Photo by Lennart Nilsson of an 18 week old fetus: Cover of Life April 1965

“The abortion debate asks whether it can be morally right to terminate a pregnancy before normal childbirth.  Some people think that abortion is always wrong. Some think that abortion is right when the mother’s life is at risk. Others think that there is a range of circumstances in which abortion is morally acceptable.” ~ BBC ~

The Value of Life:     

 I recently read the article: When Does Life Begin? by medical anthropologist Lynn M. Morgan and since then I have not been able to stop thinking of it; the title alone is profound and the content is equally intriguing. The first thing I thought was: How can the ‘beginning of life’ be questionable?  In my mind it begins at  fertilization :the moment when the mother’s egg is fertilized by the father’s sperm, which I believe is not only logical but naturally reasonable.

When else would it be?; furthermore, how can anyone “play God” and dare to define the worthiness of life?   The fact is: 23 female chromosomes + 23 male chromosomes = 46  which equals the genetic code of  a human being; so why is so difficult to determine “when does life begin”, when it is clear it begins at fertilization and continues on progressively during the life span until death?  

Is a 20 week old foetus less of a baby than a 6 month old , simply because one looks and/or is healthier than the other?  And, is it ok for a woman to decide to end her child’s life because of ominous amniocentesis results in fear of having a challenged child or simply because of gender preference ? Are the natural rights of the mother more significant than the unborn child?  These are just some of a myriad of issues that make abortion so controversial in America.  Moreover, can science determine and/or legislatures declare the point during pregnancy in which a mother’s offspring is in fact a ‘real baby’ ? ; should it be:  when the egg implants on the uterine wall (at approximately 5-9 days after fertilization); when the heart begins to beat (at approximately 22 days after fertilization); or at the onset of “quickening” when the mother first feels fluttering in the womb (approx. 13-16weeks of gestation).   

There should be no debate as to when a zygote, embryo, or foetus is considered viable (able to live outside of the mother’s womb) and thus recognized as a human being; it would be inhumane and immoral to decide at which point in the process of human life −whether in the womb or not− one ought to live or die regardless of the circumstances.  All variables whether social, political or economic regarding abortion are arbitrary to the fundamental question at hand: Do we have the right to end life at will? … Do we have “the right to kill” ?

12 week old fetus

fetus at 16 weeks

Within the Womb of Ethics:

Lynn M. Morgon’s cross-cultural study in “When Does Life Begin?” presents many different views concerning abortion, infanticide; the value of life and personhood. The diversity of values amongst cultures throughout the world is explained by Morgan as socially constructed.  Interestingly, she brings to light the “strangeness” of Western culture in comparison to other cultures that have entirely different concepts in regard to the unborn as well as the newborn.  For instance, many cultures in other societies do not value the zygote, embryo, foetus, or newborn as a human being or person (someone part of the community); in fact, many see biological birth and social birth (when offspring are considered persons) as two distinct concepts and do not regard the infant as a significant member of society until later in life.   

“The social recognition of fetuses, newborns, and young children, is embedded within a wider social context …  links between abortion, child rearing, women’s status, social stratification, child welfare, ethnic, gender discrimination and changing relations between the sexes are factors through which, in part, young human lives come to be valued, but personhood (the value placed on human life) is also a function of cultural divisions of the life-cycle…”~ L ynn M. Morgon ~

 Morgan’s fascinating article provoked me to think critically and examine the origins of my own beliefs.  The more I contemplated thinking of zygotes, embryos and fetuses as not human or not people (as in the various cultural perspectives in the study), the more dehumanized I felt;thus my pro-life stance solidified.  

Presently, the issue of personhood and abortion is a hot topic in politics (due to the presidential debates) and particularly because of a new abortion law amendment: “YES on 26” which will be voted on in Mississippi on November 8, 2011 that will grant personhood to a zygote.  A recent article in the New York Times outlines many of the consequences involved −which may seem extreme and perhaps radical; however, amongst all the  controversy,  it may be reasonable to say, that even if the zygote is not a ‘person’ and therefore not eligible for civil rights; it is still a living entity that has natural rights.

 “The Mississippi amendment aims to sidestep existing legal battles, simply stating that “the term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”    ~ Eric Elkholm

Amilia Taylor born less than 22 weeks: click pic for article

All Things Justified:

 I realize there are many things to bear in mind when contemplating pro-life and pro-choice issues, and every decision made to have an abortion has its own set of justifiable reasons.  I’m not oblivious to the existing determinants of abortion; I realize no one wants to have one and I am empathetic to its victims both mother and unborn child.  However; it is necessary to think critically about the actions we take that ultimately affect the humanness of our species: Instead of developing into a more compassionate and docile people, we are becoming inhumane and unethical.  If the meaning of life continues to be questioned and taken for granted it will eventually become insignificant; the result of which will be mindless murder of every form.

