First, we must distinguish between our personal convictions, and our view of the government’s role in our lives. Considering that we acknowledge the government’s role in providing legal protection for the lives of individuals, we should adopt an irreligious view of abortion. This involves being much LESS judgmental of women choosing to have abortions very early on in their pregnancy, and MUCH MORE judgmental of women, and others involved in the practice of, aborting children who have developed into human form.
A disturbed Ohio woman was arrested and charged with murder this week. After her third child died a suspicious asphyxiation death, the authorities figured out that her children didn’t have some rare genetic condition causing sudden suffocation, and looked into the matter.
What is all the outrage about? Why should this woman not be permitted to make her own choices about her body? Why should the government regulate, and subsequently condemn her disposition of her body parts as she sees fit? Certainly this is a ridiculous question. These were children, outside of the womb. They were independent from their mother. They were, in fact, human beings endowed with the right to live protected by law. So, maybe a better question is: when did they cease to become a part of their mother’s body, and become human babies?
There was not much debate where a 17 year old Ohio girl beat her 26-day-old baby to death. She was charged with felony murder and child abuse and no one rushed to her defense. This was definitely a baby. Another young troubled mother in Virginia, facing many of the same challenges as those considering abortion, killed her baby on the day it was born. How much did that baby change in the hours that had passed since it was delivered out of the woman’s body?
If it is the mere process of delivery that transforms a fetus into a baby, is it the umbilical cord that serves as the bond between woman’s body and baby, and the object only becomes the latter upon severance? Or is it the immersion in amniotic fluid and containment within the placenta?
The viability standard in place since 1973 attempted to resolve the issue with a crude judicial compromise (the term “splitting the baby” seems crass, yet appropriate). The standard, still in place today, considers whether a fetus could survive outside of the womb, especially under certain conditions. It attempts to confront nature with tortured scientific logic, ignoring whether the life growing inside the woman has developed into living human form, to the point that it should be considered an individual; a human worthy of rights independent from its mother. One could reasonably argue that a 6 week fetal nucleus is viable, because under the condition of 20 additional weeks of development, it would certainly survive.
Why should the viability inquiry only consider life outside of the womb? All of the infants murdered by their mothers above were helpless. They had no chance of survival without another human feeding them, keeping them upright and clear of hazards. Were they even viable? We do not condition their personhood, or the authority of the law to protect them, on their ability to survive. Does a standard which protects all except the helpless make any sense?
Too often the debate between life at conception and viability devolves into one of religion and morals. Consensus will never be reached in this manner because we don’t all share the same religion or morals. We do, however, all share the same Constitution and sense of individual rights (setting aside, for now, the influence of religion on the Constitution). This is why any discussion of abortion in the United States should avoid religious and moral appeals. In fact, the strongest argument against late term abortions and government funding of the same is an irreligious one.
Consider the Human Form Standard:
- The removal of an embryo yet to reach human form (defined below) is a medical procedure, not unlike removing an ovary. A woman (or man for that matter) is free to choose to elect medical procedures of their choice without interference from the state.
- There comes a point inside the womb where the fetus becomes a baby, in full human form. The baby has developed fully formed arms, hands, fingers, and feet, can open and close its fists and mouth, reproductive organs have formed (it is a boy or a girl), circulatory and urinary systems are working and the liver is producing bile; eyebrows, eyelids, eyelashes, nails, and hair are formed; teeth are formed and the baby can suck his or her thumb; the baby can be seen via ultrasound yawning, stretching, and making faces. (Practically speaking, this stage of development is somewhere between 12-16 weeks).The baby that has reached this stage of development (which necessarily requires mutilation in order to be “evacuated”) is just as human and helpless as the post-delivery children discussed above, and the government has an interest in protecting this independent and recognizable life.
Women seeking to terminate early pregnancies in #1 above should be given privacy, and treated with dignity and respect. Those with a firmly held religious belief that abortion, even at this stage, is murder, should be offering up sincere prayers for the woman in private, not publicly stoning her. On the other hand, when the baby has reached human form, our government should assert its authority to protect individual lives, whether that life is in jeopardy of being mutilated pre-delivery, or smothered with a blanket shortly after taking its first breath.