Clinton Chisholm, GUEST COLUMNIST
Our abortion law may need rewriting, but only after the authorities have grappled with certain fundamental issues.
We often fail to reckon with other than Roe v Wade when we discuss abortion, but there is also Doe v Bolton. The US Supreme Court decisions in both cases in 1973, when considered together, mean that "... in the first six months of pregnancy, a woman can have an abortion for no reason, but in the last three months she can have it for any ['health'] reason ... ." (Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights, 1993, 34)
In the Bolton case, the court said health should be defined, "in light of all factors - physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age - relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors relate to health." (Beckwith, p. 32)
Social commentator Greg Koukl has suggested a few fundamental questions that, if answered well, provide instructive perspectives for policymakers. I isolate just two.
Question 1: What is the unborn within a pregnant woman?
It is basic biological sense that the offspring of a particular genus and species cannot be other than a member of that genus and species. It follows, therefore, that the unborn is, unquestionably, a human being, Homo sapiens.
"So, therefore, it is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life." (Dr Micheline Matthews-Roth, Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, in Beckwith, p. 43)
It is instructive that in their report to the US Senate Judiciary Committee (1981), the US Senate subcommittee made the telling comment that "... no witness [who testified before the subcommittee] raised any evidence to refute the biological fact that from the moment of conception, there exists a distinct individual being who is alive and is of the human species. No witness challenged the scientific consensus that unborn children are 'human beings' ... ." (Cited in Beckwith, op. cit., 43. See also Bradley Patten, Human Embryology, 1968, 43; E.L. Potter et al, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 1975, vii)
Small wonder then why pregnant women, at whatever stage of pregnancy, are not usually executed even when found guilty of a capital offence.
Question 2: What is abortion (terminating a pregnancy, if that makes you sleep better)?
Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent unborn human being and, as such, is morally wrong and ought to be legally wrong as well, unless one can advance a cogent argument for abortion as justifiable homicide.
Refining pro-abortion arguments
Let us also refine our pro-abortion arguments by applying the Schwartz SLED test. Ethicist Dr Stephen Schwartz, in his 1990 book, The Moral Question of Abortion, urged the point that there are four morally irrelevant differences between the unborn and the born in terms of a right to life: Size, Level of development, Environment and Degree of dependency (pp. 15-19).
True, the unborn is smaller than the newborn. So what? I am much smaller than the average basketball player. Yes, the unborn, as well as the newborn, is less developed than a teenager. So what? If allowed, the unborn will progressively develop into a teenager.
Concerning environment, as Beckwith wisely observes, "[Being in] a mother's womb is a geographical fact, not a value judgement ... ." (p. 114). It should be obvious that we are all dependent on some other at some time and that does not diminish anyone's being, nor should it affect anyone's right to be.
Let us think deeply and clearly before we rewrite our abortion law.
The Rev Clinton Chisholm is a theologian. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.