Thursday, April 19, 2007
  Partial Birth Abortion
So the Supreme Court has upheld the law banning partial birth abortions without an exception allowing them in the case where it would be best for the woman's health. A sad day, indeed, when women's health is held so cheap.

I heard one report about how many people objected to partial birth abortions because the foetus progresses partially down the birth canal and then its skull is crushed. I don't see how the alternative described in the report -- the foetus being dismembered within the womb before being removed -- is much better. Its really tough to say which is worse -- death by dismemberment or by having your skull crushed in. Abortion at a late stage is just not a pretty thing.

I can't help but wonder if the next step will be to ban these other abortion processes, even if the woman's heath is at risk.

I actually don't have a lot of sympathy for abortion. Especially abortion that is performed as a sort of retroactive birth control. And I do think that abortion lies in a grey area vis a vis the principle that your rights end at the tip of my nose. Is a foetus a "me" yet? At what point does it become a "person?"

Conception is one easy place to draw the line. After that, it is much more difficult. Do we judge it to be a person when the heart starts beating (around 6 weeks)? When brain waves can first be detected (around 14 weeks)? When it can possibly survive on its own (with current medical technology, about 20-21 weeks)?

If we acknowledge that a government has the responsibility to protect the right of its citizens to life, then it is important to draw the line in the appropriate place. After the time that a foetus is determined to be a person, abortion is no longer a matter of the woman having a right to control her body, or to make a moral choice, but rather it is a matter of the competing rights of individuals. It would seem the right to life has to trump the right not to be pregnant, or the right to moral agency. Once the foetus is a person, then the woman's right to make a choice stops at the end of that new person's nose.

The issue is further complicated because our society at present does not allow killing individuals who are completely dependent on other individuals or machines for their survival. A person who has to be fed or is dependent on an iron lung, for instance. This seems analogous to the condition of a foetus which is dependent upon another individual for survival.

Nonetheless, when I look at the consequences of outlawing abortion -- the impact on the quality of life for both the children and the mothers, and the extended family, the potential for horrible suffering as women seek illegal abortions, the additional pressure that would come to bear on the welfare system, the pressure a million more souls each year would place on the medical system, on housing, social services, the environment -- I don't think we are in a position where we can outlaw it.

Regardles of these moral conundrums, however, it seems pretty clear to me that the Supreme Court's decision in which the women's health is not considered at all, was a bad decision.
 
Comments:
I agree with you almost completely on all counts, Pamela!
 
Beautifully said, Pamela. It is a conundrum. I loathe the idea of abortion, and probably could never bring myself to have one except in the most dire circumstances, but outlawing abortion means only rich women will get them. I wish, with all my heart, we could put our energies into sex education and pregnancy prevention instead of this endless wrangling. My sisters who are nurses don't even believe these partial-birth abortions take place! They say they've never seen one, or met a doctor who would perform one.

Still, I'm appalled by our president's prating about the sanctity of life and then causing the deaths of half a million Iraqis. I can't disconnect these two things.

Thanks for a great essay.
 
I see this issue from a different angle. I do not believe that giving life to another human being without being able to care for it is the right of everyone. I believe that many poor uneducated women will continue to have unwanted children and continue to fail to gain access to birth control despite any legislation regarding abortion.

Yet, I feel abortion has and should continue to have a place in our society, for those with just enough education and courage to use it thus preventing large numbers of unwanted babies. Often very young inexperienced women without family support for birth control find that they can seek family help with an unwanted pregancy or if not, social service agencies can help. Often they did not adequately think of the consequences or protect themselves, partially because of their inexperience or perhaps partially because of the families religious or moral beliefs which rejects "safe" sex as a sin, thus no birth control.

Sometimes married women who have "enough" children already find abortion the only way out of overloading a strained financial and emotional situation especially when lacking her husband's support for safe sex or abortion. Sometimes those decisions are not easy for women to make and it takes time for them to realize the full impact of another child on their lives.

There are no easy answers, but global warming would not be the great problem it is today if there were fewer humans. World population is no longer on the public conscience the way it was in the Sixties, but it needs to be back on it!!! Traditionally middle class families in rich societies restrict the number of children they have; poor families in that same culture and poor families in poor cultures have 7,9,10,12 children or more.

I do not believe that life itself is sacred. I believe the right to produce more life comes with responsiblities that must be addressed by the society in general, especially if the individual cannot or will not take responsibility. I know that government-dictated birth control such as in China is deplorable to those of in the US unused to government intervention and control. But hey, yell "fire" in a theatre and your rights have just ended!!

Having a baby does not mean you should have the right to increased welfare checks coming in to pay for it nor that you have the right to bring a child into a world where it will suffer the ramifications of being poor, inadequately cared for, and unwanted by those who must nurture and develop its morals and self worth.
 
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Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.


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