Abortion is a very difficult subject, involving trying emotional issues. Many reasonable and honorable men and woman hold very firm opinions on both sides of this moral issue. Do we allow women their natural freedom to choose what occurs within their bodies, or do we act to save the lives of the innocent unborn children? While we may disagree with each other’s views on abortion, no one would deny that the subject of abortion serves as a compass for the moral direction a nation pursues. It is therefore prudent to carefully review the facts as they are known and to formulate opinions, knowing their ultimate consequences.
People in favor or against the permissibility of abortion invariably fall into two categories; those who believe that a woman aught to have the right to her body (Pro Choice group) and those who believe that the unborn fetus is a human worthy of protection as in any other human (Pro Life group).
Extreme proponents of the Pro Choice group believe that the right of a woman to her body is nearly absolute, that an unborn fetus is not human, and therefore a woman aught to have the right to terminate her pregnancy at any time until the presentation of the baby.
Extreme proponents of the Pro Life group believe that an unborn fetus is a human being from the time a sperm meets an egg and fertilizes (i.e., conception). Thus, the fertilized egg, having formed within hours of sexual intercourse, is worthy of protection like any other human being. The Catholic Church actually goes one step further in its extreme Pro Life stance in that it holds that even contraception is immoral. The Church argues that sperms and eggs can not be prevented from meeting and that the mere act of preventing the sperm from having a fair chance of fertilizing an egg is a crime!
In discussing a complicated issue such as abortion, wherein the ultimate objective is to come to some sort of consensus, it is perhaps best to debunk the most extreme views first. Let us consider the above mentioned extremes.
First, let us consider the Catholic Church’s belief that contraception even prior to fertilization should be banned. The overlying moral principal is that first both the ovum (the egg) and the sperm are sacred material, and second that they should not be prevented from performing their godly’ purpose. Regarding the sacred nature of sperm and egg, it is important to remember that both the sperm and eggs are discarded naturally as part of activities of daily living. The male testicles regularly produce sperm and regularly discard these sperm. The female ovaries discharge an egg monthly during menstruation and this egg is discarded when not fertilized. Thus, these sacred’ materials are regularly wasted. A further wasting of them by contraception, I think, as it were, is “no biggy”! Second, the act of a sperm fertilizing an egg is no more a godly’ event than digestion or menstruation. Ascribing divine purpose to bodily functions serves only to obfuscate clarity.
Regarding the notion that a fertilized egg is a human being much as a grown adult, one needs only to say poppycock’! The fact is that a fertilized egg is no more a human being than a cashew nut is to a cashew tree. Would the extreme pro-lifers equate the eating of a pound of cashew nuts as morally equivalent to decimating a forest of cashew trees? Both the cashew nut and a fertilized human egg are potential adult lives, but they are not actual lives yet.
Some years ago, one of my cheap uncles gave me a gift (which he bought for $12) in the form of a municipal bond for my Bar Mitzvah. I was told that if I held on to this note for 35 years, then I could redeem the bond for $500. Needless to say, I lost track of the whereabouts of the said bond long ago. The point is that a bearer bond promising some value in the future does not have the same value today. A potential life, similarly, does not have the same value as an adult human life today. To say that one aught to prohibit abortion at conception because a fertilized egg is equivalent to a human being is to be deluded into the same thinking that my cheap uncle was hoping for.
Ok, so the Catholic Church is wrong and the extreme Pro-Lifers suffer from deluded thinking. What about the extreme Pro Choicers?
To say that a woman has an absolute right to her body is to make a mistake. It is true that she can choose to condemn herself to countless plastic surgeries, and to pierce various orifices in her body in order to insert metal objects in them. But is her right to her body absolute? Can she ingest hard drugs? Do we allow a woman to shoot heroin to her arm at regular intervals? No.
Does she have the right to inflict mortal harm to herself? Or, if she decided, for no other reason that it being her body, to have her left arm amputated, would we allow it? What if a doctor decided to help her cut her arm off; should we allow the physician to assist? No? But it is her body, isn’t it?
Can a nursing mother take alcohol knowing that the alcohol will concentrate within her milk and poison her baby? Isn’t it her body? If alcohol is legal, why should she not have the right to do that?
No human has the absolute right to anything, including his or her body. A pregnant woman is no exception. If it is in the State’s interest to limit a right, including a pregnant woman’s right to her body, then so be it.
It should be clear, then, that one can not defend abortion strictly on the basis of the right to one’s body. The reply to a woman who thoughtlessly states “but it’s my body” should be “yes, but your right to your body is not absolute and is subject to regulations”.
The more reasonable people amongst us hold that a woman does indeed have some rights to her body while admitting at the same time that destroying a potential life is harmful and immoral. I think even the most ardent pro choicers, at least those who are capable of some critical analysis, would admit that minimizing abortion rates are desirable. At the same time, a thoughtful pro lifer would have to agree that over-regulation of a woman’s reproductive rights are against principles of freedom and liberty. What is a just society to do?
Reasonable people from both the Pro Life and Pro Choice sides agree that a woman is a human being! These same reasonable people agree that the fetus is at least a potential life. Thus, when the life of an actual life is in jeopardy, and the potential life of a fetus has to be sacrificed in order to save the actual life, all parties involved would agree that such an action is justified. For no one in his right mind would advocate that we must relinquish an actual life in order to save a potential life, especially a potential life whose existence utterly depends on the very life that is to be sacrificed. Thus, the following decision is easy:
When the life of a mother is in jeopardy, it aught to be permissible to sacrifice the life of the fetus to save the mother.
Reasonable people would also agree that using abortions as a method of birth control is highly questionable. Even the most rabid Pro Choice advocate would likely bristle at trying to defend a woman having her 10th elective abortion. We all agree that minimizing the numbers of abortion is good policy. Thus, governmental policies aimed at lowering the number of abortions are probably justified. The second reasonable decision, then, is as follows:
Abortions should be regulated in such a way as to minimize their demand.
The above can be implemented much like smoking cigarettes. People have the right to smoke, but there are regulations imposed on tobacco products, such as taxes, limitations of use by minors, etc. Abortion, too, should be regulated so that it can be used prudently, compassionately, and minimally.
Of course, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. What, for example, constitutes prudent’? What use of abortion is considered compassionate’? I do admit that these areas are very subjective and are subject to various interpretations. But note that the argument has now been reduced to establishing a method of recognizing the compassionate and prudent use of abortion, not of abortion itself.
Thus, the question is not whether we should ban abortion altogether, but rather, the question aught to be recognizing the circumstances that abortion can be done with thoughtful consideration.