Friday, November 9, 2012

Protecting the right-to-life...of the mother


 This is something I wrote a few months ago. I plan to put forth some more ideas about abortion, examining the Christian arguments against it, discussing "personhood", etc.. The following specifically deals with the pro-life push to ban abortion even when a woman's life or health is imperiled. I am not arguing for or against abortion access in other cases in this piece. I will put forth my thoughts on that elsewhere.

Q. Why should a pregnant woman have the right to end a pregnancy if her health or life is imperiled?

A. A pregnant woman is as much of a human being and therefore has as many rights as the rest of us, including to choose medical care that will save her life and health. To say otherwise is to create a special subclass, reserved for pregnant women, such that they must die or sacrifice their health rather than get life saving or health-preserving care. Nowhere else, even when lives can be preserved by the use of someone else's body and the subsequent inconvenience or death to them, do people contemplate depriving some people of life or healthcare access to better others.

We may consider it a tragic situation when a woman would have to decide to preserve her own health or life and abort, or continue the pregnancy and die or end up with life-long complications. But it’s not a unique situation. You and I, and every one of us, make that choice every day that we do not give up our own organs to save other people’s lives. There would probably be someone alive today, somewhere, if I had given up “spare” organs; maybe if I donated blood more often. But the fact that I could be saving someone’s life while imperiling or even discomforting mine is not sufficient to compel me to do it.

As long as one being is inside another (if the fetus could survive without the mother, there would be no problem), one of those two will have greater rights than the other. When we decide that a woman does not have the right to save her own life or well-being, we simply take those same rights we all enjoy away from her and give them to the fetus (which, when the fetus is far pre-term, is pointless and decidedly vicious – as in the case of that poor girl who died recently after her cancer treatments were delayed so long, because she was 9 weeks pregnant [http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/25/world/americas/dominican-republic-abortion-teen/index.html; http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57496613-10391704/dominican-republic-teen-at-center-of-abortion-debate-dies-from-leukemia-complications/]). No matter what we do, we are making a choice – whether that is to give the fully formed, sentient, feeling woman the rights, or to give them to the fetus. We necessarily must give preference to one of them. In every other situation, we always give preference to the person whose body would be used for the preservation of the other person. It may be decidedly sad, but so is the fact that people die all the time because they need organs that other people have and won’t give up – even in death. And yet we do not, nor would we, compel someone to die or suffer grievous bodily harm to sustain the life or well-being of another person. We do not even compel the dead to give their organs to the living. The rights of a dead person, then, are considered to be of greater import than the rights of a living pregnant woman under personhood laws.

Nor does the fact that the mother was willing to be pregnant (excluding cases where this is not the case, such as rape pregnancies) mean that she loses the rights we all have. If I agreed to give up a kidney to save someone’s life, and discovered that so doing would kill me, no one would – or should be allowed to – compel me to do so, whatever promise or consent I had given – and even if my refusal meant the death of the potential recipient.

The pro-life movement did itself a grievous disservice when it decided to pit the right to life and health of women against the rights to life of fetuses. We all have a basic right to use our own bodies for our own survival, even if that end the life of someone else (whose survival would need and imperil our own body) – or to choose to save the other person. As it should be. It is a right and a privilege, and not one to be taken lightly; but it is a choice that should be each individual’s, and theirs alone. No one should be able to force an independent person to surrender the use of their body, health and/or life for the sake of a being dependent on that, and we recognize that in all spheres of life except pregnancy. And, curiously enough, the pro-life movement only asks this outwardly imposed sacrifice of pregnant women.

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