My friend, Henry Reiff, recently wrote a Times Commentary arguing in favor of liberal abortion laws. I’d like to make an opposing argument.
As medical technology improves, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue that abortion does not end a human life. We’ve all seen the pictures of unborn children. The heartbeat. The fingers and toes. The response to stimuli.
Yet the arguments in favor of liberal abortion laws have remained remarkably stable over time, centered on the rights of the mother rather than the humanity of her child. The reason is simple. The moment an unborn baby is acknowledged to be alive — a person rather than a “thing” — ending that life becomes an appallingly immoral act.
With the advent of 3D sonograms and other medical technologies, the humanity of unborn children has become increasingly apparent, and I find it difficult to understand how those advocating for abortion rights can continue to draw distinctions based on when the act to terminate a child’s life is performed, an act with results that are equally devastating for a child, whether born or unborn.
Most individuals who advocate for a woman’s right to choose will never acknowledge an unborn child is a person, regardless of how untenable that position has become, untenable to the point that it’s almost akin to arguing the earth is flat.
To acknowledge that an unborn baby is a person means arguing a woman has the right to end the life of another human being, who in this case happens to be her child. That’s a tough argument to make. So euphemisms are used instead. A baby is referred to as a “fetus,” dehumanizing the child, thereby allowing a mother to do what she will with “it.”
The child is said to be some sort of “prehuman,” or nothing more than a bunch of unwanted cells, like a tumor, and cutting out that tumorfrom a woman’s body is no more immoral than surgery to cure cancer. But tumors don’t feel pain, they don’t react to light and sound and they don’t have a beating heart.
I understand woman seeking abortions often find themselves in impossible circumstances, circumstances that are likely to be equally difficult for the children they carry if brought to term. But society cannot condone a solution that sanctions the death of a child. In what other area of life is it acceptable to resolve a problem involving two individuals by killing one of them?
If society is going to condone abortion as a woman’s right, we should a least do so with our eyes open, honestly defining what exactly it is we are allowing. Pretending it is a victimless act is simply untrue, and today’s medical technology makes that fact virtually indisputable.
With each pregnancy, there are a minimum of two lives at stake. Therefore, whatever we do to address the admittedly wrenching circumstances that surround many unwanted pregnancies, must take both of those lives into account.
Ending the life of an unborn child cannot be the answer. We need to work instead to reduce unwanted pregnancies, but when one occurs, we must act to support, not condemn women who find themselves in overwhelming circumstances. We must do what needs to be done to successfully bring children to term, and then take steps to make possible a caring, nurturing environment in which to raise them. We also need to more readily facilitate the adoption of children for whom that option is best for all involved.
By “we,” I don’t mean the federal government. “We” means every one of us who has the opportunity to help. For some, just dropping a judgmental attitude would be a good place to start. There’s a place for the federal government’s assistance, but we cannot delude ourselves into believing the taxes we pay absolves us of any further responsibility. Ultimately, it is not our tax dollars that will have the most lasting impact on the lives involved.
With each pregnancy, we have a responsibility to respect and protect both mother and child. Denying the humanity of either is not morally ambiguous. It’s wrong. Simply standing on the sidelines and casting aspersions against women who find themselves in desperate circumstances is no more compassionate than extinguishing the life of a child whose existence can no longer be denied.
Do we really want to live in a society that is ambivalent toward the practice of one life being sacrificed to benefit another?
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If not, each of us has a moral obligation to make alternative outcomes easier to achieve.