Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Question of Human Rights & Human Wrongs

So my Fundie Friend commented on one of my Intactivist postings on Facebook that it is hypocritical of me to be opposed to genital mutilation but in favour of abortion.  Killing the whole baby, he said, is far worse than amputating a normal, healthy part of his body.

This assertion of hypocrisy is leveled at pro-abortion intactivists frequently, so I am not breaking any new ground answering it here.  It comes down to a fundamental disagreement about whose life is more important, the woman's or the foetus's.

You probably expected me to say, "it comes down to a fundamental disagreement about when life begins."  But that is not how I am approaching the argument.  Abortion opponents believe that human life begins at conception, even before implantation.  As soon as sperm meets egg, boom, in their estimation, a human life is formed that is worthy of all human rights.  Nothing is going to change their perspective on that point.  You could explain that, prior to viability outside the womb, the fetus should not be thought of as a separate entity, with rights of its own, but the age of viability keeps getting younger as technology advances.  So that line of reasoning is a non-starter.  Any discussion of where to draw the line presupposes that a line should be drawn, but, if it can be drawn, it can be changed; it's a slippery slope.  The approach I propose is to consider whose life is more important, the fetus or the woman.  I believe that the value of the woman's life exceeds that of the foetus's.  Her rights trump any rights accorded to the fetus because she has to gestate it and she has to raise it or put it up for adoption and live with the physical and mental consequences of the pregnancy.

No, I am not going to waste time arguing that life begins at viability or birth or at any particular point in gestational development because such a viewpoint carries no weight with those opposed to abortion.  The essence of their stance is that you have two human beings and the rights of the fetal human exceed those of the woman human.  My view is simply the inverse of that: The rights of the woman predominate.

I was not always so firmly pro-abortion.  My conception was very much an accident and to say that I was unwanted would be an understatement.  Both my father and maternal grandfather gave my mother money for an abortion—illegal & dangerous in pre-Roe days.  No-one thought that it was wise for a clinically-depressed 20-year-old attending an Ivy League school on merit scholarship to have this "ooops" baby.  My mother was actually on the bus, on the way to get an abortion, when she changed her mind and couldn't go through with it.  Throughout my childhood, I was conscious of how close I came to not existing, and I value my existence above all else.  For years, I could not separate the idea of abortion in general from the idea of me not existing, so I was opposed to it.  To add insult to injury, for four of my most impressionable adolescent years I attended an ultra-conservative Opus Dei school, where "Silent Scream" was considered appropriate lunchtime viewing and picketing abortion clinics was a supported extracurricular activity.

But when I became sexually active in my teens, I knew—calmly, unequivocably, and without guilt—that I would terminate the pregnancy post haste if I ever conceived accidentally.  (I didn't, and now that I am older and want children, I am infertile, so I never had to face that situation.)  The realization that there was no question whatsoever of hosting an unwanted parasite in my body for nine months, of having my body permanently altered from the rigours of pregnancy, of either changing my life to raise a child or going for the rest of my life knowing that my child was out there, being raised by strangers, completely changed my perspective on abortion.  The idea that anyone could try to stop me terminating a pregnancy, that they could make it difficult or dangerous or expensive or punishable by law, was enraging.  No-one has the right to make a woman play host to an unwanted fetus.  No-one.  This is not negotiable or open for discussion.  Even if you believe the ofetus should have full human rights from the moment of conception, you have no right to force another human to incubate it and birth it.  No right whatsoever, and no moral justification to do so.

When I became much older and finally wanted children I also knew, again with calm certainly and no guilt, that I would abort a disabled foetus if I ever carried one.  The idea of giving birth and raising a disabled child is anathema to me; it defeats the entire purpose of having children.  So, again, the idea that someone could force a woman to bear a disabled child is completely unconscionable.  I am aware that some women choose not to avail themselves of prenatal testing, and that others who find out they are carrying a disabled child choose to have it anyway.  That is their choice, and I would never propose forcing them to get unwanted tests or have an abortion against their will, although I don't think they should be able to use tax money to support children with disabilities that can be detected in utero.  But no-one has the right to say that the rights of a disabled foetus to grow to term and be born are superior to the rights of a woman not to gestate in her body and birth this foetus.

And the idea that abortion opponents wanted to make victims of rape and incest carry those foetuses to term was even more appalling to me.  It is, though, consistent with their viewpoint.  They firmly believe that the rights of the foetus trump the rights of the woman carrying it, and that is especially evident in cases where the woman will die if she does not abort.  The Catholic Church makes no exception in such cases; they take a consistent line on this:  The rights of the foetus trump the rights of the mother.  Even in cases where the foetus will die with the mother and has no chance of survival, they chalk it up to "God's will".  They will allow medical intervention to try and save the life of the foetus regardless of its effect on the mother, but they forbid any treatment for the mother that would endanger the foetus.  It's all about the foetus, women be damned.

My position is neither inconsistent nor hypocritical.  It is always the woman's choice whether her body can be used to incubate another human being and her choice alone.  Not even the biological father has a legitimate say because he does not have to bear the physical burden of pregnancy and childbirth.  If a woman decides that she will incubate and give birth, once the baby emerges and the cord is cut, it is a unique, independent human being, with the basic human right to bodily integrity.

1 comment:

  1. I am not sure how old you are but you sound very young. Almost like a teenager. Your comments sound very uninformed. (I felt and thought as you did once.)
    I am sorry you are unable to bear any children. I am sure that is a very hard thing. Children are a blessing
    You frequently use the word "fetus". I am just wondering if you know the definition of the word.
    Fetus: an unborn human baby more than eight weeks after conception. A human. A life. If it wasn't alive, it would not be growing. It grows because it has life and a soul.
    Your words speak of choice and forcing and life and rights. None of us ever have the right to take a life, no ones. No matter how old they are. That is agism, discrimination based on ones age.
    I know where you stand. I had your opinions once but thankfully, my opinions have changed. I pray yours will, too.
    Also, the Catholic church doesn't put one life ahead of another. Both are equal in value. I know, as a medical person working in a hospital, all must be done to save both lives.

    And one more thing and this is very important: I am very glad that you are alive and that your life was spared. Your life is a very special one. I am sure there is a very special purpose meant for you, a reason you survived. I pray you find that.