Friday, January 22, 2016

Discussion With Pro-Choice Advocates on the Beginning of Life

As many are probably aware, today was the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. Even with the impending blizzard coming upon the Northeast, thousands of people from all over the nation came together calling for an end to the horrors of abortion. I even heard that popular stars such as Kelsey Grammer made an appearance. Anyways, I recently had the opportunity to have a bit of dialogue with someone who calls herself pro-choice in a Facebook com-box post. 

I jumped into the conversation a little late, where a few pro-lifers were already responding to this woman's objections. The main objection among them, was that life did not begin at conception, and when pressed, it was really hard to find out when exactly life does begin... that is, objectively and not subjectively. The discussion began from a meme talking about how a mother was showing her daughter her own pre-natal photos, while the mother referred to the daughter as a "clump of cells" Until she decided at birth she was a "human being". So the question of the whole meme was "When does life begin?" Our conversation starts with the pro-choice woman's answer. I've edited the conversation for brevity and have changed names (except my own, still Nicholas) and have also labeled each person by color. My posts will be in blue, Jo's will be in red, Mary's in green, Tom's in orange, and Anne's in purple.

March for Life 2013
Jo: Uhm, viability. 24 weeks. Biology isn't that hard.

Mary: That's friend's son was viable before that. With neonatal technology getting more and more advanced, you can't rely on that. There needs to be a more permanent indicator. Like, conception indicating the beginning of human life.

Jo: Then, as a woman who's suffered with infertility for over a decade, I've murdered dozens of babies. That just doesn't make sense to me. Most hospitals will not provide care before 24 weeks but there could be exceptions. Viability is the key. I've heard it a million times. The best medicine in the world couldn't save my pregnancies or turn them into babies that I could take home. In fact, because I have low HCG (apparently rare, doc ordered a D&C at 8 weeks because my HCG was so low, but I refused and she's turning 13 this year) I can't even get any prenatal support to help prevent "spontaneous abortion". Are the conservative pro-life doctors accomplices in my numerous murders? No. Conception without implantation is incredibly common. Find a definition that fits how reproduction works. The majority of sperm+ egg do not become humans.

Mary: I'm sorry for your loss; miscarriage is a heartbreaking thing. It isn't deliberate like abortion. Cancer cells are not human fetuses- fetuses/embryos- whatever stage of development they're in- are separate individuals from the mother, with their own DNA, blood type, and heartbeat. There is no comparison of the two.

Jo: Then I'd like to sue every doctor for wrongful death for refusing prenatal care based on a negative urine HCG. Can you see how this would get ugly?

Mary: Anyway, if your definition of human is viability without help, does that mean adults in comas or on life support or in wheelchairs aren't human? Or mentally challenged people who need help taking care of themselves aren't human? Do you see the slippery slope of this way of thinking? I don't blame you- I'd be angry, too.

Jo: Yes, cancer is a human organism. Cancer is human cells that have reproduced abnormally and do so rapidly when exposed to excess estrogen (as an example). My point was that human cells are not exactly rare or inherently important. If someone doesn't want to carry a pregnancy and she's not your surrogate and it's not viable, then what? We make abortions illegal and desperate women go back to coat hangers? I'm not saying that I want people to run out and have an abortion but it shouldn't be anyone's business. I don't think that I have the right to tell anyone what to do with their body, unless it harms mine. It just doesn't work for me. 

Maybe you feel strongly about when life begins but after MANY trips down this road and many friends in support groups - I see that abortion laws hurt women like me and they won't stop someone who is determined to end a pregnancy. The stupid "partial birth abortion" law cost a friend her uterus as she was forced to wait until the dying fetus had no heartbeat before being induced. The resulting infection took away her ability to ever have children. There's no point in arguing with people passionate enough to join a FB group, but there's nothing black/white about life. Nothing.

Anne: There was actually a woman recently who did use a coat hanger in the literal sense. Her baby was born alive and was seriously injured, and will suffer from disabilities due solely to the actions of the mother.

Jo: I never said viability without help, just viability without unconsenting help. Doctors and nurses and medical researchers should absolutely do whatever they can. They are doing so willingly. A woman denied an abortion is unwillingly carrying a pregnancy and I have no authority to force her to do so. 1/4 of women are sexually assaulted, throwing away birth control pills and/or poking holes in condoms is a form of abuse/control.

Look, I work in social/behavioral science and I know what these unwanted kids endure. Some of them go on to carry a pregnancy at 13 or 14 as a result of being prostituted. I'm not just creating scenarios, I'm speaking of cases that I know about. Abortion seems cruel until you meet a young teenage girl who has no education, no idea that she has any other life options and she's pregnant by a 38yo drug dealer. Keep your convictions, just don't think that being pro-choice is the same as not loving your children (before and after they're born). But in my book, I was pregnant until she was viable, then I was a mother waiting for her daughter. I need that wall and some people need options.

