Using tired scare tactics to avoid fundamental ethical questions may be fitting of the caliber of debate in Washington or on cable television news, but not for Yale students. We should expect more than Planned Parenthood talking points that have not been revisited to check for accuracy or persuasive ability since – quite likely – 1973.
Micha’le Simmons’s guest column addressing Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment (“Criminalizing a woman’s right,” Nov. 8), constituted a blatant attempt to focus on technical detail and glittering generalities to cloud what is at the heart of the abortion debate: the moral and legal status of the fetus.
It is true that the natural implantation of an embryo does not always take place — indeed, instances of death in nature abound. Humans become sick with cancer and die. Miscarriages take place. The fact that what some call “spontaneous abortion” occurs in nature does not give us license to advance it; to make this appeal to nature is a fallacy of relevance. Just because something is sometimes “natural” does not automatically make it just.
The perpetual claim that Initiative 26 would “ban birth control” is at best inaccurate and at worst a lie. By acknowledging the status of a fetus as a person from the moment of conception, the initiative bars it from being willfully destroyed. Contraception that blocks fertilization from taking place would not have been affected in any way. Indeed, the word “contraception” is a contraction of “contra,” which Latin for “against,” and “conception.”
Simmons is right in deducing that the law would ban abortifacients — drugs and mechanisms that cause abortion — that we colloquially (and incorrectly) define as birth control. But the medical and scientific fact remains: Any form of “birth control” which causes the destruction of a fertilized embryo does not “control” anything. Indeed, it does nothing but destroy the embryo. Those are the facts.
In no broadly recognized and legitimate legal, ethical or religious text is abortion deemed a “necessary, basic human right.” (Unless, of course, Simmons considers Planned Parenthood’s charter to be this sacred – in which case I would caution her against putting so much faith in an organization which has its historical roots in the eugenics movement.) Contraception, for its part, would have been completely unaffected by the Personhood Amendment.
And now, to the crux of the issue: All the talking points consistently used regarding “more unwanted pregnancies,” “stigma,” and “basic choices about … fertility” are empty, extraneous words that only serve to mask the philosophical discussion to be had about fetal rights and the ethics of abortion. So are questions like “What kind of a life is the child going to lead?” when we consider the alternative is murdering the child. “Ah, but it’s not murder!” We have arrived at the core issue.
When does a fetus become a person worthy of legal rights? For, as Justice Harry Blackmun admitted in 1973 in explaining his vote in favor of Roe v. Wade, the decision he reached would “collapse” if the “suggestion of personhood [of the fetus] is established.” This question has but one logically consistent answer: conception. All other boundaries, including the “age of viability” that Roe suggests, are arbitrary and moveable.
But scientifically, there is a right answer. Before we were able to conclusively judge the world to be round, many people posited it to be round or flat. Both were entitled to express their opinions, but there indeed was an objectively correct answer. Other boundaries also fail to pass the consistency test: Many say that abortion becomes impermissible when the fetus can experience pain or is conscious. So, then, do we have no qualms about killing patients in comas or those suffering from familial dysautonomia — the inability to feel pain? No ethical or logical framework, except that which establishes conception as the beginning of life, passes this test.
The right to life — expressed in the Declaration of Independence and revered in this country and around the world — is the most fundamental, basic human right of all. It is well past the time for the law to reflect this reality.
John Aroutiounian is a freshman in Morse College and a member of Choose Life at Yale. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.