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Depoliticizing abortion

| Thursday, February 25, 2016

We have a political polarization problem in America today. People’s party affiliations often leave little wiggle room for issue stances. There are certain expectations for party affiliates. These expectations essentially act as restrictions on the ideas party members can have. Certainly there are Republicans and Democrats who fail to meet the expectations of their party on some issues. However, the point remains that for the vast majority of party members, political expectations are a main driving force in forming their positions on an issue. Perhaps this isn’t the worst thing. After all, a political party is a group organized of people with similar beliefs. Isn’t it only natural that such political expectations will present themselves? I believe so. However, I also believe certain issues should transcend the restrictions imposed by political expectations. The most significant of such issues is abortion.

Abortion is one of the most politically polarizing issues in the United States. Generally speaking, Republicans are more pro-life and Democrats are more pro-choice. There is relatively little variance from that pattern. The political polarization of abortion is a significant problem. It is a problem not only because it fuels political gridlock and hopeless bickering, but also because it pressures people into complying with party positions in substitution for contemplative idea formation.

Abortion should not be a politically polarizing issue. I am not asserting that abortion isn’t a polarizing issue, but simply that the polarization of the issue should not be party-based. I don’t know of any inherent characteristic of either party that causes it to take either a pro-life or pro-choice position. Abortion should not be decided along party lines because the true issue is not political. The controversy when talking about abortion is the question of whether or not the procedure terminates the life of a human being.

Nearly every sane person would agree that if it abortion resulted in the termination of a human then the act should be prohibited by law and categorized as morally abhorrent. The answer to the question of whether abortion terminates a human should be the reason for one’s stance on abortion. Political ideology should be separate from the issue of abortion because the issue has nothing to do with politics; the issue is solely about humanity.

The question of whether abortion ends a human life is the main question when speaking of abortion. However, answering the question requires one to answer another question first. Before one can answer whether abortion is murder, one must answer the question of when human personhood begins. The reason I use the word “human personhood” in place of “human life” is because the starting point of human life is generally agreed upon within the scientific community. In the college text book “Psychology and Life”, Dr. Floyd L. Ruch writes “At the time of conception, two living germ cells — the sperm from the father and the egg, or ovum, from the mother — unite to produce a new individual.” Similarly, Dr. Herbert Ratner, a renowned physician, teacher and lecturer, once wrote, “It is now of unquestionable certainty that a human being comes into existence precisely at the moment when the sperm combines with the egg.” While there are certainly some who deny that life begins at conception, the general consensus among biologists and doctors is that life begins at fertilization.

Many pro-choice advocates would point out that human life does not equate to human personhood. However, I would argue that such a statement begins one on a slippery slope. Creating qualifications for personhood is discriminatory and dangerous. When is the magical moment when a baby becomes a person? Does a baby transform from some sort of living non-person into a full person at birth? Logic leads us to believe this is not the case. Science tells us that life begins at conception, and reason tells us that personhood begins when life begins.

Abortion is a complex issue. However, it should not be plagued by hopeless political gridlock. One should attempt to view abortion not through the lens of a political party, but rather through the lens of science and reason. The late Christopher Hitchens once said, “I feel the responsibility to consider the occupant of the womb as a candidate member of society in the future, and thus to say that it cannot be only the responsibility of the woman to decide upon it, that it’s a social question and an ethical and a moral one. And I say this as someone who has no supernatural belief.” Abortion is not a political issue, or even for that matter a religious issue; it is a human issue. We should start treating it as such.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Eddie Damstra

Eddie is a junior from Orland Park, Illinois. He is majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Constitutional Studies and plans on pursuing law school after his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame.

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  • disqus_wHRcN9VDaG

    Good points. The American political arena is the stopping point for discussion rather than the starting point.

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    No, no, no, the question isn’t when life begins or if the fetus is a person.

    The question is whether a fetus, or anyone, has the right to use someone’s body without their permission.
    I do not have the right to force the author, or even a dead body to give me blood or organs to keep me alive. Why should a fetus get special treatment?

