know in my gut is right opinion? I could not continue holding this gut belief seemingly contrary to reality as if I were Fox News. Surprisingly, none of the pro-choice websites offered a single solid argument to justify their position. Their position seemed to hinge solely on the blind and misguided belief that the rights of one human being were paramount to the rights of another simply because the one had the capacity to choose and the other did not yet have that capacity. This was extremely unsettling. Even my parasite argument, which I still think is a valid comparison, could not hold because the parasite in this case is in fact a human being.
I began reflecting on this dilemma, intently searching for a solution. I thought about another polarizing, though relatively less significant, issue that I took up. I led a policy initiative that resulted in making the largest university in the nation smoke free.The crux of the argument was that any amount of second hand smoke is harmful and one has the liberty to act only insofar as the act does not harm another. Therefore smoking anywhere on campus, which harms anyone with whom the secondhand smoke comes into contact, should be banned. When I plugged in the mother and fetus into this argument, the only time that abortion could be justified is in the case in which the mother’s life is in danger or if one also believes that a fetus is not a human being. Closer, but a big FAIL.
Next, I asked the question, if I identify a case in which a choice about my body resulted in the death of another would that choice be justified? Bingo! This choice, though surely painful and morally challenging, would in fact be a justified choice. I will proceed to posit what I hope will become the strongest argument in support of a women’s right to choose by offering the following example and follow-up questions. When the life of one is uniquely dependent on the life of another then it virtually has no rights to that life. Those rights are effectively transferred to whom it is dependent upon for life. For instance, if a medical procedure was identified, e.g., the cure for cancer, in which the only form of life support available or method to carry out the cure, in other words, the only way to save the patient’s life, required the continuous participation of a single/unique healthy human being, would it be constitutional to mandate this person’s participation in the procedure even if it entailed no adverse effects to him? Consider further the case in which this person volunteered to be part of the lifesaving medical procedure but during the course of the procedure he decided for whatever reason that he no longer wanted to be a part of it. Would it really be murder if he terminated his participation? If so should it not be his choice regardless? How could we justify mandating his participation? How is this any different from terminating a pregnancy or on the other hand mandating one to participate in a medical procedure against one’s will because a life depends on it?
The following example less closely parallels abortion and pregnancy, as there is no uniquely dependent lifesaving relationship (virtually anyone can save the life of anyone) but does however have a current application. Simply put, blood, plasma, platelet, organ, etc., donation are undisputed lifesaving procedures. Yet nobody is mandated to participate in any of them. Why is the sanctity of life and the right to life so important in the case of pregnancy and abortion but seemingly trivial when it comes to all of these procedures, many of which entail significantly less impact on the person in the lifesaving position?
I now feel confident that abortion is not murder and that the pro-choice position is the constitutional, morally compelling, correct opinion in which we must subscribe. I invite thoughtful, well-reasoned rebuttal and emotion free comment, on par with peer review. Thank you.