Thursday, November 13, 2008

The crux of the issue

November 9th was my daughter's due date.  That very day we had the legal right to "abort" her for any reason... oh, except for the fact that she had already passed through the birth canal seven days earlier and is currently sleeping on her grandmother's lap.  "That is a pretty big difference", some might say.  But is it really?  

Before the election threw me off course, I had planned to first address what I believe is at the very heart of the abortion debate: the beginning of human life.  Abortion doesn't just kill an embryo or a fetus, it kills a person; a living, innocent human being.  In the next several (and I mean several) paragraphs, I intend to explore some common suggestions about the criteria used  for determining when life begins.  As I thought about all of these ideas, I saw that the “big difference” between my daughter inside the womb and my daughter outside the womb has more to do with our perceptions rather than the child herself.

Things we should all be able to agree upon

Lets start with a couple of (hopefully) obvious common principles.    First off, I think we can all agree that taking innocent human life is a bad thing.  It's the ultimate no-no, even the most primitive civilizations have realized this.  In fact, the only thing that can super-cede my right to my own life is your right to yours!  In other words, I can't kill you to get a kidney that I may need to survive.  (Obviously, if you were attacking me, I have the right to defend myself, hence the requirement for the 'innocent' tag.)

Secondly, I agree with Barack Obama when he says that there are people of good will on both sides of the debate.  Here is how I see it: If we have a woman in a terrible situation surrounding an unplanned pregnancy, abortion advocates will claim that they can help her.  Their compassion leads them to want to help because they recognize the anguish that this woman is in, and they want to help her deal with this anguish and the (sometimes extreme) difficulty of her situation.  They recognize a neighbor crying out for help, and out of respect for her human dignity they reach out to help.  (In other words, it is not my intent to demonize the people who support abortion, I only hope to show the intrinsically evil nature of the act which I believe most people haven’t thought about.  I know I didn’t.)

What its all about

So if we all agree that taking innocent human life is a bad thing, and if we are considering the option of abortion out of respect for the human dignity of the mother, then we had better well know when life begins.  If the fetus is nothing but "a clump of cells" and not a human life, then the case for abortion gains some credibility.  If, however, it is a human being, then abortion takes an innocent human life.  If the fetus is a human being then it has the same dignity as the mother, and therefore requires the same care and compassion given to the mother.  If the fetus is a human being, it is as innocent (if the mother was raped) or perhaps more innocent (if the mother was irresponsible) regarding the cause of the pregnancy.  If we are performing abortions and we are wrong about when life begins, then we are taking innocent human life.  

And yet, we never see Planned Parenthood or NARAL explain where they believe life begins.  In my limited experience, pro-choice advocates almost inevitably try and shift the debate from whether abortion takes a human life to how "comprehensive sex education" and contraception can lower abortion rates.  We are not debating the merits of different strategies to lower abortion rates, we are debating whether or not abortion takes human life.  Because if it does, then just lowering abortion rates is about as acceptable a solution as Hilter just killing less Jews in Nazi Germany.  The problem is that the beginning of human life is the heart of the abortion debate, and one side almost never seriously addresses it.  Maybe it's because people have a much easier time defending abortion when we don't talk about when life begins.  

What other people are saying

So when does life begin?  If you are reading this post because you received my email, you'll recognize this link:  Here you can find the discoverer of the cause of Down's Syndrome, the founder and director of the Department of Genetics at Mayo Clinic, and an embryology textbook published in 1998 all stating that conception is the point where life begins.  Honestly though, I'm sure you could find conflicting quotes with just a quick Google search.  I found one from a Sheldon Turkish, an abortionist, who by his own admission told a woman who was six to seven weeks pregnant that the unborn child was "nothing but some tissue" when she asked if "the baby was already there".  I wonder if she would have considered the beating heart that I was looking at on our son's 7 week ultrasound "nothing but some tissue".  You can read about it here or just Google his name and his quote.

Or, instead of just trusting quotes, you can you can use your own reason.  At one point, you and I were not alive.  Clearly we are alive now.  I think we can all agree that we weren't alive as a separate sperm and egg, we weren't even "put together".  I think we can all agree that we were certainly alive when we were crying our eyes out on the delivery table.  Therefore, somewhere between these two points we were given the gift of life and all of the “inalienable” rights that come from this gift.  

Location, location, location

The way the law is written right now, that moment is the when we pass through the birth canal and into the outside world.  This makes no sense what-so-ever, as it essentially defines life by location.  Inside the womb?  Not alive yet, no rights.  Outside the birth canal?  Living, all the rights you could want.  Never mind the fact that there is no difference in the development or growth of the child as it passes through the canal, except that she was probably pretty happy where she was and now she is royally ticked off.  

The lunacy of this is made even more apparent when I think about the birth of my daughter, as I had mentioned earlier.  Had she been born on her due date, it would have been legal to abort her on Nov 9th.  Yet, on Nov. 9th, she was already 1 week old.  No one would advocate “aborting” a one week old infant, that is infanticide.  So what is the essential difference here?  Location.  The child herself isn’t really significantly different, she is just outside the womb instead of inside it.  

As an aside, until the partial birth abortion ban passed, everything but her head could have been outside the birth canal and they could have legally stuck a closed pair of scissors into the back of her head, opened them up, and sucked out her brains.  If you were unaware of this, I am not making this stuff up.  Thankfully, this technique is now illegal, but that may not last if President-elect Barack Obama signs the Freedom of Choice Act.  Here is the Senate and House version of the actual bill for those who wish to do some homework, it is a very short bill.  Call your representatives.

