Life, Death And Politics Essay, Research Paper
LIFE, DEATH, AND POLITICS
A run-down of the abortion debate.
Few issues have fostered such controversy as has the topic of abortion. The participants in the abortion debate not only have firmly-fixed beliefs, but each group has a self-designated appellation that clearly reflects what they believe to be the essential issues. On one side, the pro-choice supporters see individual choice as central to the debate: If a woman cannot choose to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, a condition which affects her body and possibly her entire life, then she has lost one of her most basic human rights. These proponents of abortion believe that while a fetus is a potential life, its life cannot be placed on the same level with that of a woman. On the other side, the pro-life opponents of abortion argue that the fetus is human and therefore given the same human rights as the mother. Stated simply, they believe that when a society legalizes abortion, it is sanctioning murder.
In today’s more industrialized societies, technology has simplified the abortion procedure to a few basic and safe methods. Technology, however, has also enhanced society’s knowledge of the fetus. Ultrasound, fetal therapy, and amniocentesis graphically reveal complex life before birth, and it is this potential human life that is at the heart of the debate.
In order to form an opinion on this matter, we must first question and define several common factors which are numerously debated.
I. When does human life begin?
Scientists identify the first moment of human life as that instant when a sperm cell unites with an ovum or egg cell. The billions of cells that collectively make up a human being are body cells. Unless manipulated, these body cells are and remain what they appear to be: skin, hair, bone, muscle, and so on. Each has some worthy function in life and performs that function until it dies. Other rare cells, known as germ cells, have the power to transform themselves into every other kind of human cell. The sex cells are the sperm cells in the male and the egg cells in the female. It is only in combination that these cells can create a fetus. The merger is complete within twelve hours, at which time the egg is fertilized and becomes known as a “zygote,” containing the full set of forty-six chromosomes required to create a new human life. It is at that point that life begins and should be respected with the same laws that apply to us all, whether we are dependent on a womb or not. Conception creates life and makes that life one of a kind.
The opposition would argue otherwise. To be a person, there must be evidence of a personality. Animals contain biological characteristics, but that does not qualify them as a person. It takes more than ten days after the fertilization for the conceptus to become anything more than a hollow ball of cells. During the first week, it is free-floating and not even attached to the uterine wall. Not until the beginning of the fourth week does a heart begin to beat, and then it is two-chambered like that of a fish. Not until the end of the fifth week is there evidence of the beginning of formation of the cerebral hemispheres, and they are merely hollow bubbles of cells. The possession of forty-six chromosomes does not make a cell a person. Most of the cells of your body contain these forty-six chromosomes, but that does not make a white corpuscle a person! If possession of forty-six chromosomes make some thing a person, then it would seem that possession of a different number would make something else. A personality is formed when a baby has entered the world. It acts and reacts to situations it is put upon and forms its opinions in that manner. It is only then that we can consider it a unique person with a unique personality.
II. Is abortion immoral?
Pro-life activists would argue that the taking of a human life is wrong no matter what the circumstances or in which tri-mester it is done. The controversy over abortion has avoided the real issue facing today’s woman – her need to grow beyond stereotypes. Whenever an individual or group realizes it has been treated unjustly, the first reaction is anger, but often the anger is first expressed as aggression. People outgrowing oppression have so much stored-up bitterness, so many memories of powerlessness and so little knowledge of how to make themselves heard, that violence toward others is the result. The women’s movement has been caught up in the same process. American men and women are among the most fair-minded on earth, but have slowly begun to feel that 4,000 abortions a day is enough. The abortion mentality has encouraged women to think of themselves as victims. Much emphasis is placed on pregnancy as a result of rape, even though the statistics show only about .1% of all rapes actually result in conception. That means that a large majority of pregnancies that resulted in abortion were the result of free-choice. The assumption is that a woman does not have control over her own body until after a male partner is finished with it. Only then does she hear talk of “rights.” The term “pro-choice” evokes their sense of fairness, but what is really being considered is the killing of an innocent human life. Women are abandoning the abortion mentality because it weakens their greatest strength – creation. They are looking at responsibilities as well as rights, choosing instead of reacting.
Pro-choice supporters argue that abortion should be viewed as a sometimes necessary choice a woman must make in order to be in charge of her life. Considering pregnancy from a woman’s point of view, it can be very dangerous to carry a baby for ninth months with accompanying symptoms such as nausea, skin discoloration, extreme bloating and swelling, insomnia, narcolepsy, hair loss, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, indigestion, and irreversible weight gain. Equal rights is an issue the women’s movement has fought for for many years. Denying them the right to free choice would demolish everything they have fought for and all the respect they have gained as individuals.
III. The religious aspect.
The Church’s judgment on abortion is neither male nor female. It is social. It places the rights of the child in the womb into the hands of the law which sees individual rights as inalienable. The relationship between morality and law, as between Church and society, is surely complex. The historical source of the Catholic teaching on abortion was conviction of the early Christian community that abortion is incompatible with and forbidden by the fundamental Christian norm of love, a norm which forbade the taking of life. By the fifth century, while the condemnation of abortion continued without diminishment, distinctions were on occasion being drawn between abortion and homicide. Both were seen as grave sins, but not necessarily exactly the same sin or to be subject to the same penalty. While theologians of the Eastern Church were apparently the first explicitly to draw a distinction between the “formed” and the “unformed” fetus, there quickly developed a strong tradition against using the distinction to differentiate homicide and abortion.
