Yesterday, we talked about the sanctity of human life. Today, Armando talked about the Alito nomination and his rabid advocacy of abolishing Roe during the Reagan years. That diary sparked a heated debate over the merits of overturning Roe.

It would seem that my adoption of the sanctity of human life would dovetail with the anti-abortion position. But that is not the case. It is a fact of life that we as a society value the woman over the fetus. Even the right-wing fundamentalists would do so. They would not advocate the death penalty for a woman who ended her pregnancy, even though they normally support the death penalty for murder. If you really think that the fetus is valued the same as a woman, then, by logical extension, you must advocate the death penalty or life imprisonment for a woman who ends her pregnancy. If you don’t, then you are not really pro-life and are being morally inconsistent.
Furthermore, the quality of life is just as important as whether or not there is really a life. An unwanted child will not have the same kind of advantages a wanted child will have. The parents will frequently blame the unwanted child for being born and thus interfering with the mother’s life. The parents will make many mean, unkind remarks that, while not rising to the level of sexual abuse, are nonetheless repeatedly demeaning and humiliating for the child.

This kind of treatment by the parents can stay with a person for their whole lives. They can remember mean and unkind remarks that happened over 25 years ago. They are much more likely to experience mental illness, epilepsy, depression, and all of the problems that go with it. Some will get depression so badly that they will get into a state of living death. They will lie in bed all day, not talk to you for weeks on end, and do nothing but relive all the humiliating experiences they have been through.

I have known people from personal experience that were like this. This personal experience shows me that every child who comes into this world should be wanted and loved. If the mother is honest with herself and decides that she cannot provide a warm loving environment for her potential child, then we should not pass moral judgment when she decides to terminate her pregnancy.

Furthermore, even if the fetus is a living being, it does not follow that we should make the mother into a machine and the fetus a parasite. By the same logic, if we should ever develop the technology to do so, we have to kidnap healthy normal people from the streets and make dying people into parasites and hook them up to the healthy live person. To dehumanize the mother and turn her into a machine does not uphold the sanctity of human life, because developing an ethic of human life requires you to consider quality issues as well.

But we cannot even begin to consider the fetus as a living being in the first place before the third trimester. That is because before the third trimester, the fetus does not even begin to have a cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that regulates reasoning, feeling pain, thoughts, and intelligence. That is what separates humans from non-humans. Therefore, it is a straw man to assert that a newborn baby can be killed off under this standard; the baby has a cerebral cortex, while the fetus does not. Therefore, because the mother is a living being and the fetus is not, then the mother’s welfare should be considered well before the fetus.

Many people will acknowledge this. They will grant the arguments raised above. But then they argue that we should let the people decide these questions and not the courts. But the problem is, their cure is worse than the disease. First of all, even if Americans are queasy about abortion or think Roe was wrongly decided, they have come out clearly against any judge who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. They have accepted Roe as the law of the land even when they do not agree with it. But even if that were not the case, that would still not justify this argument.

The sanctity of human life should not be decided by mob rule. Thus, just because 90% of all Whites support the lynching of Blacks does not justify the lynching of Blacks. The sanctity of human life must always come before the dictates of public opinion. Failure to do so will lead to mob rule and the tyranny of the majority. Tyranny of the Majority is bad because that is the kind of tyranny that was used to justify segregation and slavery in the South.

None of this means that I do not care about the moral and ethical problems that the anti-abortion people raise. I was anti-abortion once myself. But the way to solve this problem is not to overturn Roe and allow the banning of abortions. In fact, the right-wingers are defeating their own case; abortion rates are no lower in countries that prohibit or have severely restrictive laws against abortion. And the way to solve this problem is not to pass moral judgment on people who have them. If you don’t like abortion, then don’t have one and don’t marry someone who would.

What we have to do is to create a welcoming environment for any woman who gets pregnant for any reason and show support for her throughout her pregnancy. And if they decide to end it, we need to maintain that welcoming environment regardless of whether or not your personal feelings about abortion are.

For too long, we have stigmatized women who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock. We have called them sluts or whores when they got pregnant and shunned them after they had their children. We need to create an environment of active support for women who have children regardless of whether they have them within or outside of wedlock. That means taking care of their children as they go back to work. That means chipping in to help pay medical expenses or bills. That could mean just checking in on them to make sure everything is OK. Many women, I suggest, would rather end their pregnancies than deal with the anger and slurs thrown their way.

Furthermore, we need to fight to get comprehensive sex education into the schools, open access to morning-after pills, and fight to end the practice of self-righteous pharmacists who think they have a direct hotline to God and would deny women emergency contraception as a result. Paradoxically, these practices would reduce the number of abortions in this country without us having to pass any kind of moral judgment on women who have unwanted pregnancies.

In addition, the debate about abortion has ignored other factors that might influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The first is the matter of universal health care. I suggest that many women feel that they have to choose between the prospective child and steady finances. When I was born, my parents had to look all over town for a hospital which they could afford. It cost almost everything they had for them to have a normal birth. And that was back before medical costs went rampant. Under universal health care, the woman will not have to make such a choice because their pregnancy will be paid for. The problem with our medical system is that we place a price on human life. HMO’s and insurance company people with no medical training or experience get to decide who gets to have a normal delivery with full coverage and who doesn’t. Putting in a National Health Service like the UK or Canada puts the hands of medical decisions back into the hands of doctors and patients.

The discussion about abortion also does not always take into account cases of rape, incest, or abusive relationships. I suggest many women decide to end their pregnancies because they do not want their prospective children to have to deal with the pain of having an abusive father. They have enough trouble coping with daily living without making things worse. We need to deal with the notion that it is somehow OK to view women as property. Many men have grown up thinking that beating women is somehow normal behavior. The problem is that thanks to No Child Left Behind, we have turned schools into testing factories and taken a cookie-cutter approach to children rather than treating each child as an individual. This also goes back to the need for a comprehensive sex-ed program; such programs would be very effective in helping children to see for themselves that abusive behavior is not normal.

It is an oversimplification to say that life begins with conception, say that therefore abortion is morally wrong, and then foreclose any meaningful discussion about this. We have to take into account that we value the woman as more important than the fetus, take into account quality of life issues, and go from there. If we fail to take into account the quality of life as well as the protection of life, then we might as well walk in a world where many people experience a state of living death.

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