Mendelson: Marching for reason

Eduardo Andino’s column (“Marching for Life,” Feb. 4) describing the March for Life in Washington, D.C., is part of an ongoing attempt by anti-abortion advocates to reframe the abortion debate in unfair and inaccurate terms. His premises deserve scrutiny.

Andino calls abortion “the largest genocide in human history.” If he actually believed this, his response to the “genocide” would be woefully inadequate. Imagine, for a second, that there was a real genocide right here in America — that some group of our fellow citizens was being murdered by the millions. I am hard-put to imagine the proper response, but I am fairly confident that standing outside the Capitol Building with placards, or writing columns for the Yale Daily News, would be pathetic. That Mr. Andino celebrates this march as an accomplishment belies his own assertions about his cause’s importance. No one who genuinely believed abortion is murder would be willing to allow exceptions for incest and rape, but most anti-abortion advocates do favor those exceptions. Anti-abortion advocates use the language of murder, life and death, but their conduct shows this is not what they think.

To his credit, Andino avoids framing the debate in overtly religious terms, but he still trumpets the importance of religion in the march. He describes the “ByzanTeens whose banner bore a traditional Byzantine icon of Mary and St. Elizabeth,” among other groups. In doing so, he undermines his position further. To ban abortion solely because it undermines certain sects’ beliefs is to infringe on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The vast majority of those opposed to abortion are opposed for entirely religious reasons. The reason abortion is murder, according to certain Christian sects, is because the soul is present in a fetus, and the soul makes humanity. But these are the religious beliefs of a minority in our nation. Should the rest of society be forced to obey onerous laws upholding religious convictions that they may find repugnant?

Andino’s attempts to use science to support his argument serve to weaken his position. He asserts that at the moment of conception, the fetus has been completely formed genetically as a person — this person exists, and will eventually take physical form determined by genetic code. “That clump [of cells], which starts as a single cell,” he writes, “has its own unique, breathtakingly complex DNA code.” He neglects to consider twins, who form several days after conception. If a zygote can be one person, or two people, or even more, it would hardly have the fixed identity he asserts. If a woman gets an abortion, is she the murderer of one, two or three people? More? Do we base her prison sentence on a weighted average of the number of people her zygote might have become?

Andino’s claim that a fetus is a “meaningful, organized being” as soon as it is conceived does not address the realities of miscarriage statistics. In all pregnancies, there exists an extraordinarily high likelihood of miscarriage. If one considers all fertilizations of eggs, including eggs that have been fertilized for only one or two weeks, the majority of pregnancies end in miscarriages. Statistics do not agree completely, but it seems that even if one looks only at miscarriages among young women who have already been pregnant for at least three weeks, the overall rate of miscarriage is still roughly 15 percent. With such a high rate, one can hardly assert that a fetus is a person about to happen. No one holds funerals or naming ceremonies for lost embryos and tiny clumps of cells because no one has died. I myself was conceived only after several very early miscarriages. Should I hold remembrance services for my lost little siblings?

And Andino’s assertions lead to even stranger consequences. Drinking two cups of coffee during pregnancy significantly increases the chances of a miscarriage. Should police set up sting operations at coffee shops, and arrest any pregnant woman who buys a latte? My mother had me at a late age, increasing the likelihood of a miscarriage. Is she guilty of reckless endangerment, or endangering the welfare of a minor? By waiting to get pregnant, she certainly increased the chances that she would bring about the “death” of a fetus.

Andino points out, correctly, that people are often uncomfortable defending abortion. I suspect this is because people have accepted too many of the claims of anti-abortion advocates at face value. This is unfortunate because, as Andino demonstrates, such premises are anything but convincing.

James Mendelson is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    I too was conceived after several ( WW-II-anxiety) miscarriages. I was one of the first DES babies, an experiment at Yale through Grace-New Haven (now Yale-New Haven) Hospital.

    I recall seeing an exhibit at the Peabody Museum as a child of nine jars: each with a zygote, embryo or fetus in it, one for each of the nine months. I was fascinated and horrified. I have wondered if any of those “exhibits” might have been a sibling from my mother’s previous miscarriages.

    What were the medical and ethical protocols back then?

    You trivialize the notion of a religious service for a fetus, but recent psychological research indicates women who experience a miscarriage do grieve and suffer from having their grief ignored.

  • RexMottram08

    We have seen the world of Mendelson… it is a frightening, sterile place.

    I prefer life in all its dirty, painful beauty..

  • commentator

    Hear, Hear!

  • River Tam

    > There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life. I do not share that view. I believe that life is not private, but rather it is public and universal. If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic. That was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to concerned.

