Abortion

My sister and aunt, and likely many other friends, have just posted this article about what Mother Teresa said concerning abortion.  (Clearly it isn't news.  She actually said it a decade ago.)  I must say it's probably the most well-reasoned and logical arguments anti-abortion that I have seen.  She discusses the history of America's progress--how we cast aside past violations of personal liberty, such as slavery.  Then she asserts that we have done the opposite with the Roe v Wade decision.

I will agree with her concluding statement, which is "human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and that it deserves, always and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect."  I agree with this.  I think that all life is of great worth, and that human life is especially valuable.  What I do not agree with is her interpretation of how this sentiment is to be translated into the subject of abortion.  The  Catholic church teaches as dogma that it is sin to perform any kind of abortion.  This includes even what would seem to be the most reasonable cases to grant an abortion, such as when the mother's life is endanger or when the mother is a 10-year-old girl who has been raped, and is now forced to end her childhood a decade early and become a mother against her will.  This is my main issue with this interpretation of valuing life.

To me, we do not value human life when we force a woman to carry her rapist's baby to full term--especially when the rape victim is a young woman, who has just barely developed the ability to reproduce.  We do not value human life when we insist that the pregnancy must go forward in spite of doctors informing the patient that her life will be endangered if she is to do so.  We do not value human life when we insist a baby be born even with the knowledge that it will not live past a few hours after birth, or that it will be greatly deformed or disadvantaged in life.  (I mean to place no judgment on parents who wish to go through with a pregnancy even in these circumstances.  In fact, I believe it should be for the parents to decide.  And your opinion should not be allowed to influence another couple's decision, only your own.)  The problem with the Catholic dogmatic mentality is evidenced in bills such as those produced by Rep. Paul Ryan, which would enable a rapist to sue his victim if she attempts to get an abortion.  This is nonsense.

We value human life when we try to encourage safe medical procedures, when we discourage rape, when we promote safe sex practices and responsible copulation.

I have many friends who say that abortion is murder.  And I have many friends who claim that human life begins at the time of conception (typically the latter category is a subset of the former).  What I say to that idea is this.  In our criminal law, the burden of proof lies on the prosecutor.  That is, "innocent until proven guilty".  A person is not guilty of a crime until sufficient evidence has been produced to make it unreasonable to doubt that the accused is the perpetrator.  Part of this evidence is the existence of a victim.  You can't have a murder without a person who has been murdered.  Therefore, the burden of proof lies on the person claiming that abortion is murder to establish--beyond reasonable doubt--that the embryo in question is in fact human.  It is not enough merely to assert this, or to claim that it is one's faith or one's doctrine.  Religious evidence such as faith does not hold up in a court of law.  The court is interested only in fact.  Therefore, if you wish to assert that an act is murder, you must establish that with evidence.  What reason is there to assume that a collection of cells, no bigger than the point of a pin, has the same rights as an adult human?

To say that an embryo may one day become human is clearly insufficient.  That can be said of many things.  I may eat a breadstick today and tomorrow it may be (in part) some of the semen that I ejaculate, and therefore I could theoretically impregnate a woman with it.  Therefore, by the same logic, the breadstick must be given the same rights as an adult human.

To say that a fertilized egg is already a human being is illogical, since it is possible for a fertilized egg to split into two embryos and create two human beings.  An adult human is incapable of doing this.

But there are plenty of reasons to argue that an embryo during early pregnancy is significantly different than an adult human.  Adult humans are sentient.  They are capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, and every other emotion.   A single cell-even a fertilized one--is not.  An adult is capable of speech, of self-awareness, of logic and reasoning, of objecting to being killed.  An embryo is not.  (I can hear the rebuttal coming now--we must stand up for the rights of those who are not capable of voicing the fact that they are being oppressed.  Yes, that's true.  I'm not attempting to give an argument that abortion should be allowed simply because an embryo isn't capable of objecting to the abortion.  As I said above, I don't need to establish that.  The burden of proof lies on the anti-abortionists.  I'm merely pointing out some obvious differences between adults and embryos.)  Stem cells are capable of becoming any cell in the body.  Thus, a sample of cells that have grown from a fertilized egg may be used to grow different organs or help cure diseases in other human beings.  Adult humans are incapable of doing this.

Also, one other problem with asserting that abortion is murder is that you now have two options.  You must, as Rep. Ryan has done, insist that no abortion should ever be legal, and thereby turn away the chance of a 10-year-old rape victim to get some semblance of a childhood back, or you must give a reason for why you allow exceptions to the "no abortion" policy you wish to enact.  You may have a case for women whose lives are endangered by the pregnancy--you could claim that it is self-defense.  But, what is your argument in the case of rape or incest?  Do you insist that rape victims and women impregnated by close family members must all carry their babies to full term?  Or do you have a real reason why allowing abortion in those cases should not be considered murder?  This is a serious hole in the argument.

My own personal philosophy is that I don't have the right to dictate to other people what they should do.  Perhaps a woman is justified in getting an abortion, and perhaps she is not.  But it is not my place to insist that she act according to what I feel is moral.  Each of us has a conscience (excepting sociopaths), and each of us is capable of deciding what is right or wrong.  If I were the person with the embryo inside of me, then it would be my decision to make.  Since that will never be the case, and since I do not believe I will ever impregnate a woman with my own sperm, I will never need to make the decision.  The decision of whether a specific abortion should happen or not is never one that I will or should make.  It is the decision of the woman who is pregnant, and possibly (in some cases, but not necessarily all) also the decision of the man who impregnated her.  (There may also be extenuating circumstances where other the decision should be made by other people, but again that's not for me to say.)

I believe firmly in respecting and valuing life.  But even more than that, I believe in respecting and valuing freedom.  For me to impose my will on someone else is not just, and it is a violation of individual freedom.  What is the point of respecting and valuing human life if we do not respect and value the personal decisions other people make?  I say that the respect for life is empty without the subsequent respect for individual freedom--the right of each person to decide what is moral and to follow that instinct.