Abortion. It’s one of the few subjects that stir up controversy just by name alone. Rarely does a discussion on the matter end peacefully. Emotions run high and, before long, the discussion morphs into a debate which devolves into a heated argument. While unfortunate, it’s to be expected on some level. In fact, many refuse to entertain such discussions in an attempt to avoid the inevitable argument. Is this a reasonable solution? Should we just ignore the cases being presented and pretend nothing is wrong? Do we agree to disagree and let bygones be bygones? Is there really a way to settle a debate that has been going on for decades?
Before one can truly form an educated opinion on the topic, I believe a proper understanding of the history and background is essential. Regardless of personal belief or conviction, where there is a lack of understanding, foolishness is almost certain to ensue. This is the birthplace of ill-informed decisions and misconstrued opinions based on faulty knowledge. Out of respect for the issue, I would like to take a few moments to review some of the history. Though I wish we could journey through the intricacies of the past together, due to space restrictions, we’ll have to settle for a brief yet intriguing summary.
To begin, we first need to travel back in time to March 1970. There, we will meet a young woman who appears to be a relatively normal person upon first glace. Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. However, what we don’t know is that she is a single pregnant woman who is seeking to terminate her pregnancy in a state that has strict abortion laws. This “ordinary” woman, Norma McCorvey, is about to be known across the nation as Jane Roe (Rose, 2008, p. 93).
Roe had just filed a lawsuit against the District Attorney of Dallas County, Texas “on behalf of herself and all other women” claiming that her right to privacy was violated when held against the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution (Rose, 2008, p. 93) and that the existing abortion laws were preventing women from receiving adequate medical advice (Hitchcock, 2007, p.49). After an arduous three year battle, on January 22, 1973 (Davis, 2004, p. 141), the court ruled that, “For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.” and “For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.” (Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 163, 1973). Thus, abortion was now a private matter between the physician and the patient. Unless the patient was beyond the first trimester, there was little to nothing the state could do about it. Though the decision to terminate pregnancy ultimately rested within the hands of the physician, the power to choose was, for all intents and purposes, placed within the hands of the mother. Indeed, the future was about the change and, depending on your stance on abortion, it was either for the better or the worse.
So, here we stand today. It’s been forty-one years since the court’s decision and women have been free to obtain abortion-on-demand ever since. Likewise, the abortion debate has been waging equally as long, if not longer. As with all controversial topics, over the years, each opposing side has rallied with their peers to make their points, defend their positions, and stand their ground. In the beginning, I asked if this was a debate that could ever be solved. I dare say there is a plethora of ways to make the case that abortion is simply an illogical and inconsistent practice for anyone of sound mind. All we have to do is have the courage to peel back the curtain.
The reason it’s such a heated topic isn’t because of the nature of those discussing it. It’s because of the nature of the discussion itself. It’s more than trying to agree on fashion or debating which cereal tastes the best. Indeed, far more is at stake in this debate. We’re dealing with human life. Whether or not one wants to admit it, regardless of the outcome, the very basis of the discussion is the topic of human life and all that goes with it. Even further, it is a discussion on the sanctity of human life. The focus may drift from time to time but, in the end, it always comes back to this point. While I admit this may be a bold assertion, I also truly believe objective logic and reasoning will show it to be both the central and essential point of the debate. Interestingly enough, of all the “friendly” discussions I’ve had over the years, the topic of doctor/patient confidentiality has yet to come up. It seems privacy was just the force required to get the snowball rolling downhill. For the sake of moving forward, I feel it’s high time we review some of the arguments put forth by the pro-choice movement.
One common argument is that our country is already filled with neglected children and that we, as responsible adults, shouldn’t be contributing to the problem. Part of the support for this stance is the claim that children born of unwanted pregnancies are prone to social and interpersonal difficulties (Faúndes & Barzelatto, 2006, p. 39). This is just absurd when you really think about it. What do acceptance and ease have to do with life? Should we now be authorized to execute those whom we deem undesirable? Many have said it isn’t fair for a child to be brought into the world only to be rejected. Life isn’t fair but that doesn’t mean it ceases to be life. It is indeed a sad scenario when there is a young child who is neglected. We see countless stories of small children being taken away from their parents due to deplorable living conditions. Many of them even have disorders from years of psychological scarring. If one were to suggest we execute each one of these children as they’re discovered, he would be viewed as an even worse monster than the deadbeat parents. Why, then, do we see this as such an honorable option? How can one possibly suggest it’s nobler to destroy an unborn infant in an effort to prevent him from being born into an atrocious situation than it is to destroy a five year old who has been suffering in it for years? Why not end the misery of one and prevent the misery of the other? Where do we draw the line? Can it even be drawn clearly and distinctly? Of course, this may be a moot point if you aren’t of the persuasion that the fetus is a human life. Thankfully, this will be addressed shortly so I ask you to patiently read on.
