On One Hand

April 17, 2007

Abortion is a Moral Dilemma from All Angles

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:10 pm
Tags: ,

I support a woman’s right to choose, but that doesn’t mean I think the position is an easy one to take.

No matter how you look at it, abortion is a moral dilemma. Unlike many platforms that social Conservatives stand on, abortion is not necessarily a “victimless” right. Even if same-sex relationships or medicinal marijuana use were “sins” before God (which I do not believe), it’s clear that the individuals responsible for committing those “sins” are the only ones affected. Abortion, meanwhile, removes and destroys an organism that some consider to be a living human being.

The “pro-life” agenda is often filled with nasty rhetoric that undermines the compassion pro-lifers claim to have. Some put blame on the pregnant woman, reviling her as “not taking responsibility for her sexual promiscuity.” Others would like to punish women who chose to have sex by making their abortions illegal, while allowing other women to have abortions if the pregnancy was caused by “rape or incest.” But an embryo created by rape or has no less theoretical “right to life” than any other, and the nuanced stance makes the issue into one about sexual morality and women’s rights rather than an embryo’s life.

Compassionate pro-lifers want to ban abortions to protect the life of what they consider a human being, but also understand the burden they are putting on women who would otherwise have an abortion. They might agree that a woman has a theoretical right to end her pregnancy but believe that the embryo’s right to be born is more fundamental. Their solution to the abortion dilemma is to protect and de-stigmatize unmarried pregnant women so that they will not abort pregnancies out of embarrassment. They tie their pro-life stance to a position to give social aid to working women who cannot afford maternity leave or to raise children. They avoid addressing their ideological opponents in derogatory terms.

Compassionate pro-choicers don’t know whether an embryo is a “human” or not, and say that government cannot be the one to make a decision about where life begins, which falls into the realm of religious belief. They say it’s difficult to define when an embryo becomes “human” since there is a continuum of living tissue from parents’ bodies, to a separate sperm and egg, to a fertilized egg, to an embryo or fetus, to an infant, to an adult woman able to conceive a child. Drawing a line at “conception” is as arbitrary as drawing it anywhere else. They say a woman must have autonomy over her body as a basic right, and would rather abortions be safe and legal than self-inflicted and dangerous. But they know that their position is a difficult line to tread, and hold their views with humility knowing that a future potential person is prevented by abortion. They want abortion to be a choice, but don’t try to make it an “easy” choice, and understand those who believe it is wrong.

This April, a radical anti-abortion group returned to the University of Colorado campus as they do every year, advertising their pro-life platform by setting up 30-foot billboards showing giant pictures of dismembered embryos and fetuses juxtaposed with living infants. The group’s rhetoric is harsh and powerful, and the images are gruesome and disturbing, bringing the issue to a carnality likened to the way anti-war activists and photojournalists show pictures of bloody battlefields. Some staunchly pro-choice students were upset that a group would bring the debate to that level. The late-term abortions depicted are extremely rare, and many doubt that the partially-formed embryos nearly microscopic in size from early first-trimester abortions are really “a human life.” Others thought the gruesome pictures were a distraction from the real issue; aren’t organ transplants and live-saving surgeries just as bloody? The more radical pro-choice students thought the group had “no right” to demonstrate and say they have no respect for pro-life views. But the cancellation or postponement of a potential life is a real part of abortion, and we need to keep that in perspective.

Abortion is a moral dilemma, and those who support it should be able to see and digest even the most graphic challenges to that position. We all care about human life, regardless of our views on abortion. Pro-choice students should be able to respond to the posters with calmness and composure, turning their discomfort – not into angry rebuttals – but into an opportunity to reflect on the complexity of the issue and voice disagreements calmly. I personally think the complexity of abortion is a reason to avoid encoding collective judgments on it as law, which is the basis for my pro-choice position – but others disagree. The people putting up the macabre signs believe they are going to save lives, and believe they are standing, not with religious authorities, but with the helpless parties (unborn embryos) they think are overlooked – a position that ultimately seems far more “liberal” than “conservative.” For all of us who disagree with the tactics or the goal, we need to entertain the conflict, not with anger, but with humility and respect.

1 Comment »

  1. You might find this interesting. I attended a presentation last week about the morality of organ transplants, comparing the ethics of it in American and Japanese culture. The speaker, Dr. William LeFleur, was talking about heart transplants. They are drastically less common in Japan than here. It’s not that they don’t have the technology to do it, they’ve had successful heart transplants, and other transplants that can use a living donor (like kidneys) are just as common as in the US. His argument was that, from their perspective, they were waiting and hoping for somebody to die in order to get the heart that would save them. Many Japanese do not feel that it is ethically acceptable to wait for somebody else’s death, because then they feel partially responsible for it, was the gist of it.

    Comment by callmeweirdbut — April 18, 2007 @ 2:43 am | Reply

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