Anne: The difference between cancer cells and a fetus is that while both originate from human cells, cancer is abnormal and is not intended to be present within the biological system of our bodies. Our female reproductive systems exist with the purpose of carrying out reproduction, just like how our integumentary system exists to protect the muscular system and our digestive system exists to process food into energy (not saying that these are the same as pregnancy; I'm simply making a comparison between the intended purposes of biological bodily systems). It would be difficult to define a fetus as a "parasite" or "invader" under this context, because the production of offspring is the natural purpose of the reproductive system and the keystone to the evolutionary development of all animals. Cancer cells are an abnormal occurrence that is not intended by the cellular process of meiosis, that "natural intention" being the basis of my argument in this context.

Nicholas: For what it's worth, I am so sorry for the suffering you have endured with your miscarriages. However, you said:
"Look, I work in social/behavioral science and I know what these unwanted kids endure. Some of them go on to carry a pregnancy at 13 or 14 as a result of being prostituted. I'm not just creating scenarios, I'm speaking of cases that I know about. Abortion seems cruel until you meet a young teenage girl who has no education, no idea that she has any other life options and she's pregnant by a 38yo drug dealer. "

I have to say, the above quote scares me. Are you implying that these "unwanted kids" are better off not existing? Could you clarify? If their mothers had the chance to abort them before they were born, would that have been a greater good than allowing them to come to term and be born? I ask, because no one's future is written at birth. You say "abortion seems cruel", but I think it's more cruel to tell that "young teenage girl who has no education" that doctors allowing her birth is somehow more cruel than her mother choosing an abortion.

Christ Blessing the Children- Vincent Sellaer
Jo: Yes, I believe that stopping the cycle of abuse via abortion is more humane. We'll never agree on that and I hope that you never have to see what I've seen. It's easy to believe in the goodness of humanity when you aren't facing the ugliness of humanity every day. "Why?" "I never wanted them in the first place." It will rattle you...

[Also,] I said that I HOPE that others don't have to see and that it's easy to see goodness without ugliness. Neither of those said that other people didn't see ugly and think differently. You and other posters have no business making assumptions about my emotional state. Not believing the same thing as you does not show some emotional problem. Maybe you all want to legally change the way that life is defined to conception because you're bitter? There's certainly a question of what motivates you to want to control other people. It's not a bomb. The neighbor's abortion isn't killing you. It really doesn't involve you.

Mary: There is not, in Roe v Wade, a legal definition for personhood; in fact, the SCOTUS specifically refrained from defining it precisely because they weren't sure, given the technology available 40 years ago. 

Jo: There's a big difference between an unexpected pregnancy and one that a woman does not want to carry. You should also note that several things have changed since the 70's. First, the definition of abuse has become more strict and included more circumstances, awareness has made reporting abuse more frequent, teachers are now mandatory reporters and women have increasingly become self-sufficient enough to leave and report abusive husbands. We talk about things today that just weren't talked about 40 years ago. So, statistics really need to be looked at in context. Is child abuse up or child abuse reporting up? I think that most Americans know how screwed up the adoption system is and how crowded the foster care system is right now. As my husband pointed out, I need to quit playing chess with the pigeons and go adult.

Tom: Jo, just want to say I've argued the same points. People who want to poke holes in other's views can always do so. I agree that while abortion may not end abuse, I do believe it lowers it. But this is my belief & I have no proof. It reminds me of a death penalty debate I read about. The question was whether or not the death penalty detours crime. In the end, the agreement was that the only way to know for sure was to only execute criminals who committed crimes on Mon, Wed, & Fri & see if the crime rate dropped on those days. In the end, I don't believe life can be defined. Everything in nature kills other life to survive. Many animals kill their own young. The whole definition of life is complicated & involved. In the end, it's all about choice.

Nicholas: "The whole definition of life is complicated & involved. In the end, it's all about choice."

The above sounds a lot like what Justice Kennedy had to say in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey in 1992:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”

So the definition of life is "all about choice"... meaning individual humans can decide on life's meaning without taking into account absolute truths stemming from scientific fact? The point in the original comic still stands. An arbitrary dividing line is drawn up by each person as Justice Kennedy stated above when it come to defining human life. But as pointed out above in previous posts, this isn't a philosophical question but a biological one. At fertilization the egg and sperm cease to exist. A new being is made with it's own unique DNA. This is specifically called a zygote.