Second, many have taken the stance that abortion is an adequate, though controversial, solution to overpopulation in our society (McKinney & Schoch, 1998, p. 133). Some have even gone so far as to take this approach and claim, much like hunting is the answer to overpopulation of a given species in the wilderness, abortion is the answer to overpopulation in society. Are we now comparing ourselves to animal control? Are we once again choosing who needs to go? Are we now playing judge, jury, and executioner based solely off our own personal and private desires? The opinion of mankind changes with every breeze. Some may say gang wars should be a legal form of murder so long as no innocent bystanders get injured. Is it possible others may feel we should allow people older than a certain cutoff age to be murdered? After all, they’ve lived their prime and are of limited usefulness in most cases so far as a productive standpoint is concerned. Of course, I don’t actually believe either of these and am only using them to make the point that killing other human beings isn’t the answer. That being said, I’ve heard some claim support of the latter option and that, in my personal opinion, is no better than the pro-choice camp as both are suggesting a certain group is less deserving of life than another particular group of people. Even Margaret Sanger, who was instrumental in the founding of Planned Parenthood of America, believed birth control, a term she coined, was instrumental in controlling the birth rate of those whom she deemed inferior (Axelrod, 1999, p. 128). Is this where we stand today?
Third, and perhaps one of the most common arguments, we’ve undoubtedly all heard the claim that a woman has the right to do as she pleases with her own body. While this sounds like a very solid point, it’s full of many holes. First and foremost, it isn’t her body we’re discussing. It’s the body of the child inside her womb. Nobody is trying to tell her how she is to cut her hair. Nobody is trying to tell her she can’t get a tattoo, sleep with as many partners as she pleases, or reserve herself for only one person. No, all of these are her rights and nobody can strip her of them. The pro-life camp isn’t oppressing her in any of these ways. She isn’t limited in the slightest when it comes to her rights. Yet, despite all this, she continually claims she is being oppressed. I suppose this all depends on how one defines oppression. If you define it as someone limiting your free actions in any way whatsoever, I would agree in full. Police officers are oppressing her. Lawmakers are oppressing her. In this case, any removal of choice without consequence would be defined as oppression. However, most would agree this is a necessary oppression to prevent us, as a society, from slipping into chaos and anarchy. Because of this differentiation, we must limit the definition of oppression to simply the limiting of one’s rights. Does one have the right to take the life of another? Countless court verdicts shout a resounding no. How can a woman possibly imply her rights are being violated if the only limitation is her ability to destroy the unborn child within her womb? This is not a violation of rights. This is not oppression. If anything, each person is guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence (US 1776). A similar assertion can be found in the Bill of Rights (U.S. Const. amend. V). Notice the key word: life. Before continuing, it’s only fair to point out that developing fetuses are not currently protected under the aforementioned constitutional amendment simply because they are not deemed to be people until the point of viability. This is the direct result of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (Sproul, 2010, p. 41). However, while the court may have ruled that the fetus isn’t protected, does this ruling mean it shouldn’t be? Rights are imbued to us all as human beings regardless of our age. As for the right to life, there is zero justification for taking it away without due process in a court of law. Since the infant has committed no crime, any charges against it should be instantly dismissed. There simply is no case. In the end, it isn’t about a woman’s ability to do as she pleases with her own body. It’s about a woman’s inability to do as she pleases to the body of another. Once she becomes pregnant, it’s no longer about her body. This is just one of many red herrings meant to draw the attention away from the actual issue. Though, under our current laws, she may have the right to an abortion, we must always ask ourselves if simply having a right is synonymous with doing what is right. Furthermore, do we have the moral right to do that which is morally wrong (Sproul, 2010, p. 115)?
Fourth, there are those who simply do not believe the fetus to be a human life. Does this undo the pro-life stance? Is there any ground to stand on if the opposing side simply doesn’t believe the same? After all, we can’t force religion upon anybody. Is an atheist wrong if he doesn’t believe in God and, as a result, chooses to not implement certain practices into his life? This appears to be the case many within this mindset are making. Thankfully, it is just another hollow argument. The evidence is mounted against them as are their inconsistencies. I’ve heard the fetus compared to cancer. They say it’s nothing more than a clump of cells that are replicating into a mass. Since we have no problem removing these living cells during chemotherapy or surgery, it shouldn’t matter if one chooses to have an abortion early on while the cells are still developing and replicating. It doesn’t take much more than a glance to see the flaw in this logic. Cancer, while indeed growing, will always remain cancer. A surgeon will never remove cancerous cells only to find them crying on the surgical table and desiring to be comforted. Those particular cells, while being from a human, will never become a human. The same cannot be said of a fetus. By two weeks, the fetus has a discernable heartbeat. It has a unique blood type that is separate from the mother’s. By six weeks the child has fingers at the end of each delicate hand, brain waves pulsing through a mind that is full of potential, and movement within the womb. By nine weeks, gender can be distinguished, a unique set of fingerprints have been created, and the baby has a fully functioning set of kidneys (Bosgra, 1987, p. 7-8). A heartbeat and brainwaves alone demonstrate life within an adult. Why is there such hesitation to apply the same determination to a developing