The substance of the Catholic position can be summed up in the following principles: (1) God alone is the lord of life. (2) Human beings do not have the right to take the lives of other human beings. (3) Human life begins at the moment of conception. (4) Abortion, at whatever the stage of development of the conceptus, is the taking of innocent human life. The conclusion follows: Abortion is wrong.
IV. Can abortion be justified?
There are, indeed, several situations in which abortion would seem necessary. Birth defects, although rare, sometimes occur and must be dealt with in a personal manner. If a woman knows she is going to give birth to a mentally retarded baby, she is faced with the option of aborting it. If she is not prepared to give the retarded baby the attention and love it needs or if she cannot afford to treat the babies problems, abortion would be the logical answer.
From the opposition: “It is only when we love the handicapped that we can truly value every human life.”
The anti-abortion movement believes that the fetus, even in its embryonic stage of development, is human life and that any deliberate termination of embryonic or fetal life constitutes an “unjustified” termination of human life. Conversely, proponents of abortion deny that the fetus is human life, particularly during its embryonic stage of development, and therefore believe that the termination of fetal life does not constitute homicide. Further, proponents of abortion justify the termination of fetal life by asserting that the woman has the ultimate right to control her own body; that no individual has any right to force a woman to carry a pregnancy that she does not want; that parents have the moral responsibility and constitutional obligation to bring into this world only children who are wanted, loved, and provided for, so that they can realize their human potential; and that children have basic human and constitutional rights, which include the right to have loving, caring parents, sound health, protection form harm, and a social and physical environment that permits healthy human development and the assurance of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Conclusion: if a child cannot be cared for properly, it should not be brought into this world.
Pro-life advocates sustain that a child, originally unwanted, may cause a change of heart in his or her parents, and should be born on that argument alone. Children born in the face of hostile animus from their parents are not crippled by that original unwantedness. There are no clear signs that children first unwanted face abuse. Healthy, adaptive parenthood must be prepared from the start to make one’s own wants second to one’s children’s needs – including the need to go on living.
If abortion were to become impossible again in this country, the lives of the vast majority of American women would worsen drastically. Many would be forced to spend decades living a life that they did not want. For all women sexual activity, even within marriage, would become a hateful risk. The entire revolution in sex roles is built on low, controlled fertility. Without abortion women could not be in the labor force in increasing numbers, and having independent careers. It is low fertility that makes day care economically feasible for many families. The leaders of the anti-abortion campaign emphasize the fetus’ loss of life. However, some of the same people oppose the revolution in sex roles, the new freedom to express sexuality, and would make birth control illegal if they could. Many of them make no secret of their desire to see women return to obligatory domesticity and to a situation in which they are afraid to have sex outside marriage. They believe that a ban on abortion would further that agenda. It is certainly possible that Congress will give the Catholic bishops their victory and make abortion once again a crime. However, there is so much at stake for women that there is little chance they will give up abortions. If they have to get them illegally, they will.
V. Should abortion remain a personal choice?
Whether abortion and birth control should be a woman’s decision has been a source of controversy throughout history. To defend the morality of choice for women is not to deny reverence toward or appreciation for many women’s deep commitment to childbearing and shield nurturance. It does ask that women collectively come to understand that genuine choice with respect to power is a necessary condition of all women. When the day comes that the decision to bear a child is a moral choice, then and only then, the human liberation of women will be a reality.
Those who believe abortion should not be a personal choice argue that the fetus is a separate entity form the woman who carries it, and therefore entitled to the right to lice. They believe that women who choose to abort do so primarily out of convenience, a fact which trivializes unborn human life.
VI. Abortion and the Constitution.
In decisions handed down on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Texas and Georgia abortion laws. The Texas case, Roe v. Wade, concerned a statue which restricted legal abortions to those deemed necessary to save the woman’s life. The Georgia case, Doe v. Bolton, dealt with a state law permitting abortions only when required by the woman’s health, or to prevent birth of a deformed child, or when pregnancy resulted form rape. The court’s invalidation of these laws implied that similarly restrictive laws in most other states are also unconstitutional.
The Constitutional basis for Roe v. Wade is found in the personal liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, in the Bill of Rights and its penumbras. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court held that:
“right of privacy…founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions on state action…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her preg- nancy.”
Opponents of legal abortion do not see it as a constitutional right. They argue that the law places many limits on people’s freedom of choice, and should do so in the case of abortion. In fact, abortion foes see the law favoring one set of legal rights, the woman’s, over another’s, the unborn child’s.
VII. Should abortion remain legal?
Since 1973, the proportion of women obtaining abortions before the eighth week, and using the safest method, suction curettage, has steadily increased. By improving availability and accessibility, legalization has also contributed to a significant decline in complications. The second major consequence of the shift from illegal to legal abortion has been to increase equity. Before legalization, there was in fact not one legal abortion market, but two. Women with the knowledge and means could usually obtain a reasonably safe abortion, performed by a physician. For women without information and funds, this option was unavailable.
It is my personal opinion that abortion must remain legal if we are to uphold the Constitution and respect women as equal individuals. There already is wide agreement that the single most important effect of legalization has been the substitution of safe, legal procedures for abortions that formerly were obtained illegally. This substitution quickly led to a dramatic decline in the number of women who died or suffered serious, sometimes permanent, injury. A second, equally important, result of legalization concerns equity: before abortion was legal, it was poor women, minority women, and very young women who suffered most, since their only options often were delivery of an unwanted child or a back-alley abortion.
Today the threat to women’s lives and health no longer comes from abortion. It comes from those who want to outlaw it.