    Jesse Jackson, 1977

  • Andreology

    Yes, I have to concede some of his points. It is not exactly the same as genocide. Many pro-life advocates would allow for exceptions (though this is mostly a pragmatic strategy). It would be difficult to prosecute a mother for abortion. Most mothers do not hold funerals after a miscarriage.

    And yet, I challenge Mr. Mendelson to spend 10 minutes studying a photo of a fetus. It is a precious life! It feels pain! It wants to live! And for many of us, when we look in our hearts, we know that there is something wrong about killing that life.

  • RexMottram08

    The argument of abortion as genocide comes from abortion selectively and disproportionately targeting female babies, racial minorities, and the disabled…

  • Andreology

    Many pro-choice advocates will change their position when the gay gene is discovered.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Create or Destroy?

    I have written for decades against mass-produced abortion. http://sexandabortion.blogspot.com

    Yet it is not as simple as declaring :” it is a precious life”. If it is a precious life, then why does life’s “creator” destroy it so often SPONTANEOUSLY?

    For that matter, what kind of bloodthirsty “creator” would take 63 million lives in WW II?

    Of course, this type of questioning presumes a “creator”, probably with a capilal “C”.

    Statistics suggest that this “Creator” may in fact have a scythe in his/her hand—– and a “D” not a “C” for an initial.

    .

  • mr09

    you make a lot of assumptions.
    “I am fairly confident that standing outside the Capitol Building with placards, or writing columns for the Yale Daily News, would be pathetic”
    Many people likened the Vietnam war to genocide and these people used similar channels of protest. Difference is celebrity (no John and Yoko) and media (viewers get tired of/numb to) the abortion debate.

    “No one who genuinely believed abortion is murder would be willing to allow exceptions for incest and rape, but most anti-abortion advocates do favor those exceptions.”
    Uh… would you agree that most people believe that the Cheshire murderers should be put to death? Does this mean that most people are pro-murder? No, but adding crimes/criminal atrocities such as rape and incest to the equation adds a completely different layer of complexity. Criminal intent behind a conception gives benefit of the doubt to the innocent party, whereas consensual sex has consequences with which both parties are aware.

    I’m boggled how you can argue the validity of science behind when life starts. I think this is pretty clear cut. I agree that there are major hurdles that must be overcome within the first few days after fertilization, but as you mention, this levels off and development is pretty stable and unidirectional after 1-2 weeks.

    Personally, I enjoy this debate, but your trivializing the topic does not add any benefit to the community. Also, if there is question about the importance or value of a mass of human cells, life, whatever you want to call it, would it be more prudent to err on being over-protective… Those accused of murder deserve a fair trial. Invalid people deserve a voice and have legal protections. Does a fetus deserve some rights? I think it’s a valid legal question. I’m glad that groups, whether religious or not, stand up for those that don’t have a voice. These same groups stand up for people in Tibet, Sudan, Darfur, you name it, trying to raise awareness, standing there with placards. We can all argue against what they stand for and what they believe in, but I give them credit – they’re more do-ers than talkers.

  • Eduardo_Andino

    Dear James, Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful response to my column. I suppose the fact that people are talking about it and responding means I’ve done my job. A couple of quick points I wanted to make in response:

    You say that many miscarriages happen naturally, which calls into question whether it is “persons” who are being terminated in this natural way. I am not sure about statistics for natural miscarriages, but it seems to me like medical advances have reduced the amount of infants that die shortly after emerging from the womb. If we were to find ways to reduce the number of natural miscarriages, would you still stand by this argument? It is a sad reality that many humans die very early in their stages of development, from inside the womb, to their toddler and kindergarten years. But I wouldn’t think that statistics of natural death, which we have the hope of changing with medical advances, ought to affect our claims of what constitutes life all that strongly, and especially not what we have the right to do with that life.

    Also, the argument of ensoulment might be used by Hindus or Buddhists (I really don’t know all that well) but with Christianity it is a bit different. Christians hold that humans are just as much flesh as they are soul, such that we are not ourselves if we are just disembodied souls. Christians believe in a resurrection of the body, and an afterlife that is not just a luminous sea of immaterial souls. As such, it is not as simple as saying that the soul is what gives the fetus dignity. It is just as much its material existence. Otherwise, it might not be the worst thing if we freed all those infant souls from the “bodily prison” and the trials and miseries and tribulations that are to come in their material existence. They might even appreciate it.

    Finally, I just want to point out that the reason it is difficult to oppose abortion, especially at Yale or in NYC where I live, is that you lose friends. A handful of people who I have gotten along with just fine over the past year and a half of Yale (including a couple in my residential college) have begun acting differently towards me just for going to the March. It is social poison and it blacklists you. You are quite correct to say that I am not doing enough to fight abortion, and maybe once I get a little more backbone I will do a lot more.

  • commentator

    “I’m glad that groups, whether religious or not, stand up for those that don’t have a voice. These same groups stand up for people in Tibet, Sudan, Darfur, you name it, trying to raise awareness, standing there with placards.”

