A few posts back I ranted about the inconsistency of the so-called "pro-lifers" in opposing Terri Schiavo's right to die while supporting the death penalty and our government's killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq. There's more where that came from, unfortunately.
In almost any discussion of abortion, what you end up arguing is the rights of the not-yet-born fetus versus the rights of the already-born mother. Now, I'm not a bioethicist, but if it comes down to choosing one or the other, I'd go with the already-born mother who's spent twenty or more years living on this Earth, versus the lump of unbreathing protoplasm that hasn't yet to think its first coherent thought. This is one instance where age and experience takes precedence. Let's face it, a fetus at this stage is nothing more than a parasite feeding off its female host; it should be the host body that calls the shots.
That might sound a bit unfeeling to some, but think about it. The mother can live without the fetus; the fetus can't live without the mother. The mother, serving as the fetus' host, is in control. The fetus lives or dies at the whims of the host. Does the fetus have any rights? Perhaps, when viewed separately. But the rights of the mother take precedent. (That's one of the few good things that come with being the host.)
Besides, I don't think it's my place to tell anyone what they can and cannot do with their own body. Nor is it government's place to do so. A woman should be in charge of what happens to her body. That type of personal liberty trumps almost everything else. No government official should be able to tell any woman that aborting a pregnancy is wrong -- or right, for that matter. No one else can make that choice except for the person who's carrying that baby. Not the church, not the government, not me, not you. It's a truly private and personal decision.
It seems to me that to many pro-lifers, the heir is more important than the vessel. That might sound a little King Henry VIII-ish, but it's the vibe I get. The rights and desires of the woman aren't important; only the baby is. And that's just wrong. Women have more use than just carrying children, or least I'm pretty sure they do. The fundamentalists' focus on carrying the child to the exclusion of all else has a barefoot and pregnant quality to it. Doesn't matter what the woman wants, as long as she delivers those young'uns. You don't have to be a radical feminist to be offended by that sensibility.
Then there are those that argue, quite sincerely, that abortion is tantamount to murder. It's killing a living human being, they say. The trouble with this argument, as I see it, is deciding when life begins. Is it when the child exits the womb? Or when the sperm first fertilizes the cell? Or at some indeterminate point in between? If science can determine that viable life actually begins at an identifiable point sometime in gestation, and that that life is cognizant and has a soul, then I'll start to buy the "abortion is killing" argument. Until then, your guess as to when life begins is as good as mine -- which isn't that good at all.
Further to the point are those radical fundamentalists and every-sperm-is-sacred Catholics who believe that any chance of life is worth preserving. Hence their opposition to all forms of birth control. This is just plain loony, if you ask me -- and even if you don't. Is it a mortal sin to have sex without conceiving, even if you don't use birth control? Are infertile couples evil? Will I go to hell by wasting my boys when I masturbate? We might not be able to agree when life begins, but I think we can agree that it isn't quite that early.
The bigger problem with the anti-birth control crowd is that this stance works counter to their efforts to stop abortions. As history has proven, outlawing abortions doesn't stop abortions -- doesn't stop the killing, as the pro-lifers would say. The most effective abortion deterrent, it has been shown, is sex education and the use of birth control. Plain and simple, if you want to reduce the number of abortions -- or lower the "murder" rate, if you will -- you have to put condoms in the hands (or on the genitals) of America's youth. By preaching abstinence and making birth control harder to obtain, the alleged pro-lifers are actually increasing the number of abortions. Kind of counterintuitive, don't you think?
Along similar lines, most of the public isn't aware of the fact that the abortion rate has actually increased during George Bush's term in office. During the Clinton era, the number of abortions decreased; during Bush's regime, they went back up. Why? Because Bush's economy deteriorated, and poor economic conditions force more young women to decide against having babies. If they're broke, they can't afford the kids, and abortions ensue. So adamant pro-lifer George Bush has been contributing to a higher abortion "murder" rate. Ironic, ain't it?
Here's where all Americans should be able to come together. We should work to decrease the abortion rate, by using those methods that we know work best. We should increase spending on sex education, make birth control easier for youngsters to obtain, and work to improve the economic conditions of poor females. Those efforts would result in a dramatic decrease in the number of abortions -- and isn't that what the pro-lifers want?
Anyone opposed to these methods must have another agenda. And, frankly, I'd like to see those hidden agendas made public. Do the pro-lifers really want to reduce abortions? Or are they really opposed to liberal sexual values? Or empowering women? Or something else equally anti-Deluvian?
As President Clinton once said, abortions should be safe, legal, and rare. Let's work towards that -- rationally and compassionately. (And, BTW, props to Bill's wife Hillary in trying to find some common ground on this issue; it's a sane and sympathetic approach that should appeal to everyone in mainstream society -- except, perhaps, the radical religious right.)
But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.