Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

31 October 2008

Abortion Is a Woman's Right

By Diana Hsieh

On October 23rd, the Pagosa Daily Post published my most recent op-ed on
abortion
:

OPINION: Abortion Is a Woman's Right
Diana Hsieh, 10/23/08

Colorado voters face a stark moral choice in this election: vote yea or nay on Amendment 48. That ballot measure would grant fertilized eggs the legal standing of persons--including "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law"--in the state constitution.

If fully implemented, almost all abortions would be outlawed in Colorado, including in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity. Any woman who terminated a pregnancy would be guilty of murder, subject to life in prison or the death penalty. To take the birth control pill, which might sometimes prevent the implantation of an embryo in the womb, would be a criminal act. Miscarriages might be investigated by zealous prosecutors.

Roe v. Wade would not necessarily protect women against these ominous legal controls. Rather, Amendment 48 might be used to challenge that landmark case -- or to inspire a nationwide movement for a similar federal constitutional amendment.

Despite its draconian effects, this proposed amendment has gathered solid support from Colorado voters. A recent poll shows that 39% favor it, 50% oppose it, and 11% are undecided.

Why such strong support? Over the past two decades, the religious right has effectively waged a holy war on abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human life, they say. It violates the God-given right to life of a "preborn child." It is part of a "culture of death." So most Americans regard abortion as morally wrong except when a pregnancy threatens the woman's mental or physical health.

Yet the religious right's attacks on abortion are completely and utterly wrong. They evade the true meaning of the biological facts of pregnancy.

Opponents of abortion claim that embryos and fetuses have the same right to life as babies because they are distinct, living human beings. Undoubtedly, an embryo or fetus is alive, not inert matter. It's also human--not canine or hippopotamus. Yet every distinct, living skin cell a person washes off in the shower also contains human DNA. A tumor is human tissue distinct from its host. The embryo or fetus is different: it might develop into a born baby. Yet the differences between an embryo or fetus and that born baby are vast.

In the early stages of pregnancy, the embryo has nothing in common with an infant except its DNA. Its form is similar to the embryos of other mammals; it cannot survive outside the womb; it lacks any kind of awareness. To call that clump of cells a "person" is sheer nonsense.

Even when more developed, the fetus is not a biologically separate entity capable of independent action, like a baby. It exists as part of the woman carrying it, wholly contained within and dependent on her. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. It is not yet an individual human life; it is not yet a person.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives a life of its own. Although still very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food, and moves on his own. He interacts with other people as a creature in his own right, not merely as a part of a pregnant woman. His life must be protected as a matter of right.

So a woman has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy--for any reason. If an abortion will protect and further her own life and happiness, then she ought to pursue that option with a clear conscience.

Amendment 48 would obliterate the moral right of every pregnant woman to control her own body. It is based on sectarian religious dogma, not objective facts. Please vote "No" on 48.
The Pagosa Daily Post published a lengthy reply on October 27th. (I won't reproduce it here; it's too long and too wrong.) On the 29th, they published an excellent letter in reply by Gideon Reich:
Van Horn Opinion Misses the Point
Gideon Reich

Steve Van Horn's rebuttal in the Post to Diana Hsieh's excellent article on abortion shows a complete lack of understanding of the one crucial concept in the abortion debate: Individual Rights. Far from being mythical supernatural endowments implanted at conception, or social conventions subject to popular vote, rights derive from a human being's nature as a rational being. His existence requires the free exercise of his rational faculty to sustain his own life.

A "right," as Ayn Rand pointed out, "is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." Thus, the freedom of action that ought to be guaranteed to an individual is the freedom to think and act without interference from others in society for the achievement of his goals, as long as he respects the right of others do the same.

The very first requirement for such a freedom to apply is that the "individual" in question actually be a separate individual in a social context — not a mere potential that is part of another actual individual. As Ms. Hsieh has eloquently shown, the unborn fetus, to say nothing of the embryo or zygote, has not met that requirement.

The pregnant woman, on the other hand, clearly has — and has every moral right to act accordingly.

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