I have a lot of thoughts on this subject but here’s what I want to focus on right now: whether or not a fetus is actually a human. This may sound surprising but it’s truly something that’s really debated. A lot of pro-life people say “life starts at conception” and pro-choice people say… well, they don’t say anything definitively, but the popular notion seems to be that a baby begins it’s life once it’s been born.
I think they’re both wrong.
The pro choice side of the abortion debate is coming at the issue all wrong. They keep acting like a baby isn’t REALLY a person (whatever “being a person” is supposed to mean anyway) when it’s a fetus, either because it hasn’t developed a certain system or certain capabilities to feel, smell, etc. But the truth is, a fetus is a potential person. A person who has not yet begun living on it’s own, but it is a living being, and it IS alive. For this reason, it’s incredibly fragile and requires close protection, hence the reason it’s growing inside it’s mother.
This is WHY abortion is difficult. This is why it’s a difficult decision for everyone. If people truly believed a fetus wasn’t really a human being, then women who make the choice to have abortions wouldn’t be dealing with immense pain because of the loss, or guilt because of their decision.
And women SHOULD have that decision. Hard as the decision is, it’s still up the mother to decide what she wants to do with her body, even if her body is harboring another person. Whether or not the fetus has become “a person” is beside the point.
Think of it like this. Imagine that someone were terribly ill and dying, and the only way to keep them alive would be to hook yourself up to a machine that used YOUR body to keep that person alive. A machine that kept them alive using your blood, your oxygen, your lungs, etc. If you were in that position, dealing with all of the potential problems that arise from another person using yours to survive, you would still have the CHOICE to end the treatment if it were using your body. You have autonomy over your own body, you have the right to decide what happens with your own body. It would be WRONG for the doctors to force you, against your will, to remain hooked up to a machine to keep someone else alive if you didn’t want to.
Imagine something much simpler: a parent or a sibling is dying, and they need one of your kidneys to survive. It would be WRONG for a doctor to sedate you, remove one of your kidneys, and use it to save your relatives life, WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION. Sure, it’s a moral dilemma. What if removing one of your kidneys would drastically decrease your own lifespan? What if YOU can’t live without both kidneys? There are a million perfectly valid reasons why you might not want to give up your kidney, painful as the decision would be. And in fact, you may choose not to give your kidney for any reason or no reason at all. But the reasons don’t actually matter, because it would still be your choice to do so or not to do so, and it would be wrong for someone else to force you to give a kidney without your consent. It would also be wrong for someone else to force you to keep someone else alive with your body without your consent, or force you to carry a baby inside your body and give birth to it without your consent.
The problem with this issue is there is no right answer. In any case, someone is undergoing grave harm. On the pro-life side of this argument, where a woman is required to carry a baby to term without her consent, that woman could be going through any number of traumas, and then the baby who is born could have any number of difficulties ahead of it just because of the situation of it’s birth. And what if that baby, through no fault of the parents, would be born with some severe defect that would prevent them from living a normal life? Does everyone else suddenly get to be the arbiter of what happens to that child? Or does the woman carrying it get to decide? The answer is the latter. It’s a difficult choice, sure, but it is HER choice to make, no one else’s.
As a sidebar: there are plenty of circumstances where I believe the father’s input should be considered. Those circumstances do NOT include a father who raped the mother, or who has no interest in being a part of the child’s life. But even a father in a perfectly benign situation (i.e. one who loves the mother and will support her and the child), even if he wants her to keep the baby, it doesn’t mean he has the choice. It’s hard, but it’s the truth. Think about the kidney situation again: maybe your friends or your spouse or whoever really wants you to give that kidney to save your relative. There are situations where it would be a good idea to hear that person’s opinion and take it into consideration. But honestly? It isn’t the father’s right to decide what the mother does, it isn’t even really his right to give his opinion if the mother doesn’t want to hear it, because hard as it is, it’s STILL HER CHOICE. There are plenty of circumstances where I believe the father’s input should be considered, or at least the mother should hear him out, but there are plenty of other circumstances where I don’t think his opinion matters whatsoever. Like if he raped her, for instance.
On that question, by the way, of “is a sperm alive”? It’s important because it’s a parallel that’s drawn all the time between ejaculation and abortion. If depriving a possible human of it’s potential life is murder, then isn’t ejaculation murdering thousands of sperm? Well, here’s what I have to say to that. Sperm HAVE to be released, one way or the other. The male body will release the sperm on it’s own if it isn’t done through sexual activity. So, whether or not the release of sperm is murder actually doesn’t truly matter, because it’s going to happen to one way or another. And really, I think the real question is, will something SUFFER when it dies? A sperm won’t. And as far as I know, aborted fetuses don’t suffer either.
