Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Visibility and Viability

The recent controversies involving Planned Parenthood’s funding and President Obama’s healthcare mandate involving birth control (and subsequent compromise on it) make one think of related topics such as abortion, more specifically rules such as the one in Texas, and recently in Virginia, that requires a sonogram before an abortion procedure. I’m not going to debate the lawfulness of it, since it’s hardly unreasonable or invasive to the woman getting the procedure done. Someone might compare it to looking at your cancer, though the dichotomy is somewhat crude, since cancer is necessarily damaging, while an embryo is not nearly so devastating. But the claim by many pro life/anti abortion advocates that pro choice/abortion rights supporters are dehumanizing the embryo or fetus being aborted is sorely mistaken. I am in no way denying the humanity of the entity that is aborted. I compare abortion to euthanasia in that it is done because the options are few and sometimes active death is more merciful than passive death, though in this case, miscarriage as the passive death is not the inevitability. There has to be consent of the people involved, but contrary to people’s emotionally touching, but fallacious, arguments, the fetus cannot consent and thus is irrelevant to the decision. Even partial birth abortions cannot request the consent of the fetus. If the goal of medicine is to preserve life, then abortion seems contradictory at first glance. But life’s quality is as important as life’s existence. And abortion is a way to advance this. I do not wish abortion to exist indefinitely as a primary recourse to unwanted pregnancy for a number of reasons, not all of them related to the procedure itself. If we had technology to preserve zygotes, embryos and fetuses for future mothers to be or surrogates, it would be excellent for infertile couples or those looking to adopt through surrogacy. But more important than the wasteful practice of aborting what can be children for the childless who truly want them is that pregnancies can be prevented more than people are even motivated to with birth control. The goal seems to be more in line with the Quiverfull movement popularized by the Duggard family who miscarried a child last year: that ideal being to have as many children as God deems you to have. The same could be said to be an agenda for Catholics, with their strong stance against birth control, though it is alleged by some studies that 90% or more of Catholic couples use contraception for one reason or another, if only to prevent having more children than they can fiscally support. If you are pro life to the extent of ignoring consequences of excessive children, you’re being as irresponsible as one who uses abortion as birth control. We should not seek to have children just for the sake of making ourselves feel comfortable about not having “sacrificed” a child in any sense, nor should we just sacrifice children as if they are necessarily an inconvenience in every situation. Sometimes that is what we must do, if not for our sake, but for the future child’s sake. Would any child that could understand the state of a birth defect or congenital disease want to be born that way to just die in under 5 years? Abortion is not always about convenience, but is many times about compassion.

Many abortion opponents also say that since the child is genetically unique from conception it should be protected by virtue of that, since it is a separate body. There are two things wrong with this. Firstly, the uniqueness of any human life does not mean we should force a woman to carry that life to term if she does not want to or feels she cannot provide a fulfilling life for it. There’s an argument from a libertarian perspective of the woman’s body being invaded unless she consents to the pregnancy itself. It’s one thing to consent to sex, but the pregnancy is not a guarantee. Even if it’s a natural process, we can, within reason, stop it, but if nature succeeds anyway, there is no reason for us to always submit to it. To put it bluntly, there is not right to live inside another person, for women are not understood simply as creatures able to breed and thus should not be pressured into doing it by virtue of their ability to do so. Plus, adoption, often touted as a compassionate option, is one fraught with red tape and protracted waiting periods, so the child would be in an orphanage until then. Secondly, even if a woman sees an embryo with a heartbeat of sorts, she should also be informed that it is only unique genetically. It is not even remotely independent and is in fact interconnected with the woman’s metabolism and physiology, which is what causes morning sickness and eventually saps the woman of part of her everyday intake of nutrients and even some of her calcium directly from her bones. This is something that constitutes a parasite, even if it is done with the woman’s consent in most cases, excluding rape. So let it be clear that the fetus is not independent except in the possibility of it being born, which is in the future, not the immediate moment as it gestates.

Then there’s the claim that we reduce the embryo to a “blob of cells”. A zygote is very much technically a blob of cells going through meiosis.  And we’re all blobs of cells when you think about it, albeit on a larger scale.  The mere possibility of a life coming to being does not constitute grounds to protect it. If a parent or parents wish to carry the child to term, that is one thing, but it seems a bit manipulative, even if it is reasonable medical procedure, to show a pregnant woman a sonogram of the developing baby in some attempt to appeal to her emotions or more likely her guilt at “snuffing out a life” Viability should be considered as well. As harsh as it sounds and as I said before, sometimes hard decisions must be made and eliminating lives that are not even remotely viable is not something that is significantly lowering our birth rate. Plenty of people are personally pro life even if they are politically pro choice, so in the long run people will keep having babies even if there is a segment of the population that will consider abortion first. Moral disagreement aside, the legality of abortion stands on grounds of privacy that is not invasive to the rights of others. This sort of autonomy is not victimizing embryos or such, since they are not even remotely conscious in most abortions, done around 13 weeks or so. The comparison to euthanizing an animal is a bit crude, I’ll admit, but effective nonetheless in that the animal is less conscious than a human about its pain and the embryo or fetus even less so. Therefore the moral justification is partly based on the grounds that the entity aborted feels no significant pain unless it is sufficiently developed, which is done much more uncommonly than those where the embryo is only beginning to show human traits.

The value of life as a whole does not supersede the value of individual liberty. And while liberty cannot exist without life, the significance of autonomy is wasted on something that cannot even remotely understand its situation. A woman, however, does and should not be forced or pressured into making a choice she does not think is best for her or those connected to her, past, present or future. Bringing up practices in other countries of aborting female children or the common practice of aborting babies with Down syndrome or the like does not support claims that abortion as a whole is genocidal. Abortion is a medical procedure and while it will probably never go away entirely as fertility technology advances more and more, Planned Parenthood’s motto of making abortion safe, legal and rare is aided by birth control and as we understand abortion procedures, they are made safer as well with safer methods. No one is saying abortion should be the default, but the very existence of it as an option is not damaging to the birth rate, nor is it dehumanizing the embryo involved, since it is only barely human in the nominal sense and is certainly not a person that is deserving of protection. Birth is far more significant biologically to the child in terms of both becoming independent from the mother and beginning to develop more in the world where it interacts more directly, through sight, touch, etc. These sorts of discussions can be hard, but they are also important to understanding where our morality and politics intersect. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

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