The title gives this away, but I’m gonna come right out and say that this is going to offend a lot of people. I should also say that I’m pretty angry. I’ve seen far too many of my friends and family discuss this issue like they know it (and some of them, I recognize, know it better than others), and yet come to conclusions based on obvious fallacies and emotional ploys. Yes, it’s a huge issue. Yes, everyone has an opinion about it. But I don’t think anyone is really listening to the other side. Part of that is because there are such divisive tactics in use, part of it is because it is such a sensitive issue. It seems so simple, defending the helpless, but there are helpless people on both sides of this debate. There are babies and there are mothers. Who among those willing to stand up for the unborn babies will stand up for the mothers and the babies once they’re born?
Those of you who read this blog regularly may know by now that I am adopted. My birth mother chose to carry me for nine months and provide me with the chance for a better life than the one she was prepared to give me. I learned, when going through my adoption records, that both my birth father and the mother of my birth mother urged her strongly to have an abortion. I am very happy that she did not. I love my life and am so thrilled by it. I thank God for her decision, and I feel blessed to be here. I do not hate my birth father or birth grandmother for what they said. I am simply glad to be alive. I was raised by two loving parents who had the means to provide me with a beautiful life, something that many children never had.
So I’m thankful for a lot of things, and as you can imagine, there are facts about my life and experiences that give me a lot of perspective on this issue. Not being a woman, there is not a lot of perspective I can truly have, but as guys go, I’d say I’m doing alright. It will not come as a shock to anyone, then, that I don’t like abortion. It certainly shouldn’t come as a shock, and that’s because no one likes abortion. Neither the women who get them, nor the doctors who perform them; no one likes abortion. This, I think, is one of those great myths that get circulated by the uninformed and the willfully spiteful. Decide right now which one you are before you challenge me on this. People who are pro-choice are not pro-abortion. They are pro-people, they are pro-women, and they are even pro-life (think about it, you’ll get it).
But let’s talk about life for a minute. I’m writing this today not to talk about the fact that the same politicians who cry out that abortion is wrong aren’t willing to help that child once it is born and truly needs it. I’m not writing this to talk about a system that stands up for the welfare of an unborn child but not a child that has taken its first breath or the mother who will have to care for it. I’m not even writing this to rail against a culture that in television, movies and ad campaigns paints the issue as either abortion or raising a child, leaving adoption unmentioned at best, or derided as unfathomable at worst. I’m writing this to talk about life and what we mean when we say that we’re for it.
I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to get all science-y here and talk about conception and dividing cells and whether we go through a stage where we have gills and tails. That’s between you and your friendly neighbourhood biologist. For the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and assume, if only for the purposes of today’s blog, that life begins at conception. I know that there are crazy statistics for how many zygotes actually make it long enough to stick to the uterine wall and develop into anything remotely resembling a child, but let’s just go all the way here. You’ll see why in a minute.
If life begins at conception, when there is certainly nothing inherently living about this creature to distinguish it from any other collection of cells you might find in a woman’s body, we must be talking about the potential for life. And that makes sense. Once it is conceived, it seems that any move to stop it from developing is really to kill it. I know that’s a point that many aren’t willing to concede, but come on. It’s your business what you call this collection of cells, but killing is killing. Whether it’s murder or not is another issue entirely. But sticking with the idea of the potential for life, disrupting that is killing it. How that’s effectively different from masturbating is a worthy question, of course, as you’re certainly robbing those little guys of a potential for life, however small the hope might be, but let’s not go there just now.
So, looking at potential life and projecting from conception all the way until death, we’re saying that interfering in this development with the aim of making it no longer alive is killing it. Science-y types, I hope you’re paying attention because this is gold here! None of this should really be too controversial so far. If you stop life from continuing to happen, you are killing it. Sounds pretty basic. So we protect life, from conception until death, and stopping it is killing.
The problem arises with this word murder. Willfully stopping human life (i.e. killing it) is considered murder in our society. You’ll get no argument from me there. Many believe, however, that this should not only apply to humans after they’re born, but it should also be considered murder to kill an unborn child. It is the most basic argument of the pro-life movement that an unborn child has a right to life just as much as anyone who has already been born. It makes sense, doesn’t it? How is an unborn child any less alive than a newborn? Well…
Let’s not debate the word alive. As I said, we’re talking about life today, and I think it’s pretty clear what’s alive and what isn’t. The question remains: what is the difference between an unborn child and a ‘born’ child? Rather than answer that right away, let’s look at something else that’s alive, namely a hypothetical grandfather who is wasting away while hooked up to life support. His family loves him dearly and wishes that he could come back to them, but the doctors have said that there is little hope of that happening. The machines are the only thing keeping him alive. Take him off of them, and he would slip away.