embryo? Would this not simply be prenatal life (Sproul, 2010, p. 55)? Every last adult on earth began as this cluster of replicating cells and look at what we’ve become! From this perspective, the fetus is only at another stage of development in its life. A fetus is not an infant. An infant is not a toddler. A toddler is not a teenager. A teenager is not a middle-aged adult. A middle-aged adult is not a senior citizen. However, just because a toddler is not a senior citizen does not mean the toddler is not a human life. The same can be said of the fetus. It’s a human being that is simply at an earlier stage of development in the life cycle. Despite this, many will say this isn’t enough to prove anything. This has only opened the door for early term abortions vs. late term abortions using terms such as “point of viability” to justify it. Because of this, we must resort to logic and consistency. While I may not be able to prove beyond all shadow of a doubt, though all signs point to the affirmative, that the fetus is a human life, the pro-choice crowd is also unable to prove otherwise. Therefore, it boils down to responsibility. At the risk of overusing an analogy, I’d like us to once again refer to the hunters mentioned earlier. Imagine two hunters in the woods that are hunting for deer. Hunter A sees movement behind a shrub but isn’t certain what’s behind it. He’s fairly certain it’s a deer and the law states that he’s able to shoot it. Hunter B says he thinks it’s another hunter but he can’t be sure either. It moves like a person and seems to be exhibiting human tendencies but, due to limited vision, neither one is absolutely certain. Now, imagine Hunter A says he doesn’t agree with Hunter B and wants to take the shot. Hunter B says he’s fairly certain it’s another person and that Hunter A shouldn’t do it. Does Hunter A have the right to take the shot? Absolutely! However, it may not be without severe consequences. If it does turn out to be a human, he is now facing murder charges as well as recklessness with a deadly weapon. Ignorance won’t be enough to overturn the guilty sentence. Furthermore, he wouldn’t even be able to claim ignorance as he was warned numerous times by Hunter B. Sure, there is always a chance the “Hunter B’s” of the world could be wrong wrong but is the gamble really worth it when it comes to human life? Would you be willing to take the shot if you weren’t absolutely certain whether or not it was a person you were taking out? Basic human responsibility should answer that one.
Finally, we can lay aside all the arguments and take a look at the emotional inconsistencies. There tend to be several categories of emotions. There are those who don’t believe it to be human life and don’t even feel the slightest tinge of guilt or remorse when they have an abortion performed. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who do believe it to be human life and they feel extreme guilt and remorse post-abortion. These, I’m convinced, are the only two consistent categories. The inconsistent categories would be those who do not believe it to be human life yet deliberate based on emotion as well as those who do believe it to be human life yet feel nothing. With the latter, this is simply no different than any other murderers out there as their own consciences have been seared. They fully believe the fetus to be life yet have justified the removal of life (killing) for reasons unknown. In the end, there is no justification for such a person as he would openly admit to “legal” murder. As for the former group, why do they feel emotionally torn if it isn’t a human life? If they truly believe the fetus is just a clump of cells, there should be no remorse. There should be no deliberation. It should be a decision as simple as taking out the trash or mowing the lawn. Deciding whether or not to discard your beloved pair of pants should be more painstaking than whether or not to have an abortion. After all, you spent time breaking those pants in just right and you’ve had them for years. The fetus just got into your body recently. Either get rid of it and move on or decide to keep it, water it, and see what it grows into. Your emotions should only enter the picture after the baby is born for, prior to this, it’s not a life so there is no reason to be emotionally attached. To be honest, this emotional turmoil in the life of one who is pondering an abortion is a sign that she truly does believe the fetus to be a human life regardless what she may claim when asked in public. Her conscience has already betrayed her. At this point, we once again enter the realm of moral and ethical responsibility as made in the previous point.
So, where do we go from here? Do we continue to stand by idly as we hear of neglected children having no place in this world? Do we declare open season on those we deem inferior? Do we continue to allow the right to privacy to trample a child’s basic right to life? Is it time to hold people accountable for their irresponsible and reckless actions? Sadly, these are questions each of you must answer for yourself. As I stated in the beginning, abortion is a highly emotional topic. Perhaps you’ve gone through with an abortion of your own. If you felt no remorse, my hope is this commentary has given you something to chew on. However, if you felt even the smallest tinge of guilt, my hope is that you will be convinced, now more than ever, that a fetus is an intricately crafted human being that is fighting against all odds for survival. Let us be a voice for the voiceless and stand against abortion. Any other option just doesn’t make sense.
~ Travis W. Rogers
Axelrod, A. (1999). The Complete Idiot's Guide to 20th Century History. New York: Alpha Books.
Davis, J. (2004). Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing.
Faúndes, A., & Barzelatto, J. J. (2006). The Human Drama of Abortion : A Global Search for Consensus. Nashville, Tenn: Vanderbilt University Press.
Hitchcock, S. (2007). Roe V. Wade : Protecting a Woman's Right to Choose. New York: Chelsea House.
McKinney, M. L., & Schoch, R. M. (1998). Environmental Science : Systems and Solutions. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Roe v. Wade. 410 U.S. 163 (1973).
Rose, M. (2008). Abortion : A Documentary and Reference Guide. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.
Sproul, R.C. (2010). Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue. Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing.
U.S. Const. amend. V.
U.S. Declaration of Independence, Paragraph 2 (1776).