Jo, I agree with Anne. You've assumed that I am naive and that I haven't dealt with the ugliness of humanity. I have. And I have seen the pain that others suffer through due to abuse. At least when you said "Yes, I believe that stopping the cycle of abuse via abortion is more humane"... you were being logically consistent with your "concept of existence". I hope (well... I sort of hope not, I suppose) you are just as logically consistent when you talk to that young teenage girl with no education, and that you tell her that she was never wanted in the first place and it would've been more humane if she were aborted in utero. If you do not tell her this, I feel that's disingenuous. Why hide the "truth" of the matter?

I can't be so pessimistic, I truly believe that each person has equal dignity no matter their circumstances and no matter if they were wanted or not. The answer to the "screwed up" adoption system (a generalization) and the overcrowded foster care system is not extinguishing whatever you have determined is inside a woman's uterus. We cannot stop the denials of rights and dignity perpetuated by abuse by resorting to the "humane" option of totally annihilating the rights and dignity of the life growing inside the womb. You can't combat an annihilation of dignity and/or basic rights with another annihilation of dignity and/or basic rights. The difference between us humans and animals is that we are RATIONAL. We are rational animals that can reason. Animals cannot do this, thus they do kill their own young. This is barbaric when we see humans do it to their own children. Therefore, this is why many believe it is equally barbaric to actively snuff out the life of a unique child in utero. They deserve a chance. They do not deserve to be written off out of hand. Their lives are worth much more than that by virtue of being a member of the human race.

Jo: To tell a damaged young woman that abortion would have been a better option is heartless and (sadly) unnecessary. By teens, many have already reached this conclusion and require anti-psychotic medications, therapy and then some guidance on what her CHOICE will be about the pregnancy. There are trials to prep for and dozens of needs to meet. As I said in several posts, I don't believe that those who are helping a person to be viable (and really, some of these girls are half dead) by choice is the problem. The girl is already here. No one is (any longer) caring for her without consent. The best that can be done is get as much help as possible and give her tools to grow into someone who can function. 

Assuming that I was interacting in a capacity as myself and not a representative of an institution, I would encourage her to have an abortion. Maybe she'll be healthy enough to be a parent many years later but she needs help, no the responsibility of motherhood (and science tells us that early abortions are less risky than carry a child to term, especially for adolescent girls). I would provide facts, options and choices. Of course what I believe is that any young teen should have an abortion BUT I believe that it's her choice. There are fringe issues with choice (especially the relative powerlessness of men - the ability to transplant a fetus from one woman into another would be amazing) but we're not there yet. I don't want to control other people. I don't want to force anyone to have an abortion. I think that our culture has gotten so mixed up with the idea of "rights" that we missed the boat. Life, LIBERTY and the pursuit of happiness. I'm opposed to almost everything that is trying to push an ideology on other people. 

Miscarriages are hard. I imagine that abortions are just as hard. I hear all of your reasons why human life is precious but it just doesn't fit my worldview. To think that all of these great and unique people could have grown up had my body been cooperative is really... spiritual or religious to me. I lost blood and pieces of tissue and I grieved the future that I had imagined. Isn't that what this whole argument is about? What do you imagine? I don't have any scientific research that leads me to believe that my fetuses suffered or felt pain as my body broke them down and expelled them. Logic says that the same is true of other abortions (spontaneous or not). I can't wrap my head around thinking that it's okay to force some one else (especially rape/incest survivors) to carry a pregnancy with all of the difficulties that brings because a middle class couples who can get through the adoption screening process wants it. It's called killing when a part of someone's body wants to get rid of the fetus (the brain) but not when my body does that exact same thing. If abortion is murder, IVF is reckless endangerment (putting living humans in an environment with a history of killing other living humans) and if that pregnancy ends in spontaneous abortion, it's manslaughter. That's what happens when you recklessly endanger someone and they die. 

At the end of the day, I just don't want to have your worldview put restrictions on what I can do with my body and the same with all people. Should we decide on IVF and go through everything and find out that we'll either lose all of the fetuses or have to reduce, I don't want anyone other than my husband and I (along with medical professionals) in on the decision. I just see so many variables and different lives in this world and think that the more choices that we have, the better. Life isn't how we expect or imagine. I encourage you to pour money and backing into better medical science. Give the world more options, not fewer.

Nicholas: Jo, to a few of your points...

"The girl is already here... The best that can be done is get as much help as possible and give her tools to grow into someone who can function."

