On Matters of Abortion and Reproductive Rights

reproductionGovernor Rick Perry signed a controversial bill last July that would drastically tighten the state of Texas’ restrictions on abortion. The House Bill 2 thwarts clinics from providing abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, which is four weeks earlier than the standards set by Roe vs. Wade. The bill has the potential to reduce the states available abortion clinics to only five–in turn, requiring women to travel cross international Latin border in order to receive pills that instigate miscarriage in the first trimester. Thus broils the proverbial storm that accompanies matters of women’s reproductive rights. Subtle points worth considering have been made by each side over the decades; however, heated emotions tend to produce a smokescreen within the public sphere that clouds a clear and analytical consideration on such grave issues. So sit back my dear reader and let me guide you by the hand as we travel down abortion’s memory lane. Most people tend to think the dichotomy facing the abortion debates revolves around matters of pro-life versus pro-choice — two labels that clearly have a political agenda attached to their name. “You mean you’re not pro-life? You must be pro-death!” or, “You mean you’re not pro-choice? I guess you’re anti-freedom and hate women.” Although there is some merit to this line of reasoning, like life, in between this opposing spectrum are variegated shades of gray for which the vast majority of the general public is oblivious. For example, not all the arguments for pro-life are religiously influenced. In the majority of cases, death is seen as an evil most of the time because it deprives an individual of a life worth having. The termination of the mentally handicap who are dependent upon other people tends to be regarded as morally reprehensible. So why is it not the case with respect to abortion, since the only distinction lies in internal demographics? reproduction 2In response to this consideration, abortion proponents have pointed out that this line of reasoning would make masturbation a crime against humanity on par with the holocaust, since upon each ejaculation; millions of sperm or “potential lives” are willfully released and destroyed. However, anyone who actually implements this kind of counter response underestimates the sophistication of their opponent and in turn themselves. Given a sperm or egg only constitutes half the genetic material necessary to construct a human life, moral consideration is only deemed to the integration of the two as found in a fully fertilized egg. On the other side of the coin are those who claim that, while an abortion may be callous or cruel, a child does not have a right to use the mother as a means to an end. This position is best vindicated by the following infamous thought experiment originally attributed to Judith Thomson in her essay “In Defense of Abortion.” Suppose that you wake up one day chained to a hospital bed hooked up to the world’s most famous violinist. You are informed you have been taken against your will by the violinist society on account of a certain rare blood type you posses. You are asked to stay chained to the violinist for a blood transfusion that will last nine months (You can see where this is going). You are welcome to leave; however, upon leaving the violinist will shortly die. Most people’s intuitions suggest that, while it would be awfully nice of you to stay, the violinist does not have a right to use your body as a means for his own personal survival. So why isn’t it the same for abortion, which is an analogous situation? In response to this line of reasoning, pro-life proponents suggest the distinction between abortion and the violinist is that the violinist is not your child. This may seem circular; however, our intuitions suggests parents do have civil duties to their children, and that the abandonment of a child morally reprehensible. Nevertheless, there is a third line of reasoning that often goes unexamined that places less emphasis on rights, and more emphasis on what constitutes rights. It is a common misconception to equate a person with a member of the species Homo sapiens. The term has Latin roots commonly taken to mean a rational substance rather than merely being a member of the species Homo sapiens. It was commonly used to refer to someone in a play wearing a mask, and later adopted by Christian Theology in order to express the holy trinity as three persons in one body. It is worth noting that those who embrace this view of personhood fully grant that an infant in the womb is a human, or that all the genetic information needed to build a human is there, but deny it is a person in the context just described. Thus, our concept of rights, it is argued, largely depends upon what constitutes a person rather than a human. For example, in nature, a lion does not murder a zebra, it kills a zebra. What marks this moral distinction between the lion versus the human? The distinction is rather apparent and is found inside our heads. The lion does not possess the capacity to reflect upon its behavior and more importantly, does not recognize a reason to not engage in that type of behavior. However, by the same token, if a child of two were to break into a house and vandalize private property, less moral accountability is placed upon the child as opposed to a grown adult. The reason it is wrong for rational humans to engage in certain types of behavior is that there is a reason for us not to do it—a reason (and here’s the kicker) that we are capable of recognizing. This reasoning may seem controversial (and it is), however, it need not be when placed in the context of everyday living. Our society deems certain rights by age, such as the right to drive, purchase cigarettes and drink. Such rights are determined by a continuum in relation to age and the maturity that accompanies that age. Even in a court of law, a person may plead insanity under the pretense that they cannot be held morally accountable for their actions due an irrational state of mind. So how does this chime into the abortion debate? Given that rationality is a necessary prerequisite for moral consideration, at what period does the cultivation of this faculty deduce basic rights, such as the right to life? Given that rationality is found in the activity of certain synapses in the brain, proponents of this view suggest the appropriate cut-off line for termination to be at the end of the second trimester. This suggestion is due to the fact that the cerebral cortex in the brain–the seat of thought and more specifically the neurons that bind the seat of thought–does not begin to bind until this stage. It is in this sense in which a person can be both pro-life and pro-choice; a mid-point along this opposing spectrum that too often goes unconsidered. These moral considerations have gone unnoticed as Texas has taken national stage in the abortion debate as vindicated by the fact that, upon the day Rick Perry signed the anti-abortion bill, Republican legislatures proposed a bill that would ban abortion once the heartbeat is detected—just six weeks after conception. The instillation of the bill would be the most severe abortion ban in the country. Women seeking an abortion would be required to undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound, which is much more invasive than traditional ultrasounds. If the infant’s heartbeat can be detected, the abortion upon request would not be considered. With Texas’s increasing grip on abortion, one can’t help wonder what the future entails for women’s reproductive rights. One thing that is for sure is that women, and men, will not sit passively. This is most noted by the large number of protests outside the Texas capital and Democratic legislatures vowing to repudiate the bill. It is possible the bill may go all the way to the Supreme Court. Even Nancy Pelosi spoke out against Texas Abortion law. “It’s so hypocritical. Republicans don’t believe in government, except when it comes to the bedroom,” Pelosi said in an interview with ThinkProgress. Although the future is uncertain, the national attention and denouement Texas has received in recent months makes proponents of women reproductive rights a growing force that must be reckoned with. Nathan Cranford is a COEUS Intern