Sunday, August 02, 2009

What is the controversy?

There are a lot of people who speak about the "controversy over abortion". Well, there is one, there's no denying that, but most people don't' really recognize what it is. Oh, I don't mean what people claim it is - there are those who make false claims about all kinds of things, either because they're unable or unwilling to speak the truth.

No, I mean the actual controversy.

The controversy is this: does a single cell, without a brain, without a heart, without lungs, kidneys, liver, stomach, or any other organ, have more rights than we grant to any living, breathing person?

Now, don't get me wrong. If we resolved this controversy, there would be others. There would be questions about moral and pragmatic and legal issues. But at this time, this is the controversy.

Does a single cell have the right to attach to a person, and demand the right to continue to draw sustenance from that other person, even when that other person is unwilling to provide that sustenance?

(Technically, a single cell doesn't attach. However, there are a great many pro-lifers who say that if God, fate, blind luck, or whatever you want to call it, would deem that the fertilized egg would attach, it is wrong - or even "murder" - to prevent it from doing so.)

In any rational, free society, the answer is no. Carrying a baby to term is dangerous. It's not extremely dangerous (it's happened billions and billions of times, after all), but there is a real risk, to both life and health, to being pregnant. It's also uncomfortable, and can cause a variety of other problems.

Since I'm a no-name blogger, I can make this comparison, with little fear of it being twisted by liars: if it was not pregnancy, if it was some other medical condition, say, a tumor, it would only be the most heartless (or most idiotic) people who would forbid a woman the chance to remove that risk and discomfort with a simple and safe operation.

(I say "since I'm a no-name blogger" because if I were someone of importance, you can bet that there would be liars who would insist I just equated a developing fetus to a tumor. In fact, I just used a fictional medical condition as an allegory. Unfortunately, if you follow debates on abortion, you'll see that form of dishonesty used quite frequently.)

Since we would certainly allow a woman to get this operation if there wasn't a fertilized egg, a zygote or a developing fetus inside of her, then the question comes down to whether or not that fertilized egg, zygote, or developing fetus has the right to insist that the woman continue to bear that risk, and burden, despite her unwillingness to do so.

(I hope it's clear that no one else - not even the man whose sperm fertilized the egg - has the right to insist that she continue to bear that risk and burden.)

The pro-life side has an answer to that. Their answer is "it certainly does. From the moment of conception - from the moment it's a single cell, a fertilized egg, invisible (or nearly so) to the naked eye, it has a right to demand the woman undergo the risk and burdens of a full term pregnancy. If she is unwilling to undergo those risks and burdens, too bad."

But is that rational?

If there's any rational basis for when we are people, for when we have rights, it seems to me that it must lie in our brains. Remove a brain from a person, and what's left over is no longer a person, even if it's kept alive artificially. On the other hand, if we met a non-human creature, and realized they had the same self-awareness, ability to think, and dream, and love, and communicate, that we did, we'd consider them to be "people" too (or so I hope). It's the thinking/dreaming/loving/communicating parts of us that makes us people; it's our brains.

And a fertilized egg has no brain. (Literally - unlike those who think that George W. was a great President.)

Even at 12 weeks - and most abortions occur before 12 weeks - there is simply not enough brain matter to sustain life, let alone support what we think of as personhood.

This is not to say that there aren't people who have legitimate moral qualms about abortion (even abortions that occur prior to 12 weeks). People can have legitimate moral qualms over anything. Hell, people have legitimate moral qualms over masturbation. But the question isn't "can (or do) people consider it wrong?" the question is "should it be illegal? Should a free society put people in jail for doing this?"

So, in the end, that's the controversy over abortion. "Should we put people in jail if they refuse to bear the risks and burdens of a pregnancy, based upon our beliefs in the rights of a single cell (or small clump of cells, or even a developing fetus smaller than a peanut)?"

Someday, this controversy will be resolved, and we'll be able to hold sensible conversations on the other issues surrounding it. But until that day, that's what pro-choice folks are fighting against.

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