    People in Tibet have a voice. Perhaps a voice insufficiently heard, but they have a voice, for the simple reason that they are people – thinking individuals with emotions and consciousness. In other words, everything that fetuses are not.

    To equate fetuses with people is to trivialize human life. The whole of the so-called ‘pro life’ movement is organized around the marginalization of birth as an event. As if there is a childhood, an old age, a mid-life crisis, and, oh yes, there is also that period of your life before you are born. This is nothing short of ridiculous. And frankly, it is really difficult to take seriously someone who refuses to recognize this difference. What’s next, protection for the pre-conceptioned life?

  • mr09

    to commentator:
    i agree – people in tibet have a voice. i used tibet more to illustrate the importance of standing up for others and what you believe in no matter what resources you have to demonstrate.
    i also agree that an important aspect of ‘human life’, as you describe it, is based on the human experience and the ability to have emotions and consciousness, but i can’t say that a more experienced human life is worth more than a less experienced one, legally at least. an ex utero or ex vivo (whatever the hell you want to call it) lump of cells (aka baby) has legal protections. when observing one of these lumps of cells that drools and stares into oblivion, one would have to wonder if there’s a whole lot that mentally (and physically) distinguishes a 1 day old baby or even a 2 week old baby compared to a developed fetus. Birth is a very important event… as are childhood and mid-life crises, but I think if our society is really interested in moving this debate forward, attempts should be made to reach a consensus on how life can be defined and if or how it should be protected at all stages.

  • commentator

    @mro9

    Actually, no. It’s not about defining life. It’s about defining what a human being is. Sperm and eggs are unquestionably life, not inorganic matter.

    “When observing one of these lumps of cells that drools and stares into oblivion, one would have to wonder if there’s a whole lot that mentally (and physically) distinguishes a 1 day old baby or even a 2 week old baby compared to a developed fetus.”

    I have watched my child develop from what looked like a worm to what looked like a rather disgusting alien form of life, to a human being. So, as far as I am concerned, there is a whole lot of obvious difference.

  • mr09

    cool – can you give an estimated time frame (days/months preferably not stardates) as to when it transitioned from alien to human being? i’m guessing it was at least a few weeks after birth b/c most new borns still look like aliens.
    i think your argument would be that human ‘life’ or ‘being’ should be legally protected within or following this transitional time frame, right?

  • commentator

    Actually I was commenting on the problematic strategy of promoting sentimental attachment to even very young fetuses. As for everything else, actually my argument would be that human life starts with birth, and I would be willing to discuss the status of viable fetuses. But here’s the trick: the vast majority of abortions take place very early in the pregnancy (during the first 12 weeks). So for the most part, women abort either embryos or fetuses at the very early stage of fetal development – about an inch in length, with only minimal operation of organs, no pain, no consciousness, etc, etc. So the ‘victims’ of abortion for the most part don’t even come close to being human beings.

  • River Tam

    > I have watched my child develop from what looked like a worm to what looked like a rather disgusting alien form of life, to a human being.

    Proving, of course, that appearances can be deceiving. For while a fish embryo and a human embryo are visually indistinguishable, they are biologically very different.

  • justayalemom

    @Eduardo Andino
    ….Stand for what you believe in, even if you stand alone…..
    Eduardo you do not stand alone, I along with many others stand with you.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “I would be willing to discuss the status of viable fetuses”

    Commentator:
    Start with me. Were it not for the then relatively “new” invention of incubators, I would have been in 1944 I suppose (in your terminology) an ” unviable fetus”, delivered two months prematurely with no hope of survival.

    When Thornton Wilder was born in 1897, his tiny twin brother was placed on the open door of a kitchen stove to keep him warm. He died.

    Or should I have said, Commentator, the non-viable fetus never lived?

  • mr09

    to commentator:
    …it might be perceived that attaching sentimentality to a fetus is a propaganda ‘strategy’, but it could also be a natural human reaction for some people and not others. i think that’s a separate debate.

    nonetheless, you suggest that you would be willing to allow legal protection and rights for a fetus in the 2nd and 3rd trimester. i think the prolifers should totally jump on your compromise. it’s like trading marvin gardens for kentucky or the New START treaty – both are fair deals. They don’t solve the debate (good-luck with that – everyone wants all the yellows and the reds and, of course, we want to eradicate nuclear weapons from the planet), but at least it makes headway instead of cyclic ideological arguing.

  • commentator

    well, I am not sure I would be happy to trade anything, but I do find the idea of aborting a say 6 or seven month fetus disturbing, unless it’s about the mother’s health.
    But the problem is precisely that the debate is focusing on the exceptions and not on what happens most of the time. Most of the time you are aborting a one-inch embryo or fetus.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Abortion has become the accepted price society pays for impulsive, ubiquitous, erotic exercise.

  • commentator

    Abortion has always been an accepted thing at some level – all societies, no matter how traditional, have had developed abortion practices, in many it was not a crime, and in some it wasn’t an object of legislation at all, it was rarely equated with murder.

  • The Anti-Yale

    TOTAL ABORTIONS SINCE 1973:
    52,008,665

  • gettingitright

    Eduardo seems to think he can speak for “Christians” but maybe he hasn’t met enough Christians. I was raised by one Lutheran parent and one Episcopalian parent. Those two churches don’t think about abortion or the nature of life in the same way that Eduardo says “Christians” think. But Lutherans and Episcopalians are Christians too, last time I heard. I wish people wouldn’t try to speak for “Christians” when what they mean is “my kind of Christian and not your kind of Christian.” This is the kind of thing that gives Christianity a bad name, and it doesn’t deserve it.

  • commentator

    TOTAL ABORTIONS SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD: Countless

  • River Tam

    > This is the kind of thing that gives Christianity a bad name, and it doesn’t deserve it.

    I wish you would stop deciding saying what gives Christianity a bad name, when what you really mean is, “it gives it a name that I do not like.”

  • RexMottram08

    LOL @ Lutherans and Episcopalians as “Christian” in any meaningful sense.

  • areweforserious

    I’d like to give a complete response to the frighteningly ignorant anti-choice rhetoric I’ve been seeing lately, but I’ll leave with this (courtesy of According to Sami):

    Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that 100 years from now they’ve come up with a way to create a synthetic womb that can be implanted into someone that does not normally have a uterus or female reproductive organs. In addition to this being a wonderful boon for trans women or cis gay men who want to carry a child , this could also be given to a het- cis-guy if, for whatever reason, the woman cannot carry their child to term.

    Let’s also say, for argument’s sake, that a fetus can not only be created in this womb, it can be transplanted at any time from the womb of the mother into this synthetic womb.

    Let’s finally say that even though we were able to create this amazing invention, we still were not able to 100% prevent unwanted pregnancies.

    So, for all the penis owners out there who are perfectly OK with saying once someone get’s pregnant, the government is well within it’s rights to restrict her ability to not be pregnant any longer, how would you feel about this solution:

    If a woman gets pregnant and does not want to or cannot carry a child to term, the government can then *force* the bio father to undergo this painful, albeit temporary, medical procedure, to then continue to carry the child. He was equally responsible in creating it, so he should carry equal responsibility in ensuring it’s survival.

    What’s that you say? The government cannot force someone to undergo an invasive, dangerous, and painful medical procedure against their will? It’s not the government’s job to tell you what you do with your body? They have NO GOD DAMN RIGHT to force that upon you?

    WELCOME TO THE DARK SIDE.

  • Madas

    @areweforserious:

    Are you for serious? The government cannot force one to undergo a particular painful (and unnatural :-p) procedure, so therefore it wouldn’t be right for it to prohibit other “medical” procedures (if that’s what you want to call butchery. The Nazi’s convinced themselves they were just performing medical procedures too) ? Are you saying it’s wrong to prohibit torture? How about genital mutilation? I suppose we’re restricting the rights of sadists to live life to the fullest, aren’t we? How cruel.

  • areweforserious

    You’re completely missing the analogy. Synthetic womb = way for a man to gestate a fetus. Prohibiting abortion = forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term– a long, often painful, expensive, and life-changing process. If men shared the burdens of procreation equally, the physical and emotional toll that a pregnancy carried to term involves, the financial expense, and the lifelong changes that carrying and giving birth involves (even if the child were given up for adoption after birth), not to mention the social stigma that conception forces exclusively upon women, would they oppose abortion so cavalierly? So tell me, how is forcing a woman to go through the pain and physical harm involved in pregnancy AGAINST HER WILL any more acceptable than forcing a man to go through a similar process, keeping in mind that both partners are equally involved in the fetus’ conception?

    And finally, if you’re of the “sex should have consequences” anti-choice variety: should we use children as punishment for sex? That concept is very disturbing to me.

  • Madas

    @Areweforserious:

    “how is forcing a woman to go through the pain and physical harm involved in pregnancy AGAINST HER WILL any more acceptable than forcing a man to go through a similar process”

    In case you missed health class, parting one’s leg is a choice. That’s the OBVIOUS, FRACKING difference. If a man chose your bizarre thought experiement, so be it, but choice is involved as it is with women putting herself in a sutation that could result in pregnancy. Once there’s another life in there, it’s not one person’s choice any more. I’m sorry nature didn’t let you have unlimited promiscuous sex without consequences. Life is truly unfair. Try suing. Besides complaining, it’s the American way.