The release of sperm is a part of the natural course of how our bodies work. The growth and birth of a fetus is a part of that same natural course. An abortion is, by definition, something that changes that natural course. But that is not in an of itself a bad thing. After all, the practice of medicine changes that natural course. Surgery, antibiotics, vaccinations, chemotherapy, these things are all “playing god” in the same way that an abortion is, changing the natural course of our bodies, for whatever reason, it’s just that in an abortion, there’s an added question about whether or not a human life is being taken. We don’t worry about the moral implications of taking antibiotics, because we ARE killing living bacteria, and those bacteria are living organisms, but we don’t assign the same importance to those bacteria as we do to an unborn human (and for the record, I don’t think we should. Bacteria don’t feel pain, and it would not do us any good on an evolutionary scale to worry about the potential moral implications of killing a bacteria).
So, let’s be real. Abortion is taking away a potential life. That’s WHY it’s so difficult for the mother, who may have very, very good reasons for choosing not to allow her body to be used for the child to grow inside of. There are valid reasons why a person may need to stop the growth of a living organism inside of them. When that organism is a flu virus, we don’t hold pro-flu-life rallies, and that’s because we don’t assign any meaning to the life of a bacteria. But when the organism is a person, we understandably and rightfully assign meaning to it. But we still, in the course of life, have to take the lives of others. Humans in our history have needed to take the lives of animals for food, for warmth, for a million valid reasons. And there is a way to do that, to take that animals life, and to acknowledge the difficulty of the fact that another creature needed to be sacrificed for some reason, and to honor it. So when it becomes necessary, for any variety of good reasons, to end a pregnancy through abortion, we can be honest and acknowledge that yes, a potential human life was in fact ended. And yes, that is terribly sad. More so for the mother than anyone else. And it’s so strange that the people holding signs up at pro-life rallies are really concerned about THEIR feelings about an abortion, but don’t give any thought to the way the mother having the abortion feels. She’s the one who has to deal with these philosophical issues. She’s the one who has to wrestle with this. But no one seems to worry about her feelings.
But just because an abortion means the death of a person, or of a potential person, doesn’t make the mother a murderer. Like I said, if you choose not give someone else a kidney, and they died, would you be a murderer? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t (I would say, by the way, that you wouldn’t), but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s your right to control what happens to your own body. People don’t deserve to have their own bodies taken hostage for any reason.
And finally, we keep running up against this question of “is the aborted baby a person?” Well… what IS a person? How do we know what is and isn’t a person? Pro-life people say “life begins at conception,” and pro-choice people say “life begins at birth.” But… what IS “life” in this sense? Isn’t a sperm alive? Isn’t the fetus itself a collection of cells? When does it start to be “alive?”
I think the truth is, what we’re really asking here is, when does the baby have a SOUL? When does the baby have consciousness? When does the baby have sentience?
But there is no way of measuring when a person is “a person,” when a person “has a soul,” when a person is truly “alive.” It’s all caught up in an infinite philosophical grey area that we can’t solve in this discussion. Because even though the abortion questions calls into question a lot of our beliefs about sentience and consciousness and death and life and taking life, the truth is, none of that actually CHANGES the fact that a woman has a right to choose. And these questions? The questions about whether or not the aborted baby had a soul? Had a life? Was a person? These are the questions that that mother will struggle with. And rather than have the debate FOR her, rather than SHAME her for not doing what you wanted her to do, you need to respect that she has the right to make the decision. It is NOT an easy decision.
There is no woman in the world who just goes around getting pregnant and having abortions willie-nillie like it’s no big deal. This an actual myth that is perpetuated, that there are these “immoral whores” who are just going around getting pregnant and having abortions thoughtlessly, that they use abortion as a form of birth control. But it just isn’t true. And guess what? Even if it WERE, those women would STILL have the right to do it, REGARDLESS of the philosophical implications.
In the end, it doesn’t MATTER whether the aborted baby is a person. Not because the subject in an of itself is unimportant, but because it has no real bearing on whether or not a person should have autonomy over their own body. It’s difficult, yes. It’s an upsetting situation on all sides. But it doesn’t change the fact that a woman has the right to decide what does or does not happen with her own body. Just because there are a lot of upsetting questions about life and death, sentience and living, doesn’t change that. It’s still her body that this child is being grown in, and she still has the right to decide whether or not that continues to happen. And she doesn’t deserve to be shamed for her choice.