 Most women have abortions due to economic constraints and social pressures; some have children and are already struggling; teenagers and young woman may be afraid to tell their parents or the father (he may not want a child yet and/or she may not be ready to be a parent); unmarried women and/or  those who have religious values or must abide by family tradition  may feel ashamed and embarrassed; further, some use abortion as an unintentional means of contraception because they do not have adequate access to health care, reliable and effective  birth control and/or lack comprehensive sex and sexuality education; one of the most significant factors is  associated with poverty which  greatly affects minority groups and woman of color, the vulnerable and oppressed:  

Women who obtain abortions are predominantly poor or low-income, in their 20s and unmarried; Black women and Hispanic wom­en continue to be disproportionately represented among abortion patients.”Indeed, and unintended pregnancy has become increasingly concentrated among women with the fewest economic resources.  In addition, barriers to abortion services may be especially pro­nounced for foreign-born women who accounted for one in six of all abortions in 2008 because of difficulties related to language and culture.”  ~Guttmacher Institute ~

 [A] report by the Guttmacher Institute shows abortion rates among women of color at disproportionate numbers…”   Listen  here for the NPR story: “Women of Color Lead Nation in Abortion Rates”

Ultrasound photo of a 24 week old fetus

How Can She Sleep at Night?

 One of the worst things about abortion is the aftermath of guilt that never seems to dissipate; it lurks around like a creepy shadow that lingers around in the alleyways of your mind.  I can personally speak to this matter since I am part of the guilty. Of course, at the time, I felt −like every other woman− “I had no other choice” and perhaps I was also guided by selfishness ; nonetheless, I cannot deny knowing (back then), albeit chose to ignore: It is wrong to kill a human being especially having grown up as a Reverend’s child in a strict religious culture.   In light of my experiences, I was surprised to see  a Planned Parenthood study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute yielded very little evidence of psychological implications of females who have experienced abortion: 

Scientific studies of legal abortions in the United States indicate that severe negative psychological reactions are rare, with women usually feeling more distress before rather than after an abortion.According to Congressional testimony on behalf of the American Psychological Association, “If severe reactions were common, there would be an epidemic of women seeking treatment. There is no evidence of such an epidemic.” ~Planned Parenthood~

I thought, “ this is highly unlikely”; either the women in the study were not being truthful, had been traumatized, and therefore put it in the back of their minds, or were simply in denial.  I just can’t believe that women are not suffering mentally from the horrendous experience of abortion.  I will never forget the image of a tiny zygote I saw floating around in a glass cylinder that had just been sucked out of me which the physician made no attempt to conceal. Worse yet, was the gruesome experience I had at an Atlantic City abortion clinic that reeked of despondency.  We (the pregnant woman) were led like lambs to the slaughter lined up all around the perimeter of the clinic in hospital gowns. The cries of anguish and sobbing hearts resonated through the sonograms room where foetal images and heartbeats could be discerned and a ‘crash course’ on options, procedures and consequences was given as a last chance to “change your mind”.

 Mother’s Rights, Unborn Child’s Rights …Human Rights:  

In the historical 1973 Roe vs.Wade U.S. supreme court decision the right for a woman to choose to have an abortion became a law (with individual state regulation and physician supervision) before the “point of viability” (when the fetus is able to live outside of the mother’s womb) which, was set at around 23 weeks of gestation to help determine when the fetus would be considered a human being and thus criminal to abort (unless the mother’s life is in jeopardy).

 “This right of privacy . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Blackmun

 After having studied an abundance of literature offering multifarious views of Lynn Morgan’s great question “When Does Life Begin”, I concluded:  A woman does not have a right to kill, on the contrary, she has the right to bring forth life and this is the right which ought to be practiced, celebrated and supported by all societal institutions regardless of culture and ethics.   The bottom line is: politicians and government officials need to focus on the amelioration of society by implementing constructive social and medical services and resources −for the welfare of mothers and unborn children− rather than debating about “when does life begin”?

