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.