Terminating a Pregnancy or Killing an Unborn Child?: A Moral Analysis
Pregnancy is the – uniquely feminine – obstacle that often hinders a woman’s admittance into the world of wealth, fame, and success. President Barack Obama clearly enunciated this idea when he declared in 2008 that he would not want his daughters “punished” by requiring them to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Obviously, he was referring to a situation in which pregnancy would interfere with the “normal” progression of education, career, and the accompanying processes of emotional maturity and personality development.
The feminist movement that began in the 60’s was largely a reaction to the societal barriers that prevented women’s professional advancement. The emptiness and frustration that women were experiencing at the time, as described by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique, were depicted as resulting from a profound sense of disconnection both from their essential selves and from genuine opportunities for growth and personal acomplishment. A woman was regarded, and was accorded value, primarily as a bearer of children, as their devoted caretaker, and as a loyal appendage to her husband. The latter being engaged in matters of importance in “the world out there.” What sparked the feminist revolution was the perceived denial of women’s fundamental human need for, and right to, recognition in their own right; that is to say, the acknowledgment of their intrinsic value .
It seems quite reasonable that if – although perhaps a rather dubious “if” – true human fulfillment and self-esteem are achieved through wealth, fame, success, career advancement, and financial independence, then it would be terribly unjust to allow the “handicaps” of pregnancy and child bearing to interfere with the attainment of these goals. Ergo, one of the cardinal dogmas of the feminist philosophies that emerged from those turbulent times was that a woman must have unrestricted control over her reproductive function, including the right to “terminate” a pregnancy.
While the internal logic behind the formulation of this central dogma might be sound, there is obviously another crucial issue that must be clarified before any reasonable and morally sensitive person could give such an irrevocable act their stamp of approval: When does life begin?
When does life begin?
There is universal agreement that no man or woman is justified in murdering a living child when that child is perceived as interfering with one’s career or path to self-fulfillment. It would seem obvious then, that before a morally compelling argument could be accepted for granting women the license to “terminate” a pregnancy at their own discretion, it must be preceded by an extended period of intense – and most likely agonizing – analysis and inquiry into the definition of human life . This is not a question to be dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders or a wave of the hand; our topic is not the removal of a wart, a tummy tuck, or liposuction. To neglect this duty and the acccompanying soul-searching is to be intellectually dishonest, morally anesthetized, or criminally negligent.
Absent divine revelation, it is difficult to justify the assertion that a newly fertilized ovum is a living human being. While undeniably a potential human being, few (if any) would argue that the destruction of a growing blastula is an act akin to murder in the first degree. On the other hand, absent a clear and imminent threat to the mother’s life, it is impossible for any moral/rational human being to accept that the procedure known as a “partial birth abortion” – wherein the entire body of a living baby has emerged, feet first, outside the mother from the neck down, the skull then pierced and the brains sucked out through the incision – is anything other than murder in the first degree.
We can also reject the absurd notion that upon exiting the birth canal, the baby undergoes a magical and mysterious metamorphosis from protoplasmic blob to full-fledged human being. There is obviously no reasonable, non-arbitrary distinction that can be made between a baby one minute before birth and the same baby one minute after birth. Men and women possessing any semblance of moral sensitivity must, therefore, honestly and fearlessly confront the following self-apparent truth: At some point in time between the successful penetration of the female egg by a determined sperm cell and the birth of a child, the entity growing inside a woman’s uterus crosses a line that separates an indistinguishable mass of growing cells, from a living human baby that has an unalienable right to life of its own. After that line is crossed, we are not dealing with the “termination of a pregnancy” or the “abortion of a fetus”, we are dealing with the murder of an unborn child.
The proposed Ohio law that prohibits abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat is a serious and responsible attempt to address this issue. A beating heart is one of the most widely accepted indications of the presence of human life, and it’s absence, an indication of its cessation. Another possible indicator would be the detection of fetal brain activity. The often cited “viability outside the mother” standard might raise more questions than it answers. While viability might function as a convenient legal guideline, it is difficult to understand what is so unique about “outside viability” that helps us in our mission to define when life begins. What if a baby, temporarily, cannot live outside an incubator or without a respirator? Is it “alive?” Would it be murder to kill such a baby? Remember, we are looking for moral answers, not legal definitions.
There are those, of course, who will solemnly proclaim that the fundamental right to abortion is enshrined as the law of the land. THE SUPREME COURT (!) has declared it so. Indeed, “Roe v. Wade” has, for many, become a sort of secular catechism or mantra, invoked to dispel all the profoundly disturbing moral issues surrounding abortion. For those – please forgive me – pathetic souls whose only concern here are legal precendents – or worse, opinion polls – this writer has nothing to say, except that he and they obviously inhabit different universes.
It is the Question that is critical
When an abortion doctor stated on film regarding the babies he aborted, “I never look at them,” is there anyone reading this who does not intuitively understand why he “never” looks at them? Many pro-choice advocates become incensed when pro-life activists show graphic pictures of aborted babies. Why? Evidently they are afraid that the sight of fully formed human babies piled in a garbage bag might ignite sparks of human compassion or perhaps even moral revulsion. The American public was justifiably outraged when it was revealed that NFL star, Michael Vick, acted with barbaric cruelty to dogs; what then is so abnormal about feeling compassion for discarded human babies? This writer finds it incomprehensible that the same person who is appalled by cruelty to animals could be so indifferent to the sight of perfectly developed fetal body parts in a dumpster.
Although it should be clear to any thinking person why the abortion issue refuses to go away, I will not presume – in this forum – to propose a definitive answer. First and foremost we need to focus and agree on the question. Unless it is clear how frighteningly powerful the question is; unless we accept the painfully heavy burden of responsibility for what is at stake here, I seriously doubt that anyone would be motivated enough to invest the necessary energy to arrive at a worthwhile answer. Excluding those who have reconciled themselves to a mindless slide into the moral abyss, we had better be prepared to lose more than a few nights sleep while attempting to formulate a meaningful and morally potent solution for this problem. A man who brutally rapes and murders young women, can sit on death row for decades while appealing the sentence. Every opportunity is given him so that he should not be put to death without absolute certainty that the cause of justice is being served. Do unborn children not merit the same type of consideration? Perhaps they also deserve to live.