Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Editor’s long-awaited (by me, at least) post.


I have written that I am not an anti-choice absolutist and I will address this point in a moment but there can be no doubt that I am extremely troubled about the number of choices being made in this country that result in the termination of pregnancies. The reason for my being troubled about this is evident in my comments in various places regarding the fact that, from the moment of conception, a distinct individual life is brought into being with genetic characteristics that are derived from but quite different than his or her parents.

What is at issue is primarily the status of the pre-born, discussed by Ms. Gloria Feldt, in her recent book The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back (Bantam: 2004; pp. 87ff. and elsewhere). If a fetus is deemed to be less than human, then there is no question of a right to life involved. If, on the other hand, it is deemed a person, then, in essence, the woman’s right to choose ends at the right of the pre-born to live.

I do not buy the argument that a fertilized egg is a potential human being just because he or she lacks those characteristics that we normally associate with humanity: a physically identifiable human form, consciousness, automotion, etc. All of us were once just a single cell; it’s what characterizes humans before they develop those characteristics normally associated with humanity. The problem is in applying notions of what we normally think of as characterizing human beings when applied to people on this side of the womb to human beings at their earliest stages of development within the womb. It is not a mere coincidence that, in utero, unless pregnancy is, for some reason, unwelcome, mothers consistently speak in terms of their baby; only when speaking of unwanted pregnancy do we speak of fertilized ova, blastocysts, and fetuses in discussions outside of the medical professions.

I am a Christian. One does not need to be religious, however, to be troubled by people choosing to terminate another human life, particularly when it is a woman seeking to terminate the human life within her. When Ms. Feldt (War on Choice, p.5) argues for a woman’s unfettered right to “freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of children” she will have, she plays into my deepest fear: that women are terminating pregnancy for no other reason than their own, personal convenience (not that there are no reasons for ever terminating pregnancy) and that it is precisely the right to terminate for any reason deemed right by a woman that the most radical pro-choice advocates, such as Gloria Feldt, are seeking to protect. In a perfect world every woman would be able to choose when and whether to bear children without destroying human lives in the process. This is not a perfect world and no one can ever choose every circumstance in his or her life; pregnancy and child-birth are no exception.

By the same argument that a woman’s rights to choose ends at the pre-born’s right to live, the pre-born’s rights end at harm to the woman who bears him or her. It is on this basis that I argue against illegalizing abortion. This is not about whose life, the mother’s or the fetus’s, is more valuable, for I can see no valid argument for valuing one life over the other, it is about who is endangering whom. If the only recourse to protect the mother is to terminate the pregnancy, so be it. Furthermore, I do not see it as the Government’s place to determine in law when a mother is endangered by pregnancy; that is a matter for a medical professional to determine on a case by case basis.

To summarize, I do not hold that a woman has an unfettered right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Life is often messy and unpredictable and intervenes into every life, changing situations and reducing choices. What is most determinative is the right of every human, at whatever stage of development, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The messiness comes in when the rights of two individuals, a mother and her pre-born child, come into conflict.

5 Comments:

Blogger Andrea said...

I do not hold that a woman has an unfettered right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.Who do you think should decide when abortion should be an option? As Samantha said in an earlier post, a fetus is not a part of the mother, and therefore is (almost) its own person. But the facts don't help us clear up any of the "messiness" as you call it.

As I've asked before, what do we do when no clear answers exist, keep abortion legal? Because making this a states issue solves nothing. This is abortion, not speed limits - real people are involved. Or should we opt for the more subjectively humane option, which would be abolishing the practice?

12/10/2004 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Craig R. Harmon said...

"Who do you think should decide when abortion should be an option?"

I wrote:
"Furthermore, I do not see it as the Government’s place to determine in law when a mother is endangered by pregnancy; that is a matter for a medical professional to determine on a case by case basis."

"As Samantha said in an earlier post, a fetus is not a part of the mother, and therefore is (almost) its own person."

Which, except for the '(almost)', matches my analysis.

"But the facts don't help us clear up any of the "messiness" as you call it."

No but nothing, including abolishing abortion, will accomplish that. Abolishing abortion will only make an already messy situation only messier.

"As I've asked before, what do we do when no clear answers exist, keep abortion legal?"

Yes, with restrictions. However, those restrictions, in my opinion, ought not to be tied to time. That is to say, for example, that restricting abortions to the first trimester is illogical on two counts according to my analysis. First, dangers to the mother are not always detectable until after that time. As you will recall, I wrote:

"By the same argument that a woman’s rights to choose ends at the pre-born’s right to live, the pre-born’s rights end at harm to the woman who bears him or her. It is on this basis that I argue against illegalizing abortion."

Thus, I argue that abortions be legal whenever carrying to term poses harm to the mother, regardless of the stage of pregnancy.

Second, since I argue that human life begins at conception, restricting abortion to the first trimester or to some ever-changing point of viability is illogical.

"Because making this a states issue solves nothing."