So at what point between the separate sperm and egg and baby-on-the-birth-table does life begin if not at live birth?  Would a heartbeat qualify?  Well, you’ve got that at three weeks after conception.  How about a brain?  At eight weeks after conception, your brain is growing at a rate of 250,000 neurons per minute.  I do not suspect that Planned Parenthood would support either of these points as benchmarks for the beginning of life.

Its all there at conception

When we go backwards from live birth, we see that we are covering gradual and indistinct stages of growth and development.  At no point is there a defining moment that clearly separates one stage from another until we hit conception.  At conception, the child has its own DNA, clearly differentiating it from just another body part of the mother.  All it needs now is the nutrients and shelter provided by the mother’s womb, which in effect isn’t much different than the nutrients and shelter the mother provides once the child is out of the womb.   The baby will grow and develop in amazing ways, to be sure, but all the power of this growth and development is harnessed at conception.  A glaring example of this comes from many abortion advocates themselves; they speak in hushed tones at the power of embryonic stem cells, yet these same embryos are dismissed as merely a clump of cells or “just some tissue” when referring to abortion.  I do not believe it is conscious, but this does show how utilitarian our view of the dignity of human life has become.  If it can DO something for us, it is valuable.  For those of you who share my faith, it seems being made in the image and likeness of God isn’t good enough anymore.  

Any argument that life begins at some point after conception invariably states that the fetus is a potential human life, and must reach some point of development before this potential is reached.  Yet when pressed about what point of development this is, no one seems to be in consensus.  The argument almost always devolves into a personal list of two or three things the fetus must be able to "do" before they are considered "fully human" by the person you are speaking with.  

There are two logical problems with this argument, we'll tackle the issue of life being defined by development or abilities first.  This kind of argument for human life usually goes something like this, "Once you can do 'this' and 'that' you are human." with the 'this' and 'that' often referring to some basic level of communication or cognizance.  In essence, we end up being defined based on our behavior and/or abilities instead of our innate characteristics or features.  (Again, the spread of this kind of thinking shows that we are becoming more and more utilitarian.)  We do not do this anywhere else in life, a coffee mug isn't a coffee mug because it can hold coffee and keep my hand cool at the same time, a thermos can do that just as well, and clearly a coffee cup and a thermos are two different things.  We define things based on their inherent characteristics or features, and it is these characteristics or features that give rise to our abilities & behaviors, not the other way around.  Here is another example; a shark isn't a shark because it can swim fast and eat seals, a killer whale can do that just as well.  It is the characteristics and features of the animals that define them and differentiate them from one another.

Secondly, when we consider that before this point of development is reached, the zygote/embryo/fetus is clearly as developed or more developed than many of the single or multi-celled organisms that science considers living, this idea becomes very problematic.  If it is not a living human being, but it is alive, and it has human DNA, then what is it?  

Have it your way

Aside from the moment of birth, the moment of conception, or some developmental benchmark, another common answer to when life begins states that it is a personal decision.  This is what many abortion rights groups and activists claim.  To paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, it is between the woman, her doctor, and her god.  (As a self-proclaimed “ardent, practicing Catholic”, I think her choice of word order is telling.)

Well, it is certainly true that you must choose what you believe, but just because you choose to believe it doesn't mean it is true.  For example, lets say I believe that life begins at conception, and Nancy Pelosi believes it begins once the child exits the birth canal, and crazy uncle Billy believes it begins at 3 years of age because kids are annoying during the terrible twos, anyway.  Clearly, all three cannot be right at the same time.  Therefore, two of the people must be wrong, despite the fact that it was their personal belief that led them to their decision.  And if you are wrong about when life begins, then an innocent life has been taken.  

Another problem with this personal choice approach is that there can be no set standards, it opens the door to whatever you think at the moment.  Uncle Billy can say that 2 year olds aren’t human lives because, hey, that’s his decision.  I realize that in reality Uncle Billy wouldn’t be able to act on his belief, but the premise of personal choice allows this.  It is moral relativism at is finest.

Created equal, with an unalienable Right to Life

When you get down to it, it becomes less a question of whether the fetus is human and alive, and more question of whether that life is valuable.  When we start assigning our own judgement of value to another's life, we are opening up doors to some very ugly places. Just look at Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.  Sanger edited the Birth Control Review, which promoted eugenics.  She reffered to immigrants and the poor as "...human weeds,' 'reckless breeders,' 'spawning... human beings who never should have been born." Please note that I am not saying that every pro-choice advocate is also an advocate of eugenics. But if we start to believe that not all human lives should have human rights, and we leave that power up to the government?  Yikes...

When we look beyond all of the emotional, philosophical, political, social, and religious differences involved in this issue, we all end up looking at the same thing, the fetus inside the womb.  The more we look, the more we realize how our perception of what the child is changes more than fundamental make-up of the child itself.  The more we look, the more we open our eyes to the miracle of the power of procreation, and the harder it is to tell ourselves that this is just a “clump of tissue”, or just a “potential” human being.  The more we look, the more we see that the potential has been reached.  If we deny this and abort the child, or if we see this tremendous power simply as a means to our own ends and destroy embryos for stem cells, then we have taken innocent human life.  If this is the road that our generation continues to travel down, then hopefully future generations will look upon this as a dark period in American history, and they will see what is plainly before us in the womb: a child.


Paul said...

Dan, thanks for the grammar check. I think it's fixed...

Tish said...

Hi Paul and Kathryn,
You might want to go to I know Joe and his family through our office. He has similar thoughts on Obama-slavery and abortion. Great minds must think alike!

Happy Thanksgiving to you both--especially this year with the new little blessings in our family, we have so much to be thankful for!!! I so can't wait to hold them all!!!
..and see you as well! Keep posting the pics!