When is a human being a human being? Biologically, from the moment of conception, when a discrete entity is created with a unique set of genes. Life is a continuum from conception until death, with people progressing through various stages of life, ranging from embryo to geriatric. To claim that an embryo or fetus is part of the mother, like an internal organ, is patently absurd. The unborn may be attached to and dependent on the mother for biological support, but as with a parasite, it remains a distinct organism. To say that it isn't a human being is to beg the question of what, then, it really is. One man told me that "a fetus is a fetus." I replied, "But isn't a fetus a human being?" "No," he said, "A fetus is a fetus." Hard to argue with that! Apparently, the fetus is not only supposed to be a different species from Homo sapiens, but seems to be in a category of its own.

When is a human being not a human being? The answer to that has depended throughout history on the economic or ideological needs of various societies. Africans were considered to be not quite human to slave traders and owners, and in more modern times, extreme racists. Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, the mentally infirm, and other "untermenschen" were considered less than fully human and were subject to extermination by the Nazis. The first step in morally justifying what is usually indefensible is to provide a more acceptable label for the activity or victim, in a sort of Orwellian double-speak. The Nazis claimed they were morally justified in saving "Aryan civilization" from the alleged depredations of Jews, so for them, it was a matter of self-defense. However absurd and repugnant that may be, it was an attempt to provide moral justification for genocide. Providing moral justification for the killing of an unborn baby is difficult, so the process is relabeled a "choice." One never hears abortion proponents saying that they favor killing kids. They say they favor a woman's right to choose. The idea apparently being that it is immoral to deny a woman the right to choose, rather than being immoral to deliberately terminate a human life. That the choice involves whether to let another human being live or not isn't mentioned. Instead, the woman's choice is whether to "carry the pregnancy to full term." In another example of relabeling, for some people, an embryo or fetus is not really a human being. Instead, a "fetus is a fetus", as my interlocutor put it, and therefore, may morally (and legally) be killed. That this idea is a justification for expedient murder is demonstrated by Princeton University, which awarded a prestigious chair in ethics, no less, to an Australian professor who advocates killing disabled infants (including those with hemophilia) up to 28 days after birth. According to this professor, "Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often, it is not wrong at all."   Heinrich Himmler could not have said it better.  The professor, a Peter Singer, has decided that a disabled infant is not a person. Why that distinction should not be applied to anyone older than 28 days is not made clear. And why Princeton should award a chair to someone with essentially Nazi ideas is something those who donate to the university might want to consider.

There are a variety of rationales given for justifying the legality of abortion. The foremost reason given is that it is a mother's right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to its natural conclusion. Since the termination of a pregnancy involves killing a human being, it isn't made clear why a woman can kill her child while in her body, but not after it emerges. (Unless Professor Singer's suggestion is adopted.) The rationale is that it's her body and she can do with it what she wishes. Aside from the host of laws that prevent people from doing with their body what they want, ranging from prohibiting drug use to requiring helmets for motorcyclists, it evades the point that the child is not her body. To maintain that the fetus is entirely dependent on the mother, and that she should have the right to terminate that support, evades the fact that the child is just as dependent after birth, when the mother has no right to withdraw support to kill the baby. To say that a woman should have total control over her own reproductive capacity is, of course, quite true. A woman should be able to decide whether to have a baby or not. But having become pregnant, the matter then involves another human being. Saying a woman shouldn't be forced to bear her child is not much different than saying a woman shouldn't be forced to care for her infant. Claiming that since she created the child, she should have the right to terminate the child, if logically followed, would then condone infanticide. It may be that the illogic of the foregoing arguments is the reason why some people have to fall back on the position that the unborn aren't really human, so they shouldn't be subject to the protection of the law. It's as if they were legally animals.  Strangely, some of the vary same people who are so passionate about saving animals are "pro-choice."  (Then again, some of the people so passionate about ending air pollution and additives to their food are smokers.  Go figure.)

Then there are the other reasons cited by those favoring the "right" to abortion. These consist mostly of questioning the motives or integrity of abortion opponents. Only white, affluent men are said to be against abortion, which aside from not being true, is beside the point. Their opposition to abortion is seen as another example of imposed male dominance.   Those who oppose abortion are not lining up to adopt unwanted babies, so they are said to have no right to oppose a woman disposing of her unborn baby.  This is about the same logic as saying if people aren't willing to adopt a dog at the pound; they have no right to oppose destroying the animal. People have no moral obligation to adopt a baby to save a woman from destroying it, anymore than they have the moral obligation to give a thief money to stop him from stealing. This is the argument that seems to say that if you can't solve my problem, you have no business telling me that my solution is wrong. If that argument were followed, then the thief could say that if you won't give me money to solve my problem, you have no business telling me that my solution, stealing it, is wrong.

