The Planned Parenthood videos have brought a difficult subject into broad daylight for discussion – nothing less than life and death. As medicine has advanced, we’ve had many debates over what “natural” death is, and they all start with figuring out what is life. Breathing? A heartbeat? Brain activity? An implanted embryo? Unique DNA in a developing blastocyst?
The question of abortion is not about “does a woman have a right to choose” what happens to new life growing inside her body. She has a responsibility for her choices at every stage of that new life, and a responsibility and a right to choose within parameters agreed to by culture and sometimes expressed through government rule. It is an appropriate role of government to set guidelines in areas where two lives come into conflict. Which brings us always back to the question – when are there two lives involved? Without agreeing on exactly when, let’s assume that there are two lives at some point before first breath of air.
When approached from a utilitarian view of life, killing a life before it emerges from the womb is justifiable if the mother and society determine that the life has no utility – whether because it’s untimely, unwanted, imperfect or may potentially ¬have a miserable life for some other reason. From a utilitarian standpoint, there is no reason to bother trying to save the life of victim of trauma exhibiting all the signs of a serious brain injury. Just shoot him and put him out of his misery like a dog that’s been hit by a car. From a utilitarian standpoint , why stop someone from jumping off a bridge – clearly he’s miserable. From a utilitarian standpoint, why not abort a baby with the bad luck to be created as a result of rape, try and pretend it never happened by adding one more act of violence to a violent act. From a utilitarian standpoint, why bother to staff expensive Neo Natal Intensive Care Units to save babies that could have been aborted much more cheaply? How disabled is too disabled to deserve to live?
Because of the siren song of utilitarianism, I cannot support a ban on abortion. A government with the power to ban abortion has the power to command abortion. The responsibility for the decision cannot be taken away from the mother, but the context for her decision is society’s responsibility. Are we a culture of life or of death?
If we respect life enough to cherish it, to give life a chance, to recognize our limitations in foreseeing the future, then we as a society set different sideboards to the mother’s decision. Our responsibility is to err on the side of life, unless it really and truly comes down to the mother’s life or the baby’s – a Sophie’s Choice. Such cases are extremely rare and heart wrenching and clearly the mother’s responsibility to make the decision. We owe it to women to empower them to choose life, and to support that choice. We owe it to our humanity to reject abortion as anything other than an end of life decision, to be made with the same seriousness as at any stage of life.
To condone abortion for any other reason than a difficult resolution between two lives in mortal danger is to operate from a set of assumptions that creates a culture of death. The culture of death says some lives aren’t worth living and the worth of an individual is based on their utility to society in the eyes of Woman and Man. The culture of life says yes, life is often unfair and difficult but it has inherent worth in the eyes of the Creator.
I don’t assume everyone believes the same as I do. I do assume that we have to discuss difficult subjects and express our points of view, and the foundation for those points of view. I believe there is inherent value in human life, from creation of a new and unique string of DNA to natural death. There are plenty of nuances to debate over the exact beginning and ending, even among those who agree life has inherent value and especially to protect the most vulnerable lives among us.
The alternative is a utilitarian view of human life – external value based on potential worth or worthiness. If utility is your standard, there are no nuances. Life belongs to those with the power, whether a police officer holding a gun to the head of a young man on the wrong track in life or an abortion doctor at Planned Parenthood holding a forceps to crush the body of that same young man’s baby before it even has a chance. Where there’s life, there’s hope.
I choose hope. I choose life.