Monday, January 21, 2013

As Roe v. Wade Ruling Nears 40, What's The Bottom Line?

By Manifesto Joe

Abortion as a concept alone is ugly -- there's no denying that. If any female relative of mine were pregnant and asked me what I thought about the prospect of her getting one, I'd advise her not to do it. It's a decision that will haunt you for life, I'd say. You will always wonder what sort of human being this fetus would have been. It's as though you killed a part of yourself.

But amid the sound and fury of debate, the nucleus of this issue is conveniently ignored: It is impossible to establish the point at which "human life" truly begins, and it cannot be proved that a fetus is interchangeable with an infant.

Abortion foes usually offer prompt responses to this crucial point. If it isn't a baby, what is it? Look at a photograph of a fetus -- I know it's a baby. The Bible says life begins at conception (even if the language of Scripture is metaphorical, I know that's what it means).

These arguments carry dangerous implications -- that intuitive knowledge is sufficient basis for criminal law, and that religious tenets should be legislated and the violators prosecuted.

If we base our epistemology only on what our five senses can tell us, we know that a fetus carries all the genetic data needed to form a baby. We know that if it is brought to term, or at least to the point of certain viability, it becomes a human being.

Consequently, we know that a fetus is a developing human life form. But is it empirically, legally and medically definable as a human being? Does it have a soul? The answer is simple -- no one knows. Or at least, no human being knows.

Long ago, abortion opponents released a film, Silent Scream, which showed graphic footage of abortions. Some scenes were chilling, such as the implications that a fetus about to be aborted will instinctively pull away from the surgeon's threatening instrument. This and other points of the film forge an inductive argument against abortion. But it falls short of proof, as all inductive arguments do.

That a fetus might try to elude a strange object gives it no distinction from numerous life forms that humans can legally kill for no reason -- to wit, millions of dogs and cats in animal "shelters."

Therefore, when abortion foes attack those who favor choice as "baby killers," they attack hysterically, from an unsound assumption.

Even if the point of empirical proof is conceded, many abortion opponents fall back on Scripture. It seems fair, then, to conclude that some abortion foes believe that Scripture and religious dogma should dictate secular law. They prefer pre-1789 theocracy to modern constitutional democracy/republicanism.

Many of the "founding fathers" had religious convictions, and Judeo-Christian ethics have certainly influenced American law. But they have not been a determinant, as Islamic fundamentalism is in countries that embrace Sharia law. In fact, our Constitution explicitly forbids any such religious establishment.

Those who want to outlaw abortion may point to U.S. legal precedent in rebuttal. Abortion was illegal in the U.S. for more than a century.

But there's a catch to that. In The Brethren, Bob Woodward's book on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Harry Blackmun discovered during his legal research for the Roe v. Wade majority opinion that "abortion had been commonly accepted for thousands of years, and that only in the 19th century had it become a crime in the United States. At that time, abortion had been a very risky operation, often fatal. The criminal laws had been enacted largely to protect pregnant women."

Among modern ethical questions, abortion is one of the grayest of gray areas. To believe, based on religion and intuition, that it is a sin comparable to murder is understandable. But without empirical evidence that feticide is homicide, it is a travesty against reason -- and an authoritarian abuse of our legal system -- to threaten some who believe otherwise with fines and imprisonment.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Anonymous said...

The fact is, no matter what the law is on abortion, it will always be around. If we criminalize it, it will simply go underground, like it was for many years. Coat hanger sales will no doubt increase.
What never gets pointed out in the abortion debate is that abortion laws really only apply to the working class. The rich are certainly unaffected by any abortion laws. Make it illegal and the rich will simply hop aboard their Gulfstream jets and fly to a discreet, private clinic in someplace like Sweden or Denmark.
And working class females who are the victims of rape or incest? Well, fuck them. (Actually, that's a handy catch-all policy in general for working-class Americans). There is no modern-day First World nation that treats its working class with more contempt than does America.

Old Scout said...

Anon presents an ersatz argument. Inevitable availability of illegal acts is no rational reason to legalize an otherwise inappropriate event.

Abortion needs be legal because it is a therapeutic alternative to a full-term pregnancy when either the life, health or safety of either party, parent or fetus, is at risk. Conditions placed on abortion remove it from being a medical right to being a social privilege. I support it's being free financially and free of social or religious stigma - just as it would be if men got preggers.

Emily said...

What's been interesting to me is that the "life begins at conception" argument has not always been the position.

Anonymous said...

When I was a much younger woman I got pregnant with my second child. My husband, who hadn't been especially thrilled with the arrival of the first one, began pressuring me to have an abortion. I resisted, and the debate/argument went on for several weeks, and finally, worn down by it, I agreed. Since there was not a doctor or clinic in our small town that would perform abortions, I went to a nearby city where I stayed with a friend. On the appointed day, I went to the clinic, and the doctor sat down to talk to me about the procedure. Then, as it was nearly noon, he told me to come back at 1 o'clock, and he would do the abortion.

I went out and got in my car, and for the next hour I drove around the city. I was crying and felt sickened by what I was about to do. At 1 o'clock I went back to the clinic, and asked to speak with the doctor. When he came in to talk to me, I apologized for being a bother, told him I would pay for the advice, but I simply couldn't do this. He said, "I'm glad you made that decision because you are so obviously here under protest."

I went home, still pregnant, but completely peaceful in my mind. I kept the pregnancy, had the baby, and got rid of the husband.

This is a personal decision for every woman who faces it. While it has to be determined by laws, I guess, every woman must have the right to do what her needs and her conscience demand.

Old Scout said...

The 'Anonymous' woman is an excellent example of choice at work: she understood her family value was dump-the-daddy; keep-the-laddie. Others' should have the same choice, not necessarily forced to the same conclusion.
As much as I applaud her decision, I will protest those who decided differently with greater vigor because they are under more heinous pressure.

Manifesto Joe said...

I don't think any "sane" person can consider abortion a really good thing. But it strikes many people as a strictly private matter. It lies with the conscience of the individual woman, and government should have no legitimate involvement. Or at least that's the argument I'm forwarding.

Emily said...

"I don't think any "sane" person can consider abortion a really good thing."

Really? Even when it saves the life of the mother?

Manifesto Joe said...

Good point. But I was referring to the usual circumstances of an unwanted pregnancy. It's not a good way to end one. I'm arguing that the decision should be that of the individual woman, at least until the point of viability.

James Buchanan said...

Me, I'm male, be 68 this year. I'm a retired firefighter/EMT. The thing that Roe/Wade changed for me was, I got to hold fewer till there were no more, dying girls hands. See, there were no emt'sor paramedics then, just first aid trained. You got to see poor girls dying almost every weekend. Am I glad that changed.
But the freaks want to see that happen again. Only the rich able to go to the other countries, or visit their "auntie" would have access to abortions when needed.
Criminalize it, Then I pity the poor medic again, that was driving me nuts then, some poor girl, finding the wrong advice, from the wrong idiot preacher/doctor/midwife/butcher and dying because of it. Thats the real murderer. If they change the one law, they should change all the laws that go with it. Just to be fair.