Having an unwanted child can be a severe hardship, especially with a handicapped child, and no compassionate person can lack sympathy for the mother.  But is it more worthy to kill a child, lest he or she be born into a difficult life?  If so, why not after the child is born?  Just ask professor Singer. It may appear crass to say that in this modern era, there is every means available to avoid becoming pregnant, and that if those measures aren't taken, then the woman must bear the consequences, literally. But it is true. The woman's right to decide whether to have a child begins with the decision whether to risk conception. If taking that risk results in pregnancy, then another human being has been entered into the equation. Some may say that pregnancies can happen accidentally, even with some birth control methods, but then, that too is part of the risk equation.

One of the problems of this modern culture is the tendency to not take responsibility for one's own actions.  It is almost an epidemic to blame others for the problems we face. Indeed, sometimes others do contribute to our problems, but ultimately, we make the choices that govern our actions. This was epitomized in a TV ad that aired years ago. It showed a kid stealing a car, and the message was, "Don't help a good boy go bad. Don't leave your keys in the car." Apparently, even a good boy is helpless before temptation, and it is the person who provides the temptation,. however inadvertent, that is responsible for the crime.  The person who committed the crime then becomes the victim. How many rape victims have been told that it was her fault because she wore revealing clothes or somehow enticed the perpetrator with her behavior? Is it right, then, to make a child pay for the act of another? Wouldn't that be shifting the responsibility to the victim?

It should be obvious to all but those in serious denial, then, that abortion is the killing of a human being, albeit at an early stage of development. To evade that fact is to avoid facing the moral dilemma. Killing people is normally an illegal act except when done in self-defense or in state-sanctioned combat or execution. Why, then, is it permissible to kill an unborn child?  The answer is simply that the majority of society condones it, which is reflected in law and in court decisions.  So the real question becomes, not whether abortion is murder, but rather, which human beings are not entitled to the protection of the law, and why?

In the end, law is a function of culture. A culture has among its characteristics certain agreed upon morés that people generally adhere to because that's what's expected of them.  People are taught values from their parents and have them reinforced by society.  Morality is one of those beliefs and can vary quite a bit between cultures. In Thailand, sexuality is celebrated and displayed out in the open. On the other side of the Indian Ocean in Saudi Arabia, sexuality is severely repressed and hidden. Both sides consider themselves moral. When within one society there are different cultures and beliefs, as in this heterogeneous country, there can be very contentious issues of morality. Laws are created to regulate the behavior of society's members so that they conform to the culture's accepted norms. The intent is to provide security. When a country has no accepted norms, then people will do whatever they think is right, or at least, harmless. It is very difficult, then, to legislate a moral belief if that belief is not universally accepted. Just ask those engaged in the "war on drugs."

In the end, it matters not whether abortion is abhorrent to God, or immoral, or a violation of natural law. If societal consensus deems it acceptable, it becomes legal and normal. In a way, that befits a democracy, where important decisions are reached by majority will. However, while in a democracy, the majority rules, people are entitled to "certain inalienable rights", including life.  At one time, the majority of people thought African-Americans were not entitled to the equal protection of the law.  That didn't make it right. 

In this society, every human being that has emerged from the womb is entitled to legal protection, except those who have committed illegal offenses.  And while the "sanctity of life" is generally respected and protected, it is not universally applied. Some offenses are punished by death.  Ostensibly, executing murderers is intended to uphold the sanctity of life, which may seem like a contradiction. But in general, this society goes through enormous trouble and expense to maintain human life, as befits the societal consensus that life is the ultimate value.  The old and infirm, cripples, the mentally unresponsive and sometimes even murderers, are given every chance to live.  Even the terminally ill are put on life support to extend their lives artificially.  So, if societal consensus puts such value on the preservation of human life, why then, are the unborn the exception?

Perhaps the only cogent argument that could be put forth by the "right to abortion" proponents is that the fetus is not a member of society and therefore, society's rules, including the protection of the law, should not apply. Under this rationale, a person is said not to be human until born because it is membership in society that provides protection under the law.  (Consider how many do not want to apply Constitutional rights to non-citizens and you can see the thought process.) This is, of course, an arbitrary distinction, but then, society has the privilege of determining who is a member of society or not. On the other hand, to claim that a baby isn't human until born is absurd. The argument devolves again into whether the law should apply to every human being, or only some who meet select criteria. 

The danger of making that distinction is that arbitrary definitions can apply to other segments of society. Is a person in a coma a member of society and fully human? How about the severely retarded or handicapped? And how about the elderly in nursing homes? If you thought the Princeton professor had the right idea, you'll be pleased to know that a professor at the University of Michigan, as I recall, had already suggested that it is too costly for society to care for the elderly, and that it should be legal to eliminate them.  Considering how fast society is aging, with the retiring baby boomers placing a huge burden on the younger generation, the professor's idea may yet appeal to the majority. If so, what then will society do? Cheapen life, yet again?

It takes courage to admit, then, that abortion is the killing of a human being, and that it is only the sanction of public opinion that makes it legal to kill for convenience. In the end, the majority of citizens have to decide which of us is entitled to legal protection, which is a powerful argument for teaching values and morality.  But if, in the end, the majority decides some people can be legally killed for whatever reason, then life is no longer a right, but a privilege granted by the majority to whomever is politically favored.


Website Builder