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Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Abortion Debate

Just six weeks ago when Rick Santorum’s voters in Iowa listed abortion as the number one issue for this presidential election, the general public scoffed. They argued that without fixing the economy, the abortion issue was all but irrelevant. Imagine the surprise when, due to a massive overstep in the form of a contraception mandate, President Obama managed to shove the abortion debate to the forefront after all.

As is usually the case when abortion is brought up, people on both sides quickly got worked up. Many were outraged at the notion that Catholic hospitals would be forced to provide birth control to patients even though the Catholic faith strictly prohibits the use of birth control. Those who were in favor of the mandate argued that women have the right to get birth control, and should be able to obtain it at any hospital they chose to visit.

To add to the confusion, the state of Virginia brought up two pieces of legislation. One was a state mandate requiring ultrasounds prior to all abortion procedures. The second defined “personhood” as beginning at conception.

As expected, the interwebs virtually exploded. The ultrasound mandate was quickly labeled by the opposition as “state-mandated rape,” since in some cases the procedure would involve using a transvaginal ultrasound probe. Many also balked at the idea that “personhood” might be defined at conception, claiming rather that life began at birth or the age of viability, and that granting legal “personhood” status would leave a woman who miscarried to be held liable for murder.

The debates I witnessed (and joined) included topics ranging from the definition of personhood to a woman’s right to obtain birth control and her right to choose abortion. The following is a quick summation of my arguments, reposted here to clear up some of the misconceptions (no pun intended) I encountered concerning personhood, abortion, and Roe v. Wade:

First, on the topic of “personhood” – how should it be defined? Is personhood the same thing as humanity? If so, when does humanity begin? If not at conception, could we not reasonably expect some women to give birth to non-human progeny? The fact is that DNA stays the same from conception to death. Barring mutation, the DNA present when sperm meets egg for the first time is identical to the DNA present in blood drawn seconds prior to death. If the DNA just prior to death is considered to be human, the DNA present at conception cannot be labeled as anything but. (And it should also be noted that the DNA present at conception is not identical to the mother’s DNA, making the fetus present within her body without being part of it.) What changes, most notably, from conception to death is the human being’s ability (or lack thereof) to practice self-care. The unborn, as well as infants, toddlers, children, and in some cases, the elderly often have difficulty (or even a complete inability) to provide themselves with food, shelter or security. If the unborn should be denied “personhood” based on this, then how can we justify granting legal “personhood” to any of the other demographics mentioned? On the flip side, if you do not define “personhood” as beginning at conception, any other starting point must by definition be completely arbitrary.  Viability, for example, is constantly changing in light of medical advances.

Second, many were arguing that whether or not abortion ends a life is a matter of opinion. On this one I will cite my father in law, who says that “Truth is truth. You can’t have an opinion about truth.” The simple fact is that the purpose of the abortion procedure is, in fact, to terminate a life. If a fetus is to survive the abortion, the entire procedure is considered to have failed. Abortion is the only medical procedure to date in which for the operation to be considered a success, fifty percent of the patients are required to die.

And third, the big one. Roe v. Wade. Most people cite this particular case in regards to a woman’s right to privacy and her right to choose what is done with her body. Given the prior arguments concerning DNA and “personhood,” I think a fair case can be made that while the fetus resides inside the mother, it is not a part of her body.

As for the woman’s choice issue: Roe v. Wade, while it does allow for the legal procurement of abortions, never once mentions a woman's choice. In fact, the case law demands that the decision to abort be made not by the woman at all, but by her physician. It even suggests that she should be required to get the recommendation of at least two physicians. Not only that, but the language used refers to the woman as "the woman" through the first trimester only. Once she reaches the second trimester, she is always referred to as "the mother." Roe was never intended to be used to justify abortions beyond the first trimester, and the language of the law makes that abundantly clear.

Another problem with Roe, however, has more to do with the entity that drove the case. Many people were upset over the Citizens United decision, saying that interest groups should be limited in their control over law and lawmakers. Roe was driven by an interest group more commonly known as the National Organization for Women. By the time the case reached the Supreme Court, the woman we all know as "Roe" felt so bullied and undermined by NOW and their agenda (give us abortion and give it to us right now) that she did not even want to proceed with the case.

Now add in the "privacy" issue. People constantly argue that abortion is a privacy issue - a woman's personal and private decision. But it is by definition not at all private, because it necessarily involves not just the woman but one or two doctors and perhaps a third party who will be contracted to perform the abortion...

Now consider this final thought: if a baby is born at twenty-two weeks gestation and the mother asks to have him killed, she will likely be placed in the psych ward. If that same baby is carried to term and the mother opts to abort two weeks prior to the due date, in some states she can even get financial assistance to do so. What is the difference between the two babies? Physical location at the time of the act.

If you read up on current literature and arguments being put forth, very few people actually argue whether or not the unborn is a child. *They don't care.* Many of them argue that whether or not the baby is alive is irrelevant because the Supreme Court gives them the "right" to abort *in spite of* the personhood of their child. In much the same way slave owners felt they could beat or kill their “property,” abortion advocates feel their “privacy" allows them to use the unborn's physical location as a justification for free reign to murder.

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