Frankly, I am disturbed by late-term abortions.As I wrote several years ago (previous article “The Question of Sentience“), it’s entirely arbitrary that we draw the moral line of personhood at birth. Human fetuses react to stimuli and respond to pain at 12-16 weeks of gestation. They shrink away from surgical implements as if they know what’s about to happen. Even if it’s just a reflex, ultrasound movies show something is going on that offends our sensibilities. Life is precious and our instincts tell us it should be treated as such.
Having said that, there are many circumstances that require us to allow doctors and women to choose a course of action that may cause other people revulsion. Modern medical technology allows us to forget that pregnancy and childbirth used to be the leading cause of death for women. Sometimes pregnancies don’t go well, and the only option is termination. It’s no one else’s business.
When we ask a woman to carry a child to propagate our species, we demand of her an heroic act. Her body is quickly commandeered by the fetus to its own purposes. The fetus takes over control of hormone levels, and immediately gets priority on all nutrient intake and bodily systems. The mother gains 30-40% of her body weight, becomes swollen, stretched, and finally torn in the most intimate places to produce a new person who then takes over her life for the next two decades and more.
This is a profound burden we men take for granted.
Conservative foes of late-term abortions consider that medical reasons are often trumped up. But I ask, who can stand between a woman and her doctor? Who else is qualified to decide if something is “medically necessary?” Even if the pregnancy is terminated for psychological or stress-related reasons, depression and stress can kill.
Then there is the matter of pregnant 13 or 14-year-old girls who may have been home-schooled or given “abstinence-only” sex education. Often they have been raped, sometimes by family members. Having been taught that human sexuality is shameful, that they’re doomed to sin from the start, these young girls have nowhere to turn. They are desperately afraid to discuss their pregnancy with their parents. These vulnerable girls are in a double-bind, often feeling that the situation is their fault, even if they were sexually assaulted. They are also instinctively sexual beings at that age, who don’t fully understand the consequences of acting on those feelings. And that naivete makes them easy targets for predators. But they are children, and not in any way, shape, or form ready to be mothers. The fault lies with the repressive, predatory, judgmental and uncompassionate nature of their families and communities. It’s directly because of the sex-negative attitudes of Christianity that young girls don’t have the means to protect themselves. And one day they find themselves 20 to 24 weeks pregnant, with zero compassion on offer from anyone.
Enter doctors like George Tiller.
It’s amazing how fast parents can change their tune when their own daughters’ futures are at stake. My mother was fanatically pro-life. She printed bumper stickers that read “Abortion is first-degree murder of God.” So I watched in absolute disbelief just a few years after she printed those stickers, when she insisted that my teenage sister have an abortion.
Dr. George Tiller endured horrific harassment and abuse, and ultimately gave his life to be sure even hypocrites like my mother had a place to send their daughters, when they got into trouble.
So RIP, Dr. Tiller.
It is the anti-sex religious bigots who perpetuate the entire dilemma. Why, oh why do they prevent young girls from getting the information and contraception they need? Why do they ignore the results from dozens of countries all over the world which have solved this problem?
Abortion will remain legal in this country, of that we can be assured. No one wants to go back to the dark days of the back alley, not even the whackjob evangelicals. Because they know their own daughters will be the ones dying of infection in those butcher shops. But what good will modern clinics do if doctors fear for their lives? Are we really going to allow vigilantism to carry this day?
What about a compassionate approach from all sides? Christians and atheists can all agree we want to reduce the number of abortions, especially of the late-term variety. So let’s come together to endorse mandatory sex-education and pregnancy-reduction programs for teens. Let’s encourage discussion and minimize the despicable shaming of normal human sexual development. Let’s swiftly punish child-rapists. Let’s promote, even demand, swift and cheap abortions in the first trimester to minimize fetal suffering.
And finally, let’s hold the “pro-life” groups and their supporters such as Bill O’Reilly accountable for their hate speech that has now led to a tragic murder.
Update: In 2009, the overturning of Roe v. Wade was unthinkable. And sadly, now the unthinkable has happened.