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Thursday, January 23, 2003

Moral Clarity

Ok. So let me get this straight just so I understand.

Foes of abortion believe that life begins at conception. And they believe that this life should be granted the same rights as the woman within whose body it must stay, at least for a period of time, if it is to develop and grow.

Fine. There is no moral distinction between the fully formed woman and the collection of cells that forms a zygote. From the moment of conception, this life has the same moral standing as a month old baby who sleeps in a bassinette in the nursery or a teen-ager or an old man. Life is life.

Therefore, it must be immoral to allow exceptions to a ban on abortion in the case of incest or rape. Would we kill a month old baby if we found out that it was the result of rape? Would we think that it was ok to smother a 6 month old child if we found out that it was conceived in incest? Of course not. What possible moral difference can it make how the child is conceived if it's endowed with inalienable rights at the moment of conception? You may punish the rapist or the incestuous relative, but the child's right to live is inviolable. Life is life.

In the case of choosing between the life of the child and the life of the mother, one is on delicate moral ground if the child is viable outside the womb. It is a Solomon's choice and one which should probably be left to fate. Doctors may be willing to choose and perhaps husband's or family, but it is not easy to morally defend.

Clearly, though, if a fetus has the same rights as any other human being, a doctor who performs abortions other than to save the life of the mother must be a murderer. But then, so must be the mother who willingly aborts. The life inside this woman has the same rights as any baby. Therefore, just like Andrea Yates, women who have abortions should be arrested and tried for murder. If found guilty she must go to jail. And those who argue for capital punishment for a mother who kills her baby must also agree that a woman who has an abortion must be tried as a capital murderer. Life is life.

I'm there, so far. But, if the life inside a woman's body has the same legal rights as a two month old baby, then if a woman has a miscarriage, shouldn’t she be investigated by the authorities? If the fetus has the same rights as the woman who carries it and it suddenly "disappears” the police should be asked to find out whether this woman murdered her baby, just as the authorities would investigate if a woman's one month old baby disappeared. After all, life is life.

Some jurisdictions are already intervening if women are caught taking drugs during pregnancy. This is the consistent moral stance. If a woman is abusing her body during pregnancy, she is also abusing a distinct human being who exists inside of her and that human being has the same right as she not to be abused by another person. Women must be held responsible for what they do to their babies inside of their bodies, just as they are held responsible for what they do to a 6 month old baby.

Considering these facts, I have to wonder at the moral obtuseness of a pro-life movement that would let murdering mothers go unpunished, negligent mothers go uninvestigated and, worst of all, endorse the legal killing of unborn children simply because they had the misfortune to be conceived in violence or incest. You would almost think that they believe there is a grey moral area on this question rather than the clear bright line of inalienable rights being proferred at the moment of conception. That can't be right.

Because to allow for exceptions or to ignore the woman's culpability in murdering or harming her child while it is inside the womb is to create the false impression that gestation is a unique period for the human species in which the woman and the baby are so inextricable that to all intents and purposes they are one person.

And one could then make the immoral assumption that because they are in all practicality one person, the sentient part of this person must be allowed to decide whether this "part of her" should grow and become an individual who is capable of living outside her body. Then no one would suspect her of criminal negligence if she miscarried after falling down the stairs and she could not be a considered a criminal child abuser if she had a glass of wine or a cigarette. Certainly she would not be a murderer if she felt she could not give birth to her own brother or the child of her rapist.

And if she's not a murderer for aborting her rapists child, then she is not a murderer for aborting any child.

And that would be wrong. Life is life, isn't it?