The moral truth here is obvious: anyone who feels that the interests of a blastocyst just might supersede the interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral sense blinded by religious metaphysics –Sam Harris
One would be hard-pressed to find a subject that brings out the worst in Christians than Abortion. With zeal, they scream out that it is murder, but abortion is not homicide. You can’t just go changing definitions all willy-nilly. Homicide is the killing of a human being, which is an independent human life. Until a time when a fetus can survive apart from the mother, either naturally or by medical incubation, it is an unarguable biological fact that fetal gestation and sustenance is inextricable from the mother. The very health of a fetus requires the direct coercion of the mother’s body, and while this coercion is in process, the mother reserves the right to terminate her pregnancy.
First, A little Science…
At conception, the life form is called a zygote and it begins its journey by dividing into two identical cells, called blastomeres. They continue to subdivide once every twelve to twenty hours. When it reaches sixteen cells it becomes known as a morula, which usually occurs after three days gestation. A couple of days later a cavity appears in its center and it is now called a blastocyst, which contain an inner group of cells that will eventually become the fetus and an outer group that will form the placenta. At about twelve days or so after conception, the blastocyst starts to produce hormones that are detectable in urine. It is at this point where most physicians define the start of pregnancy. A vast majority of zygotes never make it this far.
At about two weeks what is known as a ‘primitive streak‘ appears that will later develop into the central nervous system and the zygote is now referred to as an embryo. It is still an extremely small cluster of undifferentiated tissue. After another week of development, the embryo is about the size of pen point and looks a lot like a worm. At four weeks, it looks like a tadpole, complete with gill-like structures, which is normal given our evolutionary beginnings. By seven weeks, the embryo has lost its tail, which is another point of reference to our evolutionary ancestry. The higher functions of the brain have yet to develop, and there are no pathways to transfer pain signals. In fact, even at two months along, the embryo does not appear to be fully human. It has a reptilian brain and has not yet developed the capacity for consciousness. It is not yet sentient and is not defined as a fetus until the tenth week. In fact, over ninety percent of abortions are performed before the fetus reaches thirteen weeks, at which time it is about three inches long and weighs about an ounce.
So, to say that the termination of a human zygote, blastocyst, embryo or a fetus is a human being before viability, with a right to life, is scientifically unfounded and rightfully illegal. There is a huge difference between something being potentially human and an actual living, breathing human being. Even a fetus that is prematurely born or removed from a sick or dying mother is not a human being until it is actually apart from the mother.
A desire that there should exist legislation that accords rights and person-hood to a zygote, blastocyst or a non-viable fetus is borne out of fairy-tale religious beliefs and a gross ignorance of human embryology. It is a poor way to govern a civil society, is misogynist in principle and results in the oppression of women. The value of a fetus needs to remain subjective. If you are against abortion, then don’t have one.
It should come as no surprise that all those right-wing Christian Tea Baggers who were elected to produce jobs ended up giving us almost a thousand anti-abortion bills, instead. Many of them seek to have a fetus designated as a person, but “personhood” is a legal term. It means the existence of a birth certificate. If a fetus is considered a person, then it would be entitled to all the rights and privileges that a person has who owns an actual birth certificate. This would mean that a woman’s body would be subordinated to the protection of embryos. The seemingly obligatory role of fundamental Christian women to function as brood-mares notwithstanding, the legal consequences would be catastrophic. Why this is not obvious to everyone still baffles me.
Still, there are many individuals within the pro-life movement that seek to give a fetus full legal protection. If this were to be granted, then whatever agency was given jurisdiction over a fetus would also need to have complete control and supervision over the body of the mother. When laws that protect a human child from negligence in areas of health, safety, nutrition, physical and mental abuse are violated, the child can be removed from the custody of irresponsible parents or guardians. However, this cannot be done with a fetus without controlling the mother’s body. In fact, no matter how irresponsibly a pregnant woman behaves, charges cannot be levied against her until her fetus becomes viable, and even then there are complicated issues until the child is actually born.
A fetus is life within a life, and has no basis for distinction or regulation without direct imposition on a woman’s reproductive processes. Because the life of the fetus depends on the life of the mother, decisions regarding the fetus should be the decision of the mother. Because a fetus does not have the ability to exist independently from its mother until it reaches viability, it cannot be considered a person with all the rights and responsibilities of someone who has been born. If we were to grant the same rights to a fetus as we do to the born, it would automatically subjugate the rights of the woman, thus giving the fetus greater rights than the woman carrying it. It is illogical, unreasonable and unfair to the mother.
