While I, as a physician, would not perform an abortion unless there was an extreme, medical rational, abortion is a choice. It is a woman’s determination of how best to live and manage her life. Also, while the issue of viability is an important medical topic, and while I believe that any life, from the moment of conception, is of supreme value, some women do not. If they are the ones who are pregnant, I do not have a right to impose my value system on them. I do not have the right to require them to sacrifice their values so as to bring a fetus to full term and deliver. I defend, as a basis of moral principle, a person’s right to choose. If after 1 day or 36 weeks, a woman chooses a course for her own body that ultimately leads to the abortion of a fetus, that is her right.
This is not to say that once a fetus is disconnected from a mother, that a physician may do whatever he chooses. On the contrary, a physician has the ethical obligation to protect a life. If a mother chooses to abort, she is choosing to no longer serve the fetus. Once the fetus is apart from the mother, a physician must undertake whatever steps are necessary to preserve that life. The act of doing so will not impinge on the freedoms of the mother.
Again, I reiterate, I am personally against abortion. My wife would not abort a fetus unless her life were in danger, and I would not have married her if she believed otherwise. I do not have the right however, to impose my morality on a woman. I do not have the right to protect a fetus who is not separate from the mother, at the cost of the freedom of the mother. I can stand outside of a clinic and hand out flyers to raise awareness. I can give to charities that do the same. I can stand in front of a camera and implore women to see the value in a child, to them, to potential adopters, and to society. But I cannot support law that, by force, limits the personal choice of a woman.
Granting rights to a fetus, a potential life, at the cost of the mother is a perversion of individual rights. Simply because you disagree with someone’s value system does not give you the right to impose that system on another human being through the use of force.
A fetus becomes a human being when it is no longer attached to the mother. There’s an important reason for that. The progression of fetal develop goes from an embryo, with zero viability, towards a fully developed fetus, with, hopefully, full viability. Along the way, there is a continuum of viability that depends on development, health, genetics, etc. As an example, at around 24 weeks, a fetus has developed lung surfactant, a significant milestone in development, yet legally, 20 weeks is viable, a contentious point in ethical law. Therefore, viability is anything but a simple matter.
Regardless, while viability exists on a continuum, rights are absolutes. A complete, living woman, has absolute rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. She does not lay claim to the efforts of others through requiring their sacrifice, nor may others lay claim to her efforts. This is an absolute. A fetus, in a strictly descriptive term, is a parasite, i.e. it exists at the cost of the mother. She may choose to surrender her values, her effort and energy, to mature this fetus and bring it to term and deliver it, or she may choose to discontinue the support. This is abortion.
Arguing, “well at 36 weeks, the fetus is viable, so it is illegal to abort” raises some interesting ethical concerns. If she cut herself open and clamped the cord, choosing to discontinue support of the potential human, she would not be harming the fetus, but simply choosing to no longer support it. To say that our country has the duty to protect the rights of the fetus that is still attached to another human being is akin to protecting the rights of one person at the harm of another. If the 36 week pregnant mother says, “I want an abortion,” the state does not have the right to say, “Ok, we will cut it out of you, induce labor, or force you to carry that child a little long until your body delivers.”
The reason this is so important is because making the above argument in defense of a potential life at the cost of the rights of another life, the mother, sets a dangerous precedent that it would be foolish to think would not happen. The pro-life (absolutely no abortion) groups believe that a woman has no right to herself once she conceives. They are wrong. To give an inch, to say that a connected fetus has rights that must be protected by infringing upon the rights of the mother, is a compromise and a foothold for those who wish to impose their morality on free men and women.
Mark Ard is a student in an MD/MA ethics program.
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