Sunday, July 28, 2013

When Does Life Begin?

I believe that there is no way to "scientifically" prove a primarily philosophical question: “when does life begin?”

Whether I, or anyone, could define in terms that would irrevocably determine and prove that the concept of life made sense to ascribe to a set of DNA / RNA or chromosome pairs doesn't really matter one bit.

The question doesn’t even address the issue that is at stake for women. Here is the real question in my mind and spirit: "Does a woman have the right to decide if she must carry every pregnancy to term?" Ultimately that is the only philosophical question that is worth debating in my opinion.

Let me state that as clearly as I can: Does she have the RIGHT to decide?

Women have only recently (within the last century or so) been given the opportunity to decide their reproductive fate. They now can join the workforce, complete school, vote, and not be property of men in general. They don’t even die in childbirth very much, compared to a few decades ago. The list of real world events that birth control has allowed them to take part in fully is long and varied. Longer than I can even list. And it is worth mentioning.

Do women deserve the right to have reproductive freedom? Yes. Clearly they must have it to retain their advances and involvement in society.

Maybe the question is "Do *we* have the right to decide if a woman can have reproductive freedom?" I say we do not.

Why do I say that this is the real issue regarding the beginning of life? I have recently been involved in literally thousands of micro-conversations, blogs, tweets, and personal emails in the last few weeks and no one, and I mean no one, has been able to point me at anything, that makes one bit of sense scientifically that would make one bit of a difference to the skeptics, if you'd call them that, on either side.

On the other hand, I have received plenty of data, information, and personal stories that show me that by allowing people to have access to abortion, they are able to move on with their lives and eventually get past the fact that they needed to have an abortion. For those that were in a place where abortion was not embarrassing or shameful, their lives were easier to get on with. For those that were shamed mercilessly, they weren't.

It is my opinion that the more we debate the philosophical issues of "when does life begin" or "when does a person start" on a Facebook wall instead of "do we have the right to shame a women into taking every pregnancy to term", we are doing more harm than good. We are, essentially, off topic.

The mindset I have been trying to get my head into is this one that I am certain plays out in the minds of many women...

"I wake up every morning and I realize that I am carrying an unfertilized egg in my belly. I know that if it becomes fertilized, I will be forced to have it change everything about my body, from the way I enjoy taste to the size of my feet. Once that egg becomes fertilized, people will judge me. They will say I am a slut if I am not married and if I am married and give it up for adoption, I'll be asked about where the child is for the rest of my life. It will cause me emotional issues while I carry it, because a body goes through many hormonal changes while pregnant and there are always psychological issues I will have to deal with based upon my personal situation. I will have to go to a lot of doctor visits to keep it healthy and safe. I will have to take off work to have the baby. I will have to recover after I have the baby no matter what, and if there are complications, they may incapacitate or kill me. If I have to have a C-Section, that's pretty major surgery and I'll have to recover for quite some time. All of this will cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Who will help me through all of this? Being impregnated is a really big deal."

And that's in an ideal situation, where a woman knows what's going on and the details of what could happen to her.

This discussion has to happen in the cases of all situations:

- date rape

- incest

- contraceptive failure

- stillbirth

- fetal abnormalities

- adultery

- and millions of other situations we cannot imagine

How can we possibly legislate anything so personal? How can we write a law that is "humane" for the mother?

Can we legislate kindness, sympathy, empathy, compassion, understanding, removal of guilt, removal of shame, absolution for sin, paternal responsibility, etc?

Can we force men to take responsibility? Women?

I posit that we cannot. I posit that this is a decision that must be made by the mother. The egg carrier. The woman that will be branded and shamed in public when she is carrying that very obvious pregnancy that she did not want. The person that will, statistically, stay with that child rather than the father.

Who are we to decide that women have to take every pregnancy to term? Who are we as a society when we force women to be subject to the mechanics of their body when they are not fully in control of what happens to them?

Would anyone want to go in front of a tribunal to discuss how their body was violated? How many people would you have to convince that you were raped? How many documents would you have to sign to say you couldn't afford to feed that baby? Where is the signature page that will allow you to remove the shame of a small town?

It is by mercy of us as a society that women do not have to stand, naked in spirit or physicality, in front of a judging body that determines whether her reasons for an abortion are reasonable enough. Who would be on that panel? Your local congressmen? Your neighbor? Your pastor? How dare we judge? How dare we!

To me, the question isn't "where does life begin?" The question is how dare we make them feel guilty for being a human being with reproductive organs?

Who or what gives us the right to question their decision?


  1. To me the question is answered in nature. Bear in mind I don't ascribe to any significant differences between humans and other animals like one has a soul and the other doesn't. I think animals show us what the true relationship is between a mother and her offspring.

    And I think it is clear that when you have animals who will actually EAT their children if they are born into danger in order to save the valuable resources they represent for a better chance to procreate at a later date, that it is ultimately the mother's choice to decide when and how and if to bring offspring into the world. Life may or may not begin at conception. I am comfortable with the notion that is does. But the mother's role in determining the timing of when offspring are brought into the world is obvious as can be. I support every mother's right to make that decision for herself based on her circumstance and environment. That doesn't have to mean the decision is easy or frivolous -- it surely is not - but it is clearly the mother's call.

  2. Obviously, the issue of life, and when it begins, engenders a great deal of emotion and vitriol on both sides of the aisle. What perplexes me most is how many of the opponents of abortion (i.e. most of the people on the right side of the political spectrum in America) advocate for limited government and decreased spending, yet see no ideological contradiction in government intervening in the relationship between doctor and patient. You cannot advocate for cutting food stamp and welfare programs, while simultaneously telling women they MUST carry a fetus to term and raise said child.

    The question of when life begins is, like you said, sort of besides the point. The concept of life itself is really a human construction; the sanctity of life (as George Carlin wryly noted) being nothing more than a construction that makes us feel fucking great about just existing at all. I understand that the issue is complex and wrought with emotion, but if you oppose abortion the answer seems simple: just don't have one.

    Now stop telling other women when they have to have children.