Equating abortion with murder is not only playing fast and furious with the truth, such a comparison is legally disingenuous. With few exceptions, the pro-life argument is theological and the First Amendment implies that legislation should not reflect theological doctrines. Thus, personal religious convictions toward abortion do not constitute legal opposition to the right to an abortion. Additionally, abortion does not have an equal effect on our societies as murder. We need laws against murder to regulate behavior and allow the civil function of human society and laws against murder pre-date all the Abrahamic religions. Not only does this prove that a god is not needed to regulate murder, but that society is capable of regulating murder on its own because if left unregulated, civil society could not exist.
Exactly when a fetus becomes viable was addressed and decided by the Supreme Court in 1973 in a decision stating that an unborn fetus had no constitutional rights until the third trimester. This decision was reached based on scientific data, which revealed a post-birth survival rate of less than ten percent due to undifferentiated respiratory, and central nervous systems. Pre-term birth remains the most common cause of perinatal mortality and it is rare for a baby weighing less than five hundred grams to survive.
Fear, Loathing, Violence And Intimidation…
Religious doctrines and dogmas have blinded pro-lifers to the fact that abortion often has positive benefits to the health and well-being of women. Their “narrow-is-the-gate” worldview does not take into account that most people reject the position that abortion is always wrong. It makes them cringe that abortion helps with family planning, which only serves to strengthen families. As well, they seem to have forgotten that when abortion was illegal it did not stop the practice from being performed, but only made them horrifically unsafe. As well, many unwanted babies are abused, neglected and suffer lifelong developmental and social problems.
What it boils down to is that pro-lifers fear that their interpretation of morality is being abrogated. This is true not only with the abortion issue, but with same-sex marriage and everything else they perceive as an affront or abomination against their god. Most individuals and church groups often choose to work within the legal system to correct what they perceive as a moral injustice. They use their vote and influence in an attempt to elect legislators that are supportive of their views. This should be obvious to anyone who knows that the slew of Tea Baggers elected last year failed in their promise to create jobs, but did manage to present almost a thousand anti-abortion bills. Most pro-life people are content to hold up signs in protest, usually in proximity to facilities that provide abortion services. This is their right as long as they are not interfering with the conduction of business.
Many Christians, however, cannot stop there. They often resort to anti-social and usually illegal actions against individuals and businesses whom they believe are worthy of judgment and condemnation. Sometimes all it takes is the statement, “I am pro-choice” to instigate them to assault. Sometimes this assault escalates to battery, or worse. They routinely harass women who are arriving for an appointment. They attempt to block their entry, shove pictures of aborted fetuses in their face, cram tracts into their hands and hurl threats of eternal damnation or worse.
Some take it to the extreme, such as Scott Roeder, the man who killed Dr. George Tiller, who was one of the few physicians licensed to provide late-term emergency abortions in order to save the life of the mother. Roeder has been linked to “Operation Rescue,” a group considered by many to be domestic terrorists. Roeder accused Dr. Tiller of mass murder and compared him to Hitler, stating that six million abortions are the same as six million Jews, which is a total and complete insult to the memory of the actual, living human beings who were murdered by the Nazis. Fact is, rabid fundamentalist pro-lifers are responsible for hundreds of crimes against doctors who perform abortions, from vandalism to murder, including the use of bombs.
The Right To Choose…
Christians are forever preaching about how the bible supports the pro-life point of view, citing allegories and inferences. But, in reality (a word I genuinely try to avoid putting in the same sentence as the word “bible”), the Bible doesn’t mention abortion and doesn’t even deal with the question of when life begins. In fact, the book of Exodus indicates that a fetus lacks the same legal status as a person in chapter 21:22-23, which states that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life.
It is no secret that I don’t often write about abortion. For one, I get enough hate mail already. Secondly, because I do not possess a uterus, I generally don’t care what an individual who has one so chooses to do with it. In short, it’s really none of my business. But every now and again the subject bubbles up through my news feeds. When the ignorant and arrogant antics of the pro-life crowd take a prominent place in my daily influx of batshittery, I find myself compelled to comment and present my personal opinion is that a woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy for whatever reason she sees fit.
Abortion on demand should be no different from any other elective surgery, and in cases where abortion would save the life of the mother, the procedure should be a no-brainer.