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Today one of the great moral debates of our time is over the idea of abortion. There are a multitude of contradictions and many questionable conclusions within society when it comes to this subject.  In much of the world where abortion is legal it is restricted to the first trimester, the reasoning being that after this time is when real questions of ethics arise.  Questions that include: Health of the mother, the status of brain development, and increasingly post partum viability.

In the U.S., a country considered by many to be more conservative then Europe, abortions during the second and third trimesters are often performed.  At the same time killing of the baby in vitro (inside of the womb) by an assailant is considered murder in many states.  This is just one of the moral double standard that seems contrary to all common sense.  Either a unborn baby (or fetus if you wish) is human life or it is not.

Consequently:

1)  If the killing of a baby in the womb is murder then current laws seem to infer that assassinations can be sanctioned by law if the human life is still inside the womb and the assassin has a medical license.

or

2)  Life is not established until after birth and therefore the death of a “fetus” is no more than any other injury suffered during an assault (equal to a bruise or a broken nose).  In which case punching a woman in the stomach to kill the fetus is a simple assualt, nothing more, and should be punished appropriately.

Common sense would tell you one or the other must be true but both cannot be.

The insanity of the debate does not end there.  Animals are now being given rights and protections under the penalty of law that seem to exceed that given to humans.  If a blind new born puppy is thrown into a blender the culprit would be summary arrested and prosecuted.  The unwarranted torture of an animal that can feel and react to stimulus like voices, temperature and pain is considered “inhumane” but to tear a “fetus” with a functioning brain and equally operable senses limb from limb is considered a human right.  Is this a rational line of reasoning or a convoluted one?

Some scientist including doctors have been advocating for post partum (after birth) abortion.  A recent report published by the Journal of Medical Ethics supports this idea fully.  The logic is simple enough; there is little difference between a baby in the womb and one just born.  If the first is not a person why would we think the second is?   Their point is well taken if not their conclusion.

It is obvious that the world is not even close to resolving the issue of abortion.  In the United States the famous case of Roe vs Wade far from resolving the issue has only ignited it further.  Additionally the article in the Journal of Medical Ethics raises even more disturbing questions.  If a society starts to declare what it means to be human based on ability to interact or other similar criteria where does that lead?  Are the elderly and the mentally and physically handicapped next in line to be killed at will?   This was the first step to (or into) total depravity taken by the NAZIs!  This is not hyperbole; it is reasoned inquiry that needs to be answered.

The fact is the ideas presented in the Journal of Medical Ethics are still outside of the mainstream (Although one of the President’s czars is on record advocating abortion should be legal up to 2 years of age).  Even so, that such ideas are even being presented as legitimate subjects for debate is troubling.  It also emphasizes the need for a comprehensive definition of when life begins.  The choices are few but the ramifications are huge for our society.

The main choices are:

1)  Conception:  This idea has the advantage of being clear cut and it corresponds to many deeply held religious beliefs.  The debate on this option is that although the cells are alive and human many would argue they do not as of yet constitute human life.  Of course it also is the most restrictive.

2)  Physical attribute:  This defines life as when there is an independent heart beat or functioning brain.   To do this would by default involve pre-procedure medical exams for abortions performed close to the borderline for such development.  Although such a definition would incite vehement opposition from both sides it could also be a logical compromise.

3)  A predefined period before birth, most common mentioned is the first trimester.  The problem for this is that not all babies mature in the womb the same way and doctors estimation about time of conception is just an educated guess. This means such an arbitrary point in time is not specifically referenceable to the baby’s development.  For this reason an actual physical attribute probably makes more sense then just a point in time although the gestation period is much easier.

4)  Birth: It is the present semi-official one.  To many Jews life begins with the first breath, many other people similarly see the separation from the woman’s body as marking the point of independent life.  It also leads to many of the contradictions and moral dilemmas already noted as well as opens the door to the last of the possible definitions, personhood.

5)  Personhood: This is the most radical and troubling.  It is the one promoted in the Journal of Medical Ethics article and one that started the road to depravity for the NAZIs.  It defines being human with terms like self-awareness and the ability to interact with others.  It also looks at the slaughter of newborns with all the empathy one would give to the extermination of  a parasite.

Among conservatives the answer to the question “When does life begin?” is often debated as much as it is among many progressive liberals.  Still for conservatives the debate is almost always between the first three definitions with those advocating for the first being the most vocal.  Progressives tend to coalesce around the forth and present one with a few willing to accept even the fifth.

One thing that is lost in this debate is the effect of all this on society.  It should be self-evident that a society that fails to protect and cherish its next generation is destined for destruction.  In light of this we owe it to ourselves and our posterity to answer the question “What is life?”  Answering this question and putting it in legal stone will provide a legal bulwark against depravity and injustice.  What the Journal of Medical Ethics article shows that this is a moral obligation that cannot continue to be ignored.  It also shows that accepting the forth option can lead to the fifth.

Abortion and racism are both symptoms of a fundamental human error. The error is thinking that when someone stands in the way of our wants, we can justify getting that person out of our lives. Abortion and racism stem from the same poisonous root, selfishness. Alveda King

The Conservative Mind

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