To Kill Or Not To Kill

Sara is 19, a beautiful dark-haired Hispanic, college freshman and daughter of a single mom. Recently, she’s traveled to Colombia to spend the holidays with her boyfriend. Few days before her return to the US, she discovers she’s pregnant. She’s surprised, confused, and really not sure her boyfriend is the father (because, you know, the sky is blue and shit happens under). She’s totally freaking out because she’s not ready to be a mother. Her own mother is a devout Catholic who’ll strangle the life out of her if she were to find out. Maybe there’ll be a few hugs and kisses after the strangling, the one thing Sara knows for sure is this: There’ll be a lot of strangling! She calls up a friend who had an abortion several months back. Her friend says: “Sara, you’ll be fine. Just make it go away”. She spends a few days thinking. Her pregnancy is 5 weeks in. Finally, she decides. She’s back in the US, anxious. She hasn’t told anyone except her friend. Now she’s ready to take her friend’s advice. She wants it out because she’s worried mostly about her education. She doesn’t want to be forced to cope with the stress of raising a child while pursuing her degree — and, of course, the strangling. Moreover, she’s convinced her current financial situation can’t accommodate this unexpected addition to her life. In her own words, she’d consider keeping the baby if her overall circumstances were different. But right now, she’s made up her mind.

Herein lies the question underpinning one of the greatest ethical debates of all time.

The Question:

The Answer:

Quite tricky, John.

Let’s Take A Few Steps Back

Before hurrying to wear a pro-choice badge or hurl a curse at Planned Parenthood, first you need to ask: “What kind of question is this, really? Is it a moral one or a legal one? We’ll get into that a little bit.

Many centuries ago, it was neither legal nor illegal to have an abortion. It didn’t generally qualify as a crime deserving of some appropriate punishment. Surprising as it may be, it wasn’t an issue of extensive legal interest except in legislative discussions about regulating population numbers — where lawmakers either supported or opposed the idea that abortions should be mandatory for couples who exceed a proposed quota of children per household in the state. Other abortion disputes that attracted legal consideration were, for example, issues surrounding the extent of a father’s “ownership” of an unborn child — which, essentially, was an argument about whether or not a mother was free to terminate a pregnancy without daddy’s consent. What you might also find interesting is that, at certain points in history, people employed abortion as an effective tool for promoting eugenics. Hitler would be more than delighted to give you details.

Of course, there were people throughout history — as there are today — who fiercely opposed, not just eugenics, but the practice of any and all forms of abortion on the grounds that it violates a fundamental moral constitution — which is based on the belief that there is no moral justification for taking the life of another human being. This moral constitution has its roots deep inside the core of a mixture of religion, philosophy, secularism, and of course, science. And as a result of the different views people share along these lines, we now have a very tough knot to untie. The knot?

Exactly.

This’ll probably never happen. Due to widespread differences in culture, religion, and even scientific reasoning, it is extremely difficult — virtually impossible — for the entire human race, as it is now, to reach a consensus on the definition of life — that is, to agree on when life actually begins. And if we can’t agree here, then there’ll never be an abortion law that satisfies all people. There just won’t.

Speaking of Abortion Law

We’ve briefly seen the limited supervisory role that state law played with respect to abortions in the past. How is it, then, that we now live in an an era of sophisticated formal legislation on abortions? Where did it really start from?

The correct answer to that is a detailed lecture in Confusion 101.

But let’s focus here, all we’re trying to do is:

  1. Have a basic idea of how abortion laws emerged and evolved.
  2. Understand the rationale behind some of the laws that were enforced.
  3. Be informed about the current laws taking effect across some sovereign states today.

At some point back in history, it became common law, in countries like England and the US, that abortion was illegal anytime after quickening. Anyone can reasonably conclude that their logic here implied one thing: That life begins when a mother starts to feel the baby moving inside her. Again, can everybody agree on this? No.

From a scientific viewpoint — which, ironically, scientists aren’t all viewing from — life is defined at a more primitive level: the cellular level. Another scientific caucus will assert that life begins at the point of fertilization. These viewpoints and others — however widely they vary — largely form the rationale behind stricter abortion laws and, to some extent, anti-abortion movements worldwide.