  • Drake

    Eddie, how can I take your viewpoint seriously when you can’t even order the correct sandwich?? Cmon man

  • John Robin

    Very good points. But it seems to me that invoking the philosophical concept of “personhood” unnecessarily complicates this topic. How about this argument…

    When a human egg is fertilized, there is produced a new member of the species H. sapiens: a human being. Human beings have intrinsic “human rights”, whatever those are. Whatever rights we, as a human society, claim belong to human beings belong to every human being at every stage of development, from fertilization until death.

    With this argument we do not need to introduce, define, or debate the meaning of the word “person”. It is unnecessary. It is enough to say that you and I, and every human adult, child, embryo, and zygote, is a human being and must be presumed to have intrinsic human rights which must be respected and defended.

  • Francis

    Thoughtful and compelling– human rights are inarguably essential in our lives– we should not be forced to make important decisions about them out of default.

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    The argument is not whether or not the fetus I’d a person, it is whether or not it had rights, significant the right to use a body to stay alive without permission.
    It doesn’t have that right.

    • John Robin

      Randall, I don’t agree that is the argument. In what other situations do you think a human being needs to justify its continued existence by obtaining the “permission” of others to be allowed to live? Is it only prenatal human beings that are subject to this standard?

      What about infants, or the seriously ill, comatose, paralyzed, or otherwise incapacitated, who are totally dependent upon others for their survival? Is it ethically permissible, in your view, to refuse them the basic necessities of existence? Suppose, hypothetically, my frail and elderly father is a serious financial burden to me… can I refuse him “permission” to continue living at my expense? Can I withhold food and allow him to die of starvation?

      • RandallPoopenmeyer

        I am talking about the use of an actual body to survive. Thousands of people die everyday because they need blood, bone marrow, kidneys, etc to survive. If we force humans to give up their bodies for fetuses, then why can’t we afford the same protections to birthed humans who also need a body to survive?

        • John Robin

          Randall, are you serious? One doesn’t “give a fetus a body to live off” as if one is feeding victims to a carnivorous animal. A fetus does not invade and attack a woman’s body. It was conceived within its mother’s body in the completely normal, natural process of mammalian reproduction.

          To argue that the legal protection of a human embryo in its normal course of development is somehow morally equivalent to legally compelling adults to provide organs to those who need transplants is illogical and absurd, and a transparent attempt to dehumanize those who are clearly human beings.

          In civilized countries human beings -even the legally incompetent- are protected from execution or compulsory confiscation of their organs. But in many of these same countries, prenatal humans may be killed by physicians with parental consent: despite their inability to object. This is a gross injustice.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Yes, it does. A fetus needs some body to survive, it lives off of it. I don’t care if it is “normal”, that had nothing to do with this. Why should someone have to potentially risk their lives for a fetus they do not want? It is their body.

          • John Robin

            Randall, I agree that even a healthy pregnancy has its risks. And I think most people agree that a pregnant woman who needs surgery to survive a serious medical condition, has a right to have that surgery, even if it is probable or certain that the surgery will kill the unborn child. But that is very different from killing a baby deliberately simply out of fear of the normal risks of pregnancy, or because you decide, after conceiving a child, that you no longer “want” that child.

            A person’s right to protect himself from the risks of normal life does not justify preemptively killing others who are perceived to be a threat to one’s safety or comfort.

            That is why it’s not legal to fire your shotgun at a driver who is tailgating you. Your right to seek safety for yourself does not justify violating the basic right to life of other human beings.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            The fetus needs permission to be there, just like I need permission to get blood from you. Also, in your previous post, you said “In civilized countries human beings -even the legally incompetent- are
            protected from execution or compulsory confiscation of their organs.”

            Forcing a woman to gestate is doing exactly that, forcing her to use her organs against her will. No one or nothing gets to make my body go through unwanted or possibly dangerous changes.

          • John Robin

            Randall, I posted a thoughtful reply to your thoughtful comment six days ago, but the moderator has not yet permitted it to be posted. There was nothing vulgar or threatening in my comment, so I am left to wonder if my comment was censored for ideological reasons, and what those might be. Perhaps it was merely an oversight.

            This is a college publication, and I would think civil, relevant, and thoughtful discussion of controversial topics would be tolerated and welcome here.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            I have had many of my comments removed from this site as well.
            On Disqus any commenter can become a moderator. Just look in your Disqus profile and you will be able to find the option to do so.
            Seems like there is a lot of potential for abuse.

      • RandallPoopenmeyer

        Heck