I agree. In my analysis, it is neither the State or the Federal government's job to "determine in law when a mother is endangered by pregnancy; that is a matter for a medical professional to determine on a case by case basis."

"This is abortion, not speed limits - real people are involved."

Arguably, of course, real people's lives are involved in setting speed limits so I don't see this as the issue.

"Or should we opt for the more subjectively humane option, which would be abolishing the practice?"

Well, I've already answered this with a no. However, I add that I definitely do not agree that abolishing abortion, assuming you mean in any case, would be humane since it would be a nightmare for mothers for whom abortion is the only hope of saving their lives.

12/11/2004 12:21:00 AM  
Blogger Craig R. Harmon said...

I'd like to elaborate on some points. I wrote that it is not up to the governmen, State or Federal, to determine in law when a pregnancy constitutes harm to the mother. By that I mean, legislating specific situations that constitute threats to the mother. Enumerations in law are, generally, impossible since there will always be situations, not envisioned in the enumeration, that are left out but which nevertheless, do constitute a genuine threat.

On the other hand, I also wrtoe that abortion should remain legal with restrictions. These restrictions being whenever carrying to term constitutes a risk of harm to the mother. Clearly this general restriction is a matter for law. For the sake of uniformity, I believe that it is a call for the Federal Government to make.

12/11/2004 12:39:00 AM  
Blogger Samantha said...

Am I clear in understanding that you would say abortion should be legal *only* in cases of threat to the mother's life(...not her "health", mental or otherwise?)

The reason I ask this is that according to the Guttmacher institute, even states with a viability law cannot restrict abortion in cases of "health or life" of the mother, including "mental health", with the determination to be made by *only* ONE doctor. I'm sure you can see that all one needs to obtain an abortion despite "safeguards" in this case is a doctor committed to abortion on demand and willing to make a "diagnosis" favorable to that end.

Would you also support second or even more opinions in this determination, which to me would be a necessary safeguard in the legal situation you describe?

I also wonder why you would think this should be a federal issue, when the Constitution grants no powers to the Federal government in this area...maybe a future topic - the Federalization of everything?

12/11/2004 06:52:00 AM  
Blogger Craig R. Harmon said...

"Am I clear in understanding that you would say abortion should be legal *only* in cases of threat to the mother's life(...not her "health", mental or otherwise?)"

Life threat, certainly. Health threat, mental or otherwise, not competent to say, since I am not a medical health expert. It is hard for me to fathom how carrying to term could pose a danger to a woman's mental health. I'm not saying that it couldn't, just that I can't see it.

Similarly a woman's physical health. I have not come across much in the way of information on this.

I tend to trust doctors. They have specific knowledge and experience that I will never have. If a doctor tells me that a given condition poses a significant risk, not necessarely life threatening mind you, to my health, my first question is usually, "What, specifically, do you mean?" and the second is, "How much risk?" and third, "What can we do about it?"

If the risk to the health, mental or otherwise, could be shown to be real and significant even if well short of endangering the mother's life, then I would have to answer your question with a "No".

"The reason I ask this is that according to the Guttmacher institute, even states with a viability law cannot restrict abortion in cases of "health or life" of the mother, including "mental health", with the determination to be made by *only* ONE doctor. I'm sure you can see that all one needs to obtain an abortion despite "safeguards" in this case is a doctor committed to abortion on demand and willing to make a "diagnosis" favorable to that end.

Would you also support second or even more opinions in this determination, which to me would be a necessary safeguard in the legal situation you describe?"

Considering the rarity of Doctors willing to testify against doctors in cases involving injury to patients, I am skeptical that even requiring three opinions would be of much use. While I trust my physician to look out for me, I also think that, as a profession, Doctors look out for one another and are reluctant to second guess another's diagnosis.

On the other hand, I have yet to come across a doctor willing to allow me to prescribe to him what medications I should be taking for health conditions I have diagnosed myself. I have, in fact, correctly diagnosed my medical condition and correctly guessed an appropriate treatment on several occasions. My Doctor, wise man that he is, is determined to make his own, independant determination. I'm glad he is.

Are there doctors willing to allow patients to determine their own condition and treatment (in this case, agree to abortions based upon whatever whim his or her patient may have)? I guess there are bad seeds in every profession. What can be done about them? I don't know.

There, I've said it...it feels rather good, actually. I don't pretend to have all of the answers. That's why I started Continuum, actually. I believe that, together, we are smarter than any of us, alone.

"I also wonder why you would think this should be a federal issue, when the Constitution grants no powers to the Federal government in this area...maybe a future topic - the Federalization of everything?"

Because I like uniformity. If a medical procedure can be performed safely and can be shown to be necessary it should be available to all regarless of geography. Requiring a woman to travel out of State, perhaps even several States from her own, places an undue burden upon even a middle-class woman, let alone a poor one. There is simply no way short of Federal mandate to assure uniformity.

12/11/2004 08:36:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home