I agree with you here. Everything we can, be it from government programs or the kindness of people's hearts (yes, there are kind people out there), must be done to help these women. However, I would not encourage anyone in any situation to have an abortion. I would encourage them to explore their options, because if there is a "choice" that would include more than the option of abortion. I would suggest something like Aid For Women, which provides services such as counseling, housing, life skills classes, and healthcare referrals:

You also say, "I don't want to control other people." Then why make the decision of extinguishing a life that is not yours. I suppose you've already established that you do not believe what is growing in utero is a life; that it has no more importance than a cluster of cancer cells. I am curious to know what your definition of "people" or a Person" is. Is it solely the fact that they can sustain themselves independently?

You go on to say, "To think that all of these great and unique people could have grown up had my body been cooperative is really... spiritual or religious to me." I don't think that one saying the life of a unique human being is more important than that of an animal is implying an overtly spiritual or religious connotation. The founding fathers of this nation said themselves, "... that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." You seem to emphasize liberty, but only the liberty of one that is autonomous enough to fit your subjective definition of personhood. I think that your idea of "[being] pregnant until she was viable, then I was a mother waiting for her daughter" is just as "spiritual" or "religious", if not more so in my opinion, than the idea I quoted at the top of this paragraph. I say this because this idea of "viability" makes you the sole arbiter of when life begins, independent of what anyone else, or any other objective science might say.

Who has made you the arbiter of when life begins? Obviously, in your book, a change happened when your daughter became viable. If a change happened over the course of time during those 9 months of pregnancy, then we should be able to measure the exact point, the exact SECOND, of when your daughter gained personhood and when she gained viability. One moment you were just pregnant with some cells. The next you were carrying your daughter. I see no scientific backing for such a scenario. Do you see the problem here? How can you subjectively decide when one is a live and when one is not, because there are thousands of women who will disagree with you; some thinking viability happens when the baby first moves. Others when the baby is born. Would you like to tell these women they are wrong? Who is right?

This is the problem we have when we ignore objectivity and substitute or won subjective thoughts on a process that has already been defined by science. Studies objectively assert that: "The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote." [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.... The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity." [O'Rahilly, Ronan and Muller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29]

I will take the word of objective studies, such as these two, over your subjective definition of the beginning of human life any day.

You also said, "It's called killing when a part of someone's body wants to get rid of the fetus (the brain) but not when my body does that exact same thing. If abortion is murder, IVF is reckless endangerment (putting living humans in an environment with a history of killing other living humans) and if that pregnancy ends in spontaneous abortion, it's manslaughter." First off, yes I believe IVF could be considered reckless endangerment. I'm against IVF for several reasons, including the fact that when there are an "excess" number of embryos we get the PC term "reduction" of those embryos. Or those embryos are left to languish in a freezer somewhere. Here's where I really see a flaw in your logic though.

My father-in-law has epilepsy. While this is rare for him, once in a while, he has seizures. He and my mother-in-law are moving soon. Let's say we are both carrying the TV stand upstairs from the basement. The stair case there is really steep, and I mean steep. He goes up the stairs first and we're both struggling with this TV stand. He stops near the top of the stairs, and then pushes the stand and lets go as I tumble down the stairs, break my neck, and am crushed by the heavy TV stand. This was an act of his will, an act of his brain, as you say. This was pre-meditated. He decided to push me down the stairs, thus he would be guilty of committing murder.

But now let's change the circumstances but not the end result. We get to the top of the stairs and my father-in-law pauses. He starts going into convulsions as he has a seizure. I can't keep the stand steady since he has let go. I fall backwards, break my neck, and am crushed by the stand. This results in my death. My father-in-law's body has failed him, just as the body fails when a spontaneous abortion (a miscarriage) happens. He did not will my death, and no court of law would convict him of murder, or manslaughter for that matter. For the same reason, a miscarriage is not murder or manslaughter, and I sincerely hope you have never felt that way at any point during your miscarriages. I know for a short time my wife felt guilty for failing our child when she miscarried, but she soon realized that sometimes the body breaks down. She didn't will it. She was not at fault for the loss of the pregnancy, and neither is any woman who suffers a miscarriage.

As you said regarding my outlook on life, I would also like to assert I would not like to have your worldview, Jo. Yours seems to put an emphasis on bodily autonomy of one person in the equation, the mother; but when your definition of what forms a body, in other words a person, is so subjective… your argument falls apart. I agree with you, "the more choices we have the better." I do donate to medical scientific research, in part so that doctors can find a way to treat women so they don't have to suffer as you suffered. As my wife suffered.

However, I don't think that abortion is a good option as we infringe on the liberty of the person in utero. Due to your philosophical, and what I would call your "spiritual" (but not scientific) beliefs, I understand you will not call such a being a person. It is my hope with the advancement of medical science, we will have more options in the future for women, and with the advent of those options, and with the advent of recognizing that what is growing in the uterus is indeed a person... we will no longer have a need to present abortion as an "option".

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