Recently, a representative from Atlanta proposed a bill that would require women to obtain a death warrant in court, signed by a judge, before being allowed to have an abortion. "They've been put to death without any due process. These are little boys and little girls that we need to protect," said State Rep. Bobby Franklin.
I realize such a bill has virtually zero chance of being passed or even considered seriously in the legislation, but it is indicative of the mindset that certain people harbor when it comes to this issue, based largely on either religious axe-grinding or gross misinformation.
I'd like to take this opportunity to address the issue myself. Sit back and buckle up.
One of the favorite tactics of both sides of the issue is to reduce the argumentation to a series of soundbites which do little to illuminate but much to inflame. "Right to life", "Right to choose", "Abortion stops a beating heart", "How can I be trusted with a child but not a choice", and so on; these are all examples of buzzwords and catchphrases that are thrown about but have little actual meaning behind them.
Right to life
It is important to understand exactly what is meant by this phrase. Countless thousands of "pro-lifers" are fond of espousing the right to live, a right which is being callously denied to unborn children. (As an aside, pro-lifers prefer the term "pre-born children".)
Let us be perfectly clear: There is no right to life on this planet, nor has there ever been. We slaughter animals by the millions, raze rainforests, pollute rivers to the point where no fish can live there - I hardly need to list all the plants and animals that are killed wholesale, daily, and all of them are equally as alive as any human. All animals feel pain, express a variety of emotions, desires, wants. Most are capable of some form of communication and expression. All are self-aware, concious creatures who wish to live and fear death and pain. None of this stops us from slaughtering cattle and pigs by the ton, and whatever else that may be, nobody would call it "murder".
Is a fetus alive?
The "right to life" argument, upon which it seems most of the pro-life stance hinges, should drop the pretext of some inalienable right to life. What is protected is human life, and nothing else.
A fetus is undoubtedly alive. So were the sperm and egg that created it, though. So are all the plants and animals mentioned before. The issue of abortion hinges not on whether a fetus is alive, but whether or not it is human. This is not so difficult a thing to determine, it seems to me, as pro-lifers would have us believe.
In order to determine if it is human, we need to identify what is unique to humans as opposed to other living things, so we can have a line drawn and say "There, this is now human."
Pro-lifers point to the fetus' heartbeat, which begins fairly early in gestation, and insist that this is significant. It is not. Virtually all animals have a heartbeat, including ants and earthworms. A heart is not unique to humans.
I hear a lot of pro-lifers trot out the fact that the fetus can respond to reflexes around the third month, but reflexes don't make a human. All animals have reflexes too, including the ameoba we put under a microscope in seventh grade, which tried to get away when we prodded it.
What other things could we look at? How about lungs? Same thing - lungs do not make humans unique, and the lungs are not even remotely functional until around the six month, and even then there is no way the fetus could breathe on its own, so that's no good.
The line must be drawn
The only thing that I can see that differentiates humans from any other animal is our ability to think. Certainly, other animals, especially higher mammals and primates, can think to some degree, but it is obvious that there is some special quality of abstractation to human thinking that is lacking in any other creature on the planet. Our ability to conceptualize, abstract, anticipate, look ahead, problem solve - our ability to use our minds - is what makes us uniquely human.
It seems to me that the defining point of a fetus' humanity should be it's brain development. Let us simply accept it as axiomatic that it is our brains which allow us to think, and that thinking is the one thing we can do that animals cannot. Exactly how and why the human brain works is beyond the scope of this argument, but in order to think, the basic physical architecture must be in place - trillions of interconnected neurons are required for the brain to function. Large-scale link-up of neurons does not occur until sometime in the seventh month of gestation, and so I conclude that before then, the fetus is not human. It lacks the necessary physical structure to do the one thing humans can that animals cannot.
So if we back that Month Seven mark up a bit, to allow for fetuses that develop a bit faster, we'll get about six months. And, as it happens, this is the same ruling as in Roe v Wade (although for different reasons). To me, that is where the line is drawn - when the fetus has the physical requirements to claim a uniquely human brain. Six months. Before that, whatever it is, it is not human, and as we've seen, that is the only status that is protected by society - merely being alive affords no special privileges or rights, legal or otherwise.
A parting thought
The pro-lifers want zero compromise, zero tolerance - just a sweeping, ham-fisted "No Abortions Allowed" rule in place. They assume that anyone who is Pro-Choice is Pro-Abortion, and that is, it seems to me, a major source of the disagreement.
Nobody wants an abortion. Pro-lifers need to understand this. Abortion, even to those who are pro-choice, is generally seen as a last resort, when all other options are infeasible. Pro-choice types, such as myself, would be just fine if there were no abortions - we just want the option to be available.