Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Abortion: Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Both Right?



    For years I have watched as two sides of the abortion debate have battled one another in the courts and in the arena of public opinion.  In exchanges between the two, you would often think that they have no respect for one another, or at least that each thinks the other disrespects their position.  When one looks further however, both “sides” are not that far apart.  Each one simply places more weight upon one value, life or choice, than the other.  If you ask the supporters of each movement, I have no doubt that a great many pro-life supporters believe strongly in freedom of choice.  Likewise, many pro-choice supporters believe in a person’s “right-to-life.”  What is in question has never really been whether persons should have a right to choose or whether they have a right to life, but instead the argument has always been about the definition of a “person.”  

    If you asked a room-full of pro-choice folk if it was acceptable to murder kindergarten aged children, I doubt very much that you would find a single person in agreement.  Similarly, if you asked a group of pro-life folks if it would be acceptable for the police to forcibly give all women over 15 years old monthly pregnancy tests, there would be a similar lack of support.  The question isn’t whether or not people have a right to privacy, or a right to choose, or a right to life.  We all do, and few, if anyone, would argue that we do not.  The root of our argument is in “who” has those rights.  Does a fetus, an unborn child, have the same rights as its mother and if so, when does it have them?  When does an infant become a person?   And this is where the problem gets complicated.  The problem, when framed this way, is far more complicated, and this is exactly why Roe-v.-Wade ended up before the Supreme Court.

    As I considered this, I wanted to understand more about what the Supreme Court thought and what they decided in Roe v. Wade.  Without wanting to read through the entirety of their decision I instead found a case summary on lawnix.com, a site designed for use by law students and attorneys.  I learned that three of the main questions considered by the court in Roe-v.-Wade were these: 1) Do abortion laws that outlaw all abortions, except those required on medical advice to save the life of the mother, violate the Constitution of the United States? 2) Does the Constitution protect a person’s right to privacy, and does that right include the right to an abortion? 3) Are there conditions under which states can pass laws that prohibit abortion?  (Specifically, you can find the lawnix summary of Roe-v.-Wade here.)

    What the Supreme Court decided was not that the pro-choice position was right and that the pro-life position was wrong, but that both groups were right… and wrong.  The Supreme Court decided that an unborn child, at some point can, legally, be decided to be a person and from that point forward can be protected under the law.  Prior to that point however, when it seemed unclear as to whether or not a fetus could be defined as “alive,” then the mother’s right to privacy would be the supreme and deciding factor.  In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court said that a woman clearly has a Constitutional right to privacy, but also said that there is a point at which the infant’s right to life becomes the stronger right and supersedes the right of privacy. 

    In other words, the Supreme Court decided that both sides were right.

    Presently,  people from both “sides” would like to see the Supreme Court review their decision on Roe v. Wade but many others hope they do not.  Based on my reading of the original decision, I think that if this ever happens, once again both sides will lose.  But you will have to read my next blog to find out why.



2 comments:

  1. John,

    I think you've hit the nail on the head that the real question is, "When does an egg become a human being with rights, and specifically, the same rights as the mother?" That's also the real question in stem-cell research. Is a fertilized egg floating in a test tube a person? Each person has to wrestle with that question.

    Some pro-choice advocates think that an fetus has the right to life when it becomes capable of life independent of the mother--as soon as it becomes a viable entity in its own right. I think the majority of Americans would agree with that, which is why late-term abortion is rejected even by some adamantly pro-choice supporters. I have heard pro-life supporters argue that as soon as an egg is fertilized, it becomes a human being with the right to life. And some people find a position in between. I personally believe that a fertilized egg definitely becomes a human life once it is implanted and attached to the womb. The reality, for those who have studied biology, is that it is not an uncommon occurance for an egg fertilized in the usual, biological way, to fail to attach to the side of the uterus on the way through and to be lost at the end of the month. Please understand, I am not saying fertilized egg in a test tube ISN'T a human being, just that I am not firmly convinced on this issue.

    The other issue is that, even if we agree that the fetus is a person with rights, how do we reconcile those rights with the rights of the mother if they are in conflict? And for that matter, what constitutes "In conflict?" At one extreme, you have circumstances like tubal pregnancies, in which the fetus (barring an absolute miracle on God's part, which I never completely discount) cannot possibly survive, but failing to terminate the pregnancy could kill the mother. We have a mutual friend who went through this. At the other extreme is the woman for whom it is "inconvenient" to be pregnant and have a child. And somewhere in between are issues of rape, incest, girls who are pregnant before their bodies are mature enough to safely carry a child to term, etc. When do the rights of the fetus to live outweigh the rights of the mother to control what happens to her own body?

    I am convinced that preventing a doctor from terminating a tubal pregnancy to save the life of the mother is morally wrong. I also believe that terminating the life of a fetus viable of life outside the womb is equally wrong. In between are those cases which the UMC Book of Discipline refers to as tragic conflict of a life with a life. I tend to lean heavily in the direction of the right of the fetus to live. But I also don't feel like I have the right to say a 13 year old girl raped by her father should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term. I want to preserve life, but which decision is more destructive? I believe that those decisions are hard to make, and require a lot of thought and prayer, as our Book of Discipline suggest. With that said, I am pretty certain that the majority of the millions of abortions carried out in the US have been for convenience, in which case I would personally rule in favor of the fetus.

    That's my two cents, anyway

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  2. Jim, I can't thread all those needles on one post. Stay tuned and I'll get to some of them in part 2 and 3. It is indeed, something that we all must wrestle with, and often any solution offered has unforeseen, or undesirable consequences.

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