 “Beyond the Womb” :   I believe, if we answer the question: “when does life begin”, we must also answer “when does it end”;  And, moreover, who has the right to decide: when? or how?; and ,under what circumstances  should one die or be allowed to die, id est: during a war, death penalty case, merciful death or suicide?  Ronald Sokol of  The New York Times  provides insight:

“Within the next half century, perhaps much sooner, the right to choose to die with dignity will be as widely recognized as the right to free speech or to exercise one’s religion.” ~ Ronald Sokol ~

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 Sources  :

* Images:  All images are shown in age from fertilization “fetal age” (actual age of growing baby) not the gestational age (pregnancy period) which is calculated 2 weeks extra since pregnancy is determined from the first day of the women’s last menstrual cycle.

About nahirortiz

i am a student at hunter college

6 responses

  1. Claire Musanti says:

    Though I do completely respect your anti-abortion beliefs, I really don’t believe abortion should be illegal in this country. Do I want people to have abortions? No. But do I think legally people deserve to have equal and fair access to a variety of reproductive services? Yes. Abortion is included under that. Of course, equal access to reproductive services is nowhere close to becoming a reality, as you mentioned in your post. Poor women and women of color are disproportionately having abortions. A lot of this is because they don’t have access to other reproductive services, such as birth control, which you also mentioned. We shame women for having abortions but yet limit the availability to other things that could have prevented their need for an abortion. This ties into a larger conversation about access to affordable health care, health insurance, racism, the pharmaceutical industry, and classism. The other day I was with my friend at CVS and she handed in a prescription for her birth control pills. For some reason her insurance didn’t come up and the pharmacist told her the pills were going to cost $200. That’s not a feasible expense for most people, not only people who are poor.

    Another thing.. since abortion is a topic that so many people are passionate about, the two sides of the debate get polarized; “pro life” people are seen as overly religious and ignorant, and “pro choice” people are seen as people who support murder. It’s incredibly hard to find any unbiased statistics about abortion on both the “pro life” and “pro choice” sides. It amazes me that we’ve let the terms of the debate come to this. And it also does offend me a little bit that you make the connection that women who have abortions are killers– they’re using their “right to kill”. Given that you seem to have a lot of sympathy for women who have made the (most likely difficult) decision to have an abortion, that kind of labeling only serves to guilt women who’ve made that choice, which isn’t productive for either side of the debate.

    Andrea Smith is a feminist writer who has this really good essay on the problems with both the “pro life” and “pro choice” sides of the abortion debate. She points out flaws and calls for a new way of looking at the issue of abortion and reproductive rights. I remember reading it and having it completely change how I view both sides. It’s a little long but it’s worth it. Here’s a link to it, if you want to read it: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ff/summary/v017/17.1smith.html It’s protected but you can access it through Hunter. Also, if you just google the title of the article and the author, a few results down there’s a link to a pdf from clark.edu. It wouldn’t let me copy and paste the direct link.

    This was a really long comment… I couldn’t help it. You made a really good post (:

  2. nahirortiz says:

    Thank you so much for reading my post and for your thoughts I truly appreciate and respect everything you wrote. I deeply apologize for having offended you or anyone else since that is not my intention at all.
    I decided to choose the phrase: “the right to kill” as a figure of speech to show that there are many variables to that phrase especially when seen from many different perspectives; it is not intended to chastise or stigmatize; instead to evoke profound thought.
    I hope you were able to read the post in its entirety: all the articles highlighted throughout the post and most importantly Lynn Morgan’s anthropological study “Where Does Life Begin?”; in which Morgan speaks to infanticide and how the murdering of the unborn and even newborns is acceptable in other cultures throughout the world. During the introduction I mention the poignancy of her work which is the central point of the blog: “Where Does Life Begin?” I really did not want to get into the abortion issue; rather, the ethics and social morality involved with making decisions about “life”; however, in western society the concepts of life, personhood and rights are interconnected (clustered) and centered on abortion. Moreover, I want people to think of all the decisions society makes in relation to “life” such as the death penalty and merciful death. Interestingly, during a discussion about Lynn Morgan’s work in my Anthropology class, each time the professor asked a question, the students would not stop debating about abortion issues and had trouble separating the concepts; the professor finally declared “I don’t want to get into abortion issues”.
    I realize women of all walks of life (regardless of race, ethnicity, social class or status) are faced with this predicament especially the underserved ;and I am an advocate for the natural and civil rights of women and everyone else on earth− the born and the unborn. I agree with what you said about the polarization between the pro-life and pro-choice schools of thought; indeed, there are problems with each view. I am not completely against abortion and I believe abortion should be legal, I had 2 abortions myself as I mentioned and I am not judging anyone who has to have an abortion, which is why I listed a few scenarios of who and why people have abortions. In fact, I am not against anything that may be meaningful to others; what I am against is: the major institutions of society (i.e. economy, polity, religion, family, social welfare) that do not support its members, particularly the poor, vulnerable and oppressed and the social forces that act as barriers and constrain human agency.
    Thank you for your valuable opinion,comments and shared literature (in the link);I truly hope we can all come to a consensus and find a place in life where justice may prevail for all of humanity.

