Speaking Personally- A Pro-Life Series: Part II

My Rights End Where Yours Begin
In the first installment of this series, I made the argument that allowing women to buy into fear and doubt about whether they can effectively raise an unexpected child is an affront to what women can accomplish. It’s a sexist idea. A logical rebuttal is some women who choose not to have their baby are not afraid or in doubt. They simply do not want to be mothers, and they do not want to be pregnant. 
 
The pro-choice argument is that “forcing” these women to give birth or removing their “right to choose” is oppressive. Laws that prevent a woman from acting within her own body deny a woman’s humanity and her autonomy over her own body. 
 
I challenge this idea with a simple metaphor courtesy of my high school political science teacher, Mr. Hentze. Freedom means I have the right to swing my arms wildly as much as I wish. In America, I can flap my arms around on Main Street. I can do jumping jacks on the steps of City Hall. I can perform that action to my heart’s content until my arms touch someone else. My right to do what I choose with my body ends at my fingertips. I do not have the right to clothesline a stranger on Main Street, and I may not shadowbox on a crowded subway if another person is within reach of my fists. 
 
Many of my readers will know that I am pregnant as I write this. There is a tiny person rolling and kicking in my body as I type. A tiny, unborn person who is entirely dependent on me for survival, who most certainly has a will of his or her own. He or she has a heartbeat, fingerprints, bones, ears that can hear my voice, and their own DNA. This child may have a different blood type from me. Biologically speaking, there is another body inside mine. My rights end where the child’s begin. 
 
However, restricting a pregnant woman’s rights in the best interest of an unborn child is a slippery slope. Should it be criminal for a pregnant woman to drink alcohol? What if she didn’t know she was pregnant? What about eating deli meat? The threat of listeria can cause a miscarriage. For that matter, would it be necessary to decriminalize miscarriages and stillbirth? Is it even possible to legislate what a person eats or drinks? Only a fundamental mistrust of women would prompt restrictions such as these. 
 
I suggest that this slippery slope is so hazardous to female freedom that the only acceptable line to draw is the one that deprives the child of its most basic right: the right to go on living.
 
From here, I think the argument turns to the subject of personhood, e.g. what is and is not a human being. It is hardly debatable that a child in utero is alive. I have never heard anyone argue that, but what I have heard is a child called an “embryo,” or a “fetus,” not a person. Though these terms are true and useful for understanding the gestational stage of development, they must be understood as descriptive nouns, not a title unto themselves. We use those terms for most mammalian development. 
 
 
The same year I learned the bodily autonomy metaphor in Mr. Hentze’s class, we dissected fetal pigs in my anatomy class. The piglets were in the fetal stage of gestation, but they were still pigs. They were not some organism entirely dissimilar to pigs. What else could they be?
 
They had the nature of a pig just as any “group of cells” in a woman’s womb has a human nature. It is a human being because it cannot be anything else. 
 
By the time most women discover a pregnancy, the embryo has a beating human heart. I have seen my own child’s heartbeat on an ultrasound at 6 weeks, 1 day gestation. A child in utero is not considered viable until at least 23 or 24 weeks gestation. I’m only four months pregnant now. My child could not survive outside my body, but I do not find this a compelling argument to deny his or her personhood. I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old as well. They could not survive without an adult’s intervention, but that does not mean they are not people. Adults who require medical devices to survive are not “viable” on their own, but this does not affect their identity as a human being. It would be unthinkable to still their beating hearts. 
 
Of course, these points about bodily autonomy and unborn personhood are some of the most hotly contested issues in the choice/life debate. Springing to mind are multiple arguments about exceptions such as medically advised terminations or the sad cases of sexual assault. We will take up these matters of compassion in Part III of this series. 
 
 

 

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