Now the question of being alive becomes harder. People begin to raise concerns about quality of life, what he would have wanted, and although no one wants to think about it, the medical bills that are skyrocketing every hour he spends in that hospital. There is not a soul in the room with him who wants to let him go, but in the end they decide that it is best. The doctors agree, and they unhook the man from the machines and say their final goodbyes. Grown people, doctors, maybe even lawyers, have just caused something that was alive to no longer be that way. They have just killed this man.
Say what you will about wishes, the fact is that a life was cut short. Perhaps not much shorter than it otherwise would have been, but who can really know? And even if that man truly did wish to die, suicide is illegal. No one would let him take his own life, but when it was out of his hands they were granted permission to take it for him. It is a choice that many of my friends and loved ones, even members of my family, have had to make. It is a choice that, God forbid, I may have to make one day. I know that I will choose what I think that person would have wanted and what seems best for them, as I hope anyone faced with that situation would. It is a terrible position to be put in, and yet people find themselves there every day.
Now tell me, morally, what is the difference between killing this man and killing an unborn child? Before the third trimester, there is absolutely no chance that an unborn baby would survive if it were removed from the environment that sustains it. Forget about modern science and the miracles we can work. Those same miracles kept granddad alive, too. This baby, although very much alive, is no different in its current state than that old man. It is 100% dependent upon its mother for life. It is, in no uncertain terms, a part of her body. It cannot survive without her, just as the old man could not survive without those machines. Where is the moral middle ground?
Potential is the word that rises to the occasion. That old man, as beloved and wonderful as he was, had lived out his life and had none left. Even the doctors agreed that there was nothing to be done. He would never again so much as open his eyes. Alright, we can kill that one. But what about the twelve year-old girl who is on life support after being in an automobile accident? Tragedy has struck this young life that had so much potential. A moment before the accident she was most certainly alive, and since then she has been on machines that feed her and breathe for her. She still has vital signs, even some brain activity, but her doctors have told her parents that it’s unlikely she’ll ever wake up, and that there has been considerable brain damage.
Again, a decision must be made. It is harder, perhaps, and that is because of the potential those parents see, those unlived years. Do they wait, hoping that she’ll wake up? What about the brain damage? What kind of a life would she have? Surely that must factor into their decision? Of course it does. The quality of life that girl could have is certainly one of the things those grief-stricken parents are thinking of when they decide whether or not to let her go, whether or not to end her life.
Tell me now, is it murder? She could wake up at any moment, and her parents could discover that the damage to her brain was minimal, that she can have a full and happy life. The potential may be small, but is it as small as the potential that that embryo will survive until birth? Does it matter whether it’s close or not? If they choose to remove her from life support, she will die, and all of that potential will be extinguished. She cannot survive without it, but she is alive, isn’t she? Explain to me the difference between this girl at twelve years-old and the same girl at twelve weeks after conception.
The choice those parents make about their daughter is the same choice a mother makes when she decides whether or not to keep her baby. She is responsible for that child when it is born, not the government, not a pro-life organization. She is responsible. She knows that, and she has to assess the potential quality of life that this child will have. If she knows from the outset that she cannot or is not in a place to provide for it, then she weighs those options. It is not a decision she takes lightly, much like deciding to let a grandparent or a husband or wife or a twelve year-old child on life support go.
Treating these women and the men and women who stand by them as murderers is an outrage, and it must stop. How is it different for the parents of that girl on life support to decide her future based on the quality of life they think she will have? Do you not think that a pregnant woman asks herself this question? Do you imagine her callous and wretched, thinking only of herself? Do you understand the decision she is faced with and the thoughts that scream in her head? Do you believe you know her situation better, that that child should be given a chance because a crappy chance is at least better than none? Then tell that to those parents standing over their twelve year-old daughter. Tell them that they are contemplating murder. Tell every man and woman that made the choice to let a loved one go in peace that they have blood on their hands. And when you’re finished, take a look in the mirror.
Take a look in the mirror and contemplate the fact that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, one in four children lives below the poverty line. Now you have some explaining to do. Tell yourself that those children didn’t deserve a better life after they were born. Tell yourself that you still think you understand what that mother meant when she said she could not take care of a child. Tell yourself that supporting a pro-life campaign did more than supporting an insurance program for children or services for single mothers. Tell yourself that every child that dies from malnutrition in a country bursting with excess is not your problem. Tell yourself that you don’t have blood on your hands.