For about a year now, I have been troubled by the argument that embryonic stem cell research has been deemed morally unacceptable by my fellow conservatives. It stems (pun intended) from their logic in the abortion debate. Their logic goes like this (I hope I am not building a straw man here):
- A young child has human rights
- The child’s right to life begins before birth. A day before birth is not different from the day after
- Therefore, their personhood must be defined by some factor before birth
- We believe that as soon as the zygote is formed, a distinct genetic invidual exists, and must be protected from that point on
- Therefore, embryonic stem cell research is human experimentation, which is, a priori, wrong
When I did leukemia research, I took human cancer cells (skin cells), and cultured them week after week. They had a complete, unique set of DNA. Why weren’t they considered inviduals with rights? Conservatives counter that they were not trying to develop into embryos. I counter that they certainly could if we knew how to turn on and off the various genes needed – all of the genes necessary are there. Anyway, that argument could go on ad nasuem, but I’m actually not here to make arguments. My problems with the above logic led me to explore other methods of defining when a fetus’ rights begin.
Also, I am very tired of the very polarized, entrenched viewpoints on both sides, where no one is really listening to one another. They both refuse to budge, both relying on “slippery slope” logic, saying that one step towards the other camp could lead to an inexorable slide all the way to that side. The fact is, despite both sides’ work with pregnant women, the conservatives come across as not caring about a woman’s plight, sticking to their religious guns, and the liberals come across not caring at all for the unborn baby, sticking to their hyperbolic stands on womens’ rights.
Having thought about this some, I thought to create an organization sure to drive both poles of this debate mad. I call it Citizens for Reasonable Abortion Limits. Here are what I think would be the starting Statement of Beliefs. There are some huge holes here, but I want to open it up to discussion – what is missing? What is poorly said? What seems illogical? I purposely am NOT going to play out every argument, which could take pages, but rather, want to make statements of belief without indepth apologies at this time.
We believe that:
1. In Any Pregnancy, Both Of The Parents And The Developing Child Have Limited Rights.
No one has unlimited rights. An individual’s rights are limited at the point where he is infringing on another’s rights. For example, the right to free speech is limited at slander – one can not knowingly lie about someone else in the media.
Similarly, a woman’s right to her body is limited when her developing child has rights that could be taken away.
a. Woman’s Pregnancy Rights – A woman has the right to practice birth control in any legal manner she chooses, including abortive methods up to the Point of Personhood of the child. However, abortive actions are limited by the father’s rights.
b. Father’s Pregnancy Rights – The father of a child has the right to contribute to the decision-making about the welfare of a child. A father can not force a woman to terminate a pregnancy, and a mother should not be able to terminate a pregnancy without permission from the father, unless the father has abdicated his rights [these conditions to be developed]. This permission or abdication does not have to be legally documented, but may be documented through the notarized signature of a Release of Pregnancy Rights form, or if a court has determined that a father has otherwise abdicated through criminal activity or abandonment.
c. Unborn Child’s Rights – After the point of personhood, the child has the right to life and protection of that life under the law.
2. The Developing Fetus Has Human Rights After a Defined Point in a Pregnancy – The Point of Personhood
There are many possible ways to determine when a fetus becomes a person with rights. Many have argued forcefully for defining the starting point based upon genetic uniqueness (fertilization), by discovery time (giving the woman ample to time to discover her pregnancy), by viability (can the fetus survive out of the womb), by actual birth, and by other ethical and moral teachings and standards. We believe those arguments to be insufficient, and believe that the beginning of human life ought to be defined by the same measure we use for the end of life. However, even this is controversial. Science has given us at least five early developmental milestones that could be considered as the starting point for life and personhood. They are (reference):
- Heartbeat Today’s technology can detect a baby’s heartbeat eighteen days after conception. That is only four days after most women miss a period and begin to suspect they are pregnant.
- Brain waves Six weeks after conception signals from the fetal brain can be detected. Dream patterns have been discovered around the eighth or ninth week
- Independent movement At about the sixth week, the baby in the womb can move spontaneously: Kicking, swimming, jumping and stretching.
- Sensory Response A baby in the womb is capable of responding to touch and sound by about the eighth or tenth week. A child at that age will move away from painful stimuli.
- Breathing By about the fourteenth week, a baby’s lungs are functioning and he or she will practice breathing. Vocal cords are formed by the thirteenth week.
We believe that good persons can disagree on which or how many of these five need to be present before we believe the unborn child has rights. We propose that the ability to respond to pain at 8 weeks sets the latest limit of the abortion timeline, and we should discuss moving it back to 6 weeks, which is when independent movement begins. This 8 week upper limit is a compromise, and not an absolute.
3. Terminating a Pregnancy Based On Physical Attributes such as Gender, Race, Sexual Orientation, or Treatable Medical Conditions is Not Acceptable
Pregnancy termination based on basic physical characteristics amounts to killing for convenience (at best), and at worst, genocidal murder. Regarding treatable medical conditions, the threat of a child’s potential suffering, physical or emotional, does not justify terminating its life via abortion. We also understand that science is still debating the physical origin of sexual orientation. However, if a proposed physical or statistical measurement of the possibility of same sex orientation is used for fetal testing, the results of such a test could not be used as justification for terminating a pregnancy.
4. Terminating a Pregnancy for Severe, Untreatable Fetal Conditions Must Be Preserved as a Parental Right, but Not Required by Law
Some conditions are not treatable by today’s standards. Untreatable medical conditions that cause intense suffering AND death within the first two years of life (arbitrary?) may be candidates for abortions throughout the term of a pregnancy. However, terminations should not be mandated by law in such cases.
5. Terminating a Pregnancy Based on the Means of Pregnancy (Rape, Incest, Artificial Insemination, Natural Insemination) is Not Acceptable
Beyond the point of personhood, an unborn child has the right to life, and the method of its creation does not diminish these rights. It is understood that a woman who has an unwanted pregnancy due to rape or incest is under extreme duress, but we propose that abortion will not in any large measure cure her anguish, and may actually create new emotional suffering of its own. We believe that the best way out of a woman’s emotional duress is for her to make ethical and moral decisions in her pregnancy-related decisions. These include:
- allowing the child to live
- working through her anger and hurt to a point of healing and forgiveness of the perpetrators (if any)
- the pursuit of justice against the perpetrators in a court of law
- providing or helping the child find a good home where it is wanted and loved.
We also expect that other means of support, both private and public, will be brought to bear to help such women with pre- and post-natal care, adoption services, counseling and other services.
6. Terminating a Pregnancy to Protect the Life of a Mother Must be Preserved
There are some medical conditions where the abortive methods must be used to preserve the life of the mother. However, mental anguish over a pregnancy, and any resulting physical problems from the mental anguish, are not justification for abortion.
7. Abortion as A Medical Procedure Should be Protected and Taught In Medical Schools, but Should Not Be Mandatory
Due to the remaining cases of early term abortions and rare but necessary late term pregnancy problems, many of the current abortive techniques should be taught in medical schools, at the discretion of the faculty. However, practice of these methods should not be a requirement for graduation or certification in any medical specialty.