Abortion answer lies in definition of life


My favorite columnist, John Keisling, again teased liberals with his hyperbolic somersaults. His last column putting abortion on par with infanticide was a brilliant satire ("Pro-choice arguments favor Susan Smith," Wildcat, September 10). However, his argument was not on the main and more complex issue regarding abortion; that is, the personhood of an embryo or fetus. Instead, he focused on the straw man and punched it to death. Ironically, the straw-man argument abortion is a personal decision and should be left to women has been provided by naive pro-choice activists. Keisling ended his satirical column with the following words: "We must realize that once infanticide is safe and legal, we will have happier children, zero population growth, and a truly free society, with every child a wanted child. On the issue of infanticide, we can all be pro-child, pro-family, pro-choice."

As a reaction to Keisling's satire, Shelley Cormier, a pro-choice pre-law student, tried to distinguish between killing the fetus and children by "umbilical cord" argument: "A pregnant woman contains within her a fetus attached to her body via the umbilical cord, which makes the fetus a part of her bodya body of which she should ultimately have control. Once the fetus is delivered and the umbilical cord is cut, it becomes a separate entity and thus a child who possesses human rights." ("Abortion, murder should not be compared," September 15).

This bizarre response provides another straw man, a really soft one, for pro-lifers. According to this "umbilical cord argument," a woman has the right to kill her newborn baby before the umbilical cord is cut. If a free-spirited mother does not like the shape or the color of the newborn "part of her body," she can conveniently cut his or her neck instead of the umbilical cord. Government or society should not force a free woman to raise an unwanted baby, especially a baby with a huge black birthmark on her cheek!

Is a fetus really a part of woman's body, like the liver, pancreas, uterus, colon, etcetera? Are those who do not possess such a part deficient, or handicapped? What is the function of this fetal part? For how long should a woman have absolute control on the fate of this "part"? What if this so-called part is another person with his or her own complete human body parts, but sharing nutrition with the bigger and responsible partner? I believe that the argument is futile without addressing the compelling question: when a fetus can be considered a person?

If a fetus is considered a person, then the society may have the right to protect the life of little persons from the mothers who conceived them. None of the "my freedom, my privacy, my choice, my fun, my control" can justify aborting little persons whose lives depend on those who intentionally or negligently chose to conceive them. A bad choice (conceiving an unwanted baby) cannot justify another bad choice (killing that baby). Even rape and incest may not justify such an action. In the case the woman's life is in danger, the little person can be treated as an intruder and woman can be granted abortion for the purpose of self-defense.

However, if the fetus is not considered a person, woman should have all the control over it. In this case, the fetus, though a potential candidate for personhood, may be considered a part of a woman's body appearing occasionally as a peculiar allergic reaction after traditional sexual intercourse!

The question for pro-lifers is this: in order to equate abortion with infanticide you must first prove that the fetus is a person. Obviously, you should roughly define personhood and explain why the embryo and fetus should be considered a person. The burden of proof lays on pro-life party, since they are demanding a legal sanction on abortion. Nevertheless, the negative form of the question is also imperative for pro-choice people for ethical reasons.

A precise definition of personhood may be impossible, like the definition of life. There are gray areas that we are unable to categorize. We may have trouble in deciding whether a virus has life or not, but we can be quite sure that a piece of rock does not have life while a sperm has. Similarly, we may not be able to decide whether a six month-old fetus is a person or not, but we can safely say that an embryo is not a person, and a newborn baby is a person. Society can entertain its right and interest on the gray areas. Personally, I feel difficulty in justifying abortion except if it is done in the first trimester, after rape or incest. It seems that the right for abortion, besides its emotional, medical and economical costs, promotes irresponsibility and a promiscuous life style among young generation.

Legality of abortion, however, is a complex issue that requires much more argument. The argument will settle only when we accomplish mutual willingness to understand each other and readiness for compromises.

If Keisling believes that an embryo, until the end of the first trimester, is a person, then he should also join the activists defending the lives of squirrels at Mt. Graham. Is it wrong to say that a squirrel is more a person than an embryo? If he claims that an embryo is a potential person, then he should fight against contraception and masturbation as well. Every sperm is a potential person if it is not stopped, killed or misdirected. According to this logic, every man, probably including Keisling, suddenly will become a mass-murderer. I cannot resist the temptation for retaliating to Keisling with his logic: Pro-life arguments are made by male mass-murderers.

Edip Yuksel

Law Student

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