Taking It One Step Further

Today, if you truly understand politics, the pandemic liberalization of abortion — particularly in Europe and the US — wouldn’t surprise you at all. It is true that Roe vs Wade drew the thick historical line that clearly separates the pro-abortion and anti-abortion movements in the US — and by significant extension, the modern world. But lets face it, elections must be won and must continue to be won. Simply put, if the demographics of the pro-abortion camp would tilt polls in your favor, you might just find yourself promising to ensure abortion-on-demand for all — whether or not you agree with them on moral grounds. And vice-versa.

As of today, barring any changes this text fails to capture, abortions are legal in every state in the US before a pregnancy has reached 20 weeks gestation. However, because each state has authority within its own legal jurisdiction to set new limits and prescribe its own rules for regulating the process, some states actually permit abortion up to the dying minute of the third trimester. In Europe and Latin America, the rules are a bit tighter and vary significantly for each country. Asia is particularly interesting because of countries like China with its famous one-child policy (ended 2015). Abortion is still available as a free service in the Red Dragon and, to the joy of some and chagrin of others, there are no federally imposed gestational limits. Though India and China share the good ol’ cultural penchant for sex-selective abortions, India only legalizes abortions up until 20 weeks gestation and under strict conditions. Sex-selective abortions are, however, now legally banned in both countries but eradicating it completely still remains a challenge. Relative to most countries in Africa, South Africa has a detailed legal position on abortions with its consideration for the baby’s gestational age and health status, the mother’s socio-economic condition and health status, and circumstances of rape and incest. On the flip side, Nigeria legally grants you permission to abort under one condition only:

This makes it sit comfortably in the league of countries with the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.

Punches, Blocks and Counter-Punches

While some have argued that governments have the constitutional powers to determine the legality of abortions and thus enforce appropriate laws for people to abide by, others strongly believe it is a purely moral decision that should be made on a personal level with state interference limited only to the regulation of processes and procedures. Hence, another question to consider:

C’mon man. My head is starting to hurt

On the pro-life side, the answer is: “Sure, because every unborn child has an undeniable right to life”. To that, the pro-choicers say: “Those rights don’t trump the mother’s rights to do what she wills with her own body”. Pro-lifers then respond with: “Of course she can do what she wants with her own body. But the baby is not her body, rather, it is inside her body. That makes it an independent living being”. Pro-choicers split here:

Pro-choice camp A: “It is not an independent living being until it can survive outside its mother’s body. If it has to depend on its mother to live, then why would you call it living?”.

Pro-choice camp B: “We agree it is an independent living being. But not at every stage of its development inside its mother’s body. She can do what she wants with it as long as it hasn’t reached the point where it has come alive”.

Pro-choice camp C: “Yes, it’s a living being. But it still remains subject to the rights of its mother. Whether or not it has come alive, it’s mother’s rights prevail at every stage of its development inside her body”.

Oh this is getting good

Pro-life to Camp A: “So you’re saying millions of people on life support in a hospital don’t qualify as living beings?”

Pro-life to Camp B: “Here we go again. So what is the definition of life and when does it actually begin?”

Pro-life to Camp C:

Oh my God! Are you kidding me?

Getting A Bit More Rational

In countries where restrictive abortion laws reign supreme, women still seek to have and, in most cases, successfully procure abortions. In other words, despite state rules and the brutality of the consequences they prescribe, their abortion rates effortlessly compare with those of countries with lesser to no abortion restrictions.

The difference between these countries, however, is the number of unsafe abortions contributing significantly to maternal mortality rates. How are these two things related? Simple:

This explanation, however, fails to answer the question of moral justification. Bear in mind that in the US alone where abortions are legal, majority of abortions are actually performed on healthy mothers with healthy babies as compared to those performed out of concern for catastrophic fetal malformations, rape, incest, and socio-economic hardships.

Some pro-lifers argue that even these concerns do not erase the value of a fetal life and thus should not be allowed to receive legal justification.

So, Back To the Original Question:

The Answer:

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