“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” ?
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~
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”
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 ~
- When Does Human Life Begin: By: Maureen L. Condic: The Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person
- Life Begins at the Beginning: By: Dr. Fritz Baumgartner
- Pro-Life Action League: About the Unborn Child
- Mayo Clinic : Pregnancy Week by Week
- Life: Wisconsin Right to Life: Your Baby’s Development Month by Month
* 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.
- Miracle Baby Heads Home: Blog Image of Amillia Taylor
- The Telegraph: Blog Image of 8 week old fetus
- WebMD Slide show: Fetal Development Month by Month: Blog Images of 12/16/24 week old fetus