  3. Simply, I am pro-choice, although, all these debates occur ceaselessly in my mind. I just assume that “baby” and “living” is at that point of viability. I think that before the point, abortion is, for lack of a better word, ok. Not good and not bad. It is just ok. I agree that there are choices that we can take, alternate to abortion, but due to overwhelming cultural, family, economic, peer, etc. pressures, added to the availability of a free clinic makes for a strong argument for why a woman might take the “easier route”. The first commentator noted her distaste for the phrase “right to kill” and in your blog you stated “on the contrary, she [a mother] has the right to bring forth life”. If “playing God” means deeming when to give and when to take life, can’t abortion be justified as such? I mean, assuming there was a decision to bring life into the world, such as God can do, the ability to take it away, which God also does, should similarly be the choice of the mother. Is it not she who becomes the “God”, the ever hovering conscious above an entity? By equating her to God, on very basic terms, please take no offense, couldn’t abortion be justified? I wonder what your response would be. I happen to be agnostic and fail to comprehend certain religious tendencies.

    • The only part of your comment that makes any sense at all is your admission that you do not comprehend God or practice respecting his existence. Your incredible ignorance of this would be the only way we could excuse such a preposterous assumption that any mortal human should ever be equated to God. Wow!

  4. nahirortiz says:

    I respect your agnostic and pro-choice view, I also do not believe in “God” the way most people do; for example,in the theology of religious dogma; rather, I believe in god as a force of consciousness that may be present in everyone’s mind, that is, an awareness of our individual conscience that inspires us to embrace certain beliefs. The word “God” was used in this blog in irony and metaphorically, which is why I put it in quotations. http://www.quotation-marks.com/emphasis_and_irony.php
    I purposely did that because I realize there are a myriad of ways people perceive god, god can be you, it can be me, it can be society; it can be religious and it can be morality; it can be material or immaterial; it can be a deity of any form or it can be nature itself. I refer to “playing God” as: for example, cloning. Should we replicate ourselves and alter nature? I myself am not sure.
    Likewise,albeit I am pro-life, I believe: “life” of any organism has the natural right to live, I am also pro-choice, I believe: every person (male and female) has the right to making a choice in regard to their own life providing it does not impose on another’s beliefs or harm any other fellow human being.
    In regard to women bringing forth life I am referring to the merriam-webster dictionary definition: bring forth 1: bear 2: to give birth to: produce. What I hope to convey to the reader is: A woman should be celebrated for her natural gift to bring life into the world (if she decides to do so), that she has this right (given to her by nature) to have children and she should not have to give that right up just because of economic, social, political or religious obstacles. In short, women need to be supported by society not regulated or chastised.
    I am truly grateful to you for your input because it has allowed me to see things form another perspective and you have given me an opportunity to make my statements clearer to the reader, which, I would otherwise have not been readily aware of. I would like to add, that my opinions in this blog are not the issue, what is important is the underlying issue which affects the whole of humanity, I am not trying to make a statement,instead, I would like people to read Lynn Morgan’s anthropological work: “ Where Does Life Begin” (of which I based the blog on) so they may be afforded the same opportunity I was ;and, to be able to see things from a cross-cultural perspective, so that we may develop intellectually as a people.
    Finally, I would like to clarify: I did not say (as written in your comment):
    “on the contrary, she [a mother] has the right to bring forth life.” in response to the previous reader’s comment in regarded to the phrase “the right to kill” (which is also metaphorical) as I explained in my response to her.
    Kill also has an array of meanings, it can mean: infanticide, to cause something living to die; or to ruin; or to end; to tire out; to make time pass, to turn something off, to overexert yourself, to block pain etc. (Encarta Dictionary)
    “The right to kill” can also mean: “Where does life begin?” In other words: Do we have the right to decide to begin or end life?; and even more fundamental: Do we even have the right to ask such a question?
    The term “The right to kill” should be taken into philosophical consideration in this blog, not as a justifiable question.
    I anticipate that my work will be considered with circmspection as I would never impose my beliefs on anyone else or tell them that their view is incorrect in any way. Once again thank you for your comment.