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On a Serious Note (Or, one mother’s view of abortion)

January 1, 2011

I listened to an NPR story a few days ago about 2,002 fetus corpses that were discovered in a mortuary attached to a Buddhist temple in Thailand and believed to be from illegal abortion clinics.  The laws in Thailand sound like the more conservative laws in some states in the U.S., only permitting abortion in cases of rape, threat to the mother’s health or when the fetus is clearly deformed in some way.  Also, Buddhism considers abortion a sin, and over 90% of Thai people identify themselves as Buddhist.

This got me thinking about the topic (a downer, I know) and I pondered whether my becoming a mother has changed the views I’ve held since college.  Not really, is the answer.  Some would probably consider me a fence-sitter on the topic, but I am not really and I’ll explain why.  I am a pro-life pro-choicer.  WTF? you are asking yourself, but think about it…the traditional Pro-choice stance can easily encompass the individual’s choice to be pro-life, because it’s one of the CHOICES a woman has.  To me, personally, the idea of terminating the existence of a potential human, whom I am half-responsible for creating and physically capable of gestating really gives me the heebie-jeebies.  And if someone ever came to me and asked “should I get an abortion?”  I would try to discourage them based on my feelings (they did ask my opinion after all) but I would not consider them an evil baby-killer/sinner if they did have one.

That is my personal feeling though.  I did not get pregnant at 16 and have to consider the life-long consequences, nor did I get pregnant in college despite using proper protection, and have to consider the consequences, nor did I get pregnant as a young(er) career woman while not in committed relationship with a loving man and have to consider the consequences.  I certainly did not get pregnant under any of the horrific circumstances that thousands of women find themselves in every day, and have to make the decision.  I haven’t been in those shoes and had to make the choice.  I’d like to think that I would never have had an abortion, but I can’t say that with absolute certainty.  And that doesn’t make me evil.

The traditional Pro-life stance doesn’t allow any choice; it says that pregnancy = life from the moment of conception and to terminate a pregnancy is equivalent to murder.  From a feminist perspective, it also means that the moment a woman becomes pregnant she stops being a person with full rights, and essentially becomes vessel for the embryo/child which inherently carries more value than herself.  Hmm.  That idea is a whole topic unto itself, so lets go back the idea of abortion as murder.

MURDER ? Hmm.  Merriam Webster defines murder as “the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice and forethought.”  Ok, so a portion of the definition deals with the lawful aspect.  If abortion was not illegal, than it would not be unlawful.  Malice?  Two definitions:  1) desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another  OR 2) intent to commit an unlawful act or cause harm without legal justification or excuse.  Well the second definition would again be out the window along with making abortion legal, so the first definition would be the one to address.  My opinion (yes, that word again) is that women don’t get abortions because they feel malice towards the embryo or fetus; rather, they desire to prevent pain, injury or distress of themselves and their current lives.  The probably feel that carrying and bearing a child would cause negative feelings towards them and would adversely impact their life, relationships, employment, activities, etc.  To them, their established existence is more important that the potential existence of their unborn child.  I may not agree, but that is their choice to make

We could back up and take a different line of defense of the right to have an abortion.  In the U.S. it is considered defensible (I hesitate to say legal because I don’t know the intricacies of the system) to defend one’s property against trespassing with deadly force.  I’ve always considered that a little odd, that a person has the right to shoot/kill another person for setting even one foot across a property line; I’d be inclined to call that murder, unless the trespasser demonstrated intent to hurt or kill YOU.  But our legal system doesn’t call it murder, so why shouldn’t a woman have the right to defend her body (the most basic “property” every person should have sole control over) against trespass, equivalent to a physical parasite with likelihood to permanently alter or damage the property.  The case for legal abortion could be argued from the stance of self-defense, it seems.

I don’t like thinking of a woman’s body as property, but I mean it in an unalterable moral way, not in a transferable legal way; every person’s body is their own to make choices over (as an adult).  Children’s bodies are their own sole property as well but require the oversight of an adult to help them properly care for that body (bathing, eating, etc.)  And until a fetus ceases to be totally parasitic on the mother’s body (i.e. “viability”), the owner of the host body should has the right to control that body and anything attached to it.  Once an unborn child reaches viability (legally 28 weeks but considered to be around 24 weeks now, with modern NICU technology), they have attained their own bodily rights and should be protected.

Especially after feeling my baby move in my womb, giving birth to her and watching her grow these last eight months, discussing unborn babies as embryos and fetuses feels cold, but it is what they are before they are the beautiful babies we hold in our arms.  Though it is tempting to argue over abortion based on gut feelings, my personal heebie-jeebies are insufficient grounds to deny anyone else their personal choice.  Sarah Palin, Scientology, concealed-carry and taxidermy all give me the heebie-jeebies and I personally think anyone who follows or practices these things is wrong, but that is one of the conditions of living in a free society and I have to respect peoples’ rights to chose those things.

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