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Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice

The terms "pro-life" and
"pro-choice" generally boil
down to the question of
whether the individual
wants to see abortion
banned, but there's more
to the debate than that.
Let's explore, briefly, what
the central arguments are
about.
The Pro-Life Issue
Spectrum
To say that someone is
"pro-life" is to say that the
person believes that the
government has an
obligation to preserve all
human life, regardless of
intent, viability, or quality-
of-life concerns.
A comprehensive pro-life
ethic, such as that
proposed by the Roman
Catholic Church and
similar religious
organizations, prohibits:
Abortion ;
Euthanasia and
assisted suicide ;
The death penalty ;
and
War, with very few
exceptions.
In cases where the pro-life
ethic conflicts with
personal autonomy, as in
the case of abortion and
assisted suicide, it is
conservative. In cases
where the pro-life ethic
conflicts with government
policy, as in the case of
the death penalty and
war, it is liberal.
The Pro-Choice Issue
Spectrum
To be "pro-choice" is to
believe that individuals
have unlimited autonomy
with respect to their own
reproductive systems as
long as they do not
breach the autonomy of
others.
A comprehensive pro-
choice position affirms
that all of the following
must remain legal:
Celibacy and
abstinence ;
Contraception use ;
Emergency
contraception use ;
Abortion, for the first
two trimesters of
pregnancy ; and
Childbirth.
In the United States, the
pro-choice position is
perceived as "pro-
abortion." In China, where
abortion is sometimes
required by law, the pro-
choice position would be
perceived as "anti-
abortion." The purpose of
the pro-choice movement
is to ensure that all
choices remain legal.
Point of Conflict
The pro-life and pro-
choice movements
primarily come into
conflict on the issue of
abortion. The pro-life
movement argues that
even non-viable,
undeveloped human life is
sacred and must be
protected by the
government. Abortion,
according to this model,
must not be legal, nor
should it be widely
practiced on an illegal
basis.
The pro-choice
movement argues that in
cases where human
personhood cannot be
proven, e.g. in
pregnancies prior to the
point of viability, the
government does not
have the right to impede a
woman's right to decide
whether or not to
continue a pregnancy.
Religion and the
Sanctity of Life
What politicians on both
sides of the debate
generally fail to
acknowledge is the
religious nature of the
conflict.
If one believes in an
immortal soul that is
implanted at the moment
of conception, and if
personhood is determined
by the presence of that
immortal soul, then there
is little difference, in effect,
between terminating a
week-old pregnancy or
killing a living, breathing
person. Rational members
of the pro-life movement
do acknowledge that there
is a difference in intent--
abortion would be, at
worst, involuntary
manslaughter rather than
murder--but the
consequences, i.e. the
death of a human person,
are regarded by pro-lifers
in much the same way.
Religious Pluralism and
the Obligation of a
Secular Government
The trouble is that the
United States government
cannot acknowledge the
existence of an immortal
soul implanted at
conception without taking
on a specific, theological
definition of personhood.
Some theological
traditions teach that the
soul is implanted at
quickening--when the
fetus begins to move--
and not at conception.
Other theological
traditions teach that the
soul is implanted at birth.
Some traditions teach that
the soul is implanted well
after birth. And still other
theological traditions teach
that there is no immortal
soul at all.
Can Science Tell Us
Anything?
There is no scientific basis
for the existence of a soul,
but there is no scientific
basis for the existence of
subjectivity, either, which
makes it difficult to
ascertain concepts such
as "sanctity." Physics
alone can't tell us whether
a human life is worth
more or less than a rock.
We value each other for
social, emotional reasons;
science does not tell us to
do it.
But to the extent that we
do have anything
approaching a scientific
definition of personhood,
it would most likely rest in
our understanding of the
brain. That being the case,
it's worth noting that
neocortical development,
which scientists believe
makes emotion and
cognition possible, does
not begin until the late
second or early third
trimester of pregnancy.
Two Other Standards
of Personhood
Some pro-life advocates
argue that it is the
presence of life alone, or
of unique DNA, that
defines personhood.
The problem with the life-
alone argument is that
many things that we do
not consider living
persons meet that criteria.
Our tonsils and
appendices are certainly
both human and alive, but
we do not consider their
removal as constituting
anything close to the
killing of a person.
The unique DNA
argument is more
compelling, but also
poses problems. Sperm
and egg cells, for
example, contain the
genetic material that will
later form the zygote. The
question of whether
certain forms of gene
therapy also creates new
persons would also be
raised by this definition of
personhood.
The Burden of Proof
Before the government
can prove that a homicide
has taken place, it must
first produce evidence--a
person's body, or
sufficient body tissue as to
constitute a body for legal
purposes. It would not do
for homicide prosecutions
to proceed based solely
on a philosophical or
religious conviction that a
murder has taken place.
Ronald Reagan famously
said in the 1980s that if the
government is to err, it
must err on the side of
protecting life. In practice,
to err on the side of life in
criminal prosecutions is to
convict without adequate
evidence. Our system of
jurisprudence is not
consistent with this goal.
No Choice
On the other hand, the
pro-life vs. pro-choice
debate tends to overlook
the fact that the vast
majority of women who
have abortions do not, in
fact, do so entirely by
choice. Circumstances put
them in a position where
abortion is the least self-
destructive option
available to them.
According to a study
conducted by the
Guttmacher Institute, 68%
of women who have
abortions in the United
States say that they
cannot afford to have
children and 27% cite this
as their primary reason
for terminating the
pregnancy. 20% cite
health reasons. 38% are
young women either
hiding pregnancies from
their parents, or ordered
by their parents to
terminate their
pregnancies.
Our Shared
Responsibility
One of the best-kept
secrets of the pro-life and
pro-choice movements is
that the two movements
ultimately overlap to the
extent that they share the
goal of reducing the
number of abortions.
They differ only with
respect to degree and
methodology.
Unfortunately, politicians
benefit more from having
two polarized, angry
movements than they do
from having two less
polarized, less angry
movements.
We live in a culture today
where the decision not to
have sex is seen as
ridiculous. Abstinence is
the default choice, and the
pro-choice movement
has an obligation to make
it a socially acceptable
choice.
Likewise, the pro-life
movement has been so
tangled up in policy
objectives that it has failed
to actually reduce the
number of abortions.
The Future of Abortion
Thirty years ago, the
most effective forms of
birth control--even if used
correctly--were only 90%
effective. Now, redundant
prophylactics can reduce
the odds of pregnancy to
those of being struck by a
meteor--and if those
safeguards fail, the option
of emergency
contraception is available.
Numerous advancements
in birth control
technology, such as the
male birth control pill, are
on the horizon within the
next ten years--and can
reduce unplanned
pregnancies even more.
The pro-life vs. pro-choice
debate seems to be
destined for a short
lifespan. It is likely that
abortion will largely
disappear in this country
during the 21st century--
not because it has been
banned, but simply
because it has been
rendered obsolete.


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