Thursday, May 9, 2013

Abortion: Heads in the sand

I have said before that America's laws are a train wreck of irreconcilable contradictions when it comes to abortion. But that is nothing more than a reflection of the inner conflict and willful blindness that poison America's conscience when it comes to abortion.

Back when Roe v. Wade was decided, the debate over abortion hinged primarily on whether an unborn child was a) alive, and/or b) human. Sure, there was some noise about "the propriety of government intervening between a woman and her doctor" (and its twin, "the propriety of men who can't get pregnant dictating to women who can") but it always came back to the notion that that is not really a baby inside of you, so you need not trouble your mind over whether you are killing one.

I remember that two-part question still being argued when I was in high school more than a decade later. In public, people on the pro-choice side clearly implied that their comfort with unfettered access to abortion was predicated on the idea that those things implanted in uterine walls were not known to be actual living babies. The logical conclusion was that if those things were ever proved to be actual living babies, the same people would then support restrictions on abortion even if they did not support an outright ban.

In the years since, science, sonography and common sense have made it impossible to deny that the answers to the two-part question are "yes, it is alive" and "yes, it is human." Some people insist on answering "no" to the "is it human?" part of the question, but even they qualify that answer by applying it only to those cases in which a pregnancy is in its very earliest days after conception.

Nevertheless, a loud segment of the public, backed by an intransigent block of politicians, continues to squeal that there is something totalitarian about placing any limits on abortion at any point before the moment of delivery. And whenever the public's mind is so vividly split on an issue, it should come as no surprise that the laws it produces are inconsistent to the point of being incoherent.

In every single abortion, the law allows babies' mothers to kill them but forbids their fathers from taking any legal action to protect them. Yet in most states, those very same fathers can be sent to prison for "failure to stop and render aid" after a car crash -- even if the injuries at issue were just cuts and scrapes, and even if they truly believed that was a fire hydrant and not a motor scooter that their rear bumper clipped when they made a right turn on the way to work.

Meanwhile, in partial birth abortion (usually performed very late in pregnancy) labor is induced and the baby is turned into the breech position, then delivered vaginally until only its head remains inside the mother. Then the doctor punctures the baby's skull and sucks its brain out with a vacuum, which not only kills it but produces the added "benefit" of collapsing its skull so that its head becomes easier to pull through the mother's cervix...Even if we can ignore the gruesomeness of this procedure, how can we ignore the legal dilemma which rises from the fact that the law says it is hunky dory to kill the baby while its head is on one side of the cervix, but murder to kill it two seconds later when its head has moved a few inches and ended up on the other side of the cervix?

And consider the case of NFL player Rae Carruth and his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams. Because Adams refused to have an abortion, Carruth arranged for her to be murdered and then he participated in the murder. Adams was shot four times in the stomach in an effort to ensure that both her and the baby met their demise. For this, Carruth was charged with the crime of "using an instrument to destroy an unborn child." I applaud that kind of law, but can someone please explain the logic by which it gets enforced while abortion goes untouched?

Of course, the inconsistencies and irrationalities surrounding abortion are not confined just to our laws as written. They spill over into the arguments used to justify abortion's legality, especially when the same arguments are applied to other issues held dear by those on the pro-choice side of the aisle.

Consider the very phrase "pro-choice," since those who call themselves pro-choice are almost always liberals. While they love to wax poetic about "a woman's right to choose," the fact of the matter is that when the subject is something other than abortion, they are often opposed to a woman's right to choose. After all, they do not support a woman's right to choose where to send her children to public school, and do not support a woman's right to choose whether she can purchase a gun this afternoon after receiving a death threat this morning. Plus, they openly disdain the idea of women choosing to lead their lives according to the teachings of Christianity or Judaism.

Many people justify their opposition to any restrictions being placed on abortion by claiming that they are in favor of women being able to choose whatever it is that's best for them. However, these same people oppose informed consent laws that would genuinely allow women to make that choice. Opposing such laws keeps millions of women in the dark about the fact that people who have abortions often experience major psychological trauma later in life, when thoughts turn to wondering what their daughter would have looked like in her prom dress or whether their son would have preferred hockey to baseball, etc.

Once upon a time, media forces loudly protested that the smallest restrictions on abortion would result in women undergoing unsafe "back alley abortions." Today, those same forces are silent about the real-life lack of safety at licensed abortion clinics like Kermit Gosnell's -- even when that lack of safety proves fatal to women patients.

Liberals are constantly saying we should emulate the nations of Europe on all things legal, moral, cultural, etc. Apparently they are not aware that European nations place such strict limits on abortion that if the same limits were proposed here, they would denounce them as an assault on women's rights and a return to patriarchal tyranny. If American liberals were to be told what European abortion laws really are, would they proceed to reevaluate their own positions like they always tell conservatives to do, or would they just assume that the speaker is lying?

Those who call themselves pro-choice use euphemism as a tool not only to sway the undecided, but also to cope with the nagging voices of doubt that must occasionally chirp somewhere in their own brains. Witness their use of the phrase "terminate the pregnancy" instead of "have an abortion" -- a phrase that in older days was itself used as a euphemism to avoid saying "kill the baby." Witness also the use of the aforementioned phrase "a woman's right to choose," which is deployed without the word "abortion" ever crossing the speaker's lips.

The most damning euphemism, however, is the word "fetus." It is used only when talking about abortion and only to avoid saying "baby," since, in the minds of most people, "baby" means human while "fetus" suggests something less.

More than eight years of my professional life were spent working closely with physicians, and not once did I hear any of them say the word "fetus."

Erika has been pregnant four times and I accompanied her on many obstetrical visits during those pregnancies, and not once was the word "fetus" used either by doctor or by staff.

Even the earliest of sonograms are always described as being performed to "see the baby," not to "see the fetus." And when a doctor holds a microphone to a pregnant woman's belly and a thump-thump is heard through the speakers, it is always described as "the baby's heartbeat," not as "the sound of a circulatory muscle in the fetus's upper quadrant."

Kirsten Powers recently pointed out that women don't come up with lists of "names for their fetus," they come up with lists of "names for their baby." And on a similar note, my sister pointed out that women don't call those gift-giving parties "fetus showers," they call them "baby showers."

The abortion debate in this country has not been a real debate. Instead it has been one side's ongoing attempt to avoid debate by pulling a mask over the truth. But as it turns out, the truth of abortion is not as easy to hide as they wish it to be.

As a result, our laws have grown so contorted that no one can straighten them out without disposing of them entirely and starting anew. And in what amounts to human tragedy on a national scale, the mixed messaging has created a climate in which untold numbers of young people have chosen abortion because they were conditioned to think of pregnancies as problems rather than as incubators of precious human life -- only to, years later, look back on that youthful decision with the kind of horror and guilt that can afflict their minds until the day they die.

The generations coming behind us deserve a much more open, much more honest discussion about this topic than we have been having up to now.

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