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.

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