In the aftermath of the 92 state laws that passed in 2011 and the recent bill provisionally passed in the Texas State House restricting women’s ability to exercise their federally granted reproductive rights, I have been thinking more about when life starts.
Much of the abortion debate from the anti-abortion front centers on the rights of the embryo as a human being and on the concept of fetal pain. Since life begins at conception, the developing fetus should have all the rights that a fully mature infant does — or so say those against abortion. The anti-abortion front claims that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks, thus second-term abortion is tantamount to infanticide. Scientific studies refute that claim. However, the debate is not really based on facts: it is not purely biological, but largely moral and philosophical.
From my moral and philosophical perspective, the potential for a human being begins at conception, but the developing fetus — despite its spinal column and heartbeat — is no more a human being than a fertilized egg is a chicken or a pile of steel and glass is a skyscraper.
What has to happen for a fetus to become a human being with all its constitutional rights? It has to breathe air. It has to circulate its own blood. It has to act on its biological imperative to nourish itself. It has to be able to live independently of the mother host, on whose body the embryo relies for its development into a human being.
Whether or not one take the facts of science into consideration, one must ask: should the government be permitted to restrict a person’s rights on purely moral and philosophical grounds? Didn’t the conservative Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia just say that the court shouldn’t rule on moral issues (while leaving open the states’ rights to legislate)? By extension, why should individual states be able to restrict federally granted rights, based on moral objections?
The new Texas law’s restrictions — passed in the House after an attempted filibuster and now undergoing Senate debate that included forcibly ejecting a citizen giving testimony — would demand the closure of all but five abortion facilities in the nation’s second largest state. Only those with the means to travel hundreds of miles would be able to get legal, safe abortions (note to the fiscally conservative: it could also cost the state more money, and yet financially benefit Governor Perry’s sister). It is a classist (and potentially corrupt) law, effectively blocking access for poor, working-class women — those least capable of taking on the financial responsibility of another child. Is this not a denial of our legal, human rights as upheld by the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade?
“Life” may begin at conception, but the rapidly reproducing bundle of cells — DNA notwithstanding — is not yet a human being, and the egg I cracked open this morning is not chicken soup. Much has to happen before a zygote can become a newborn. One should not deny the rights of the living, breathing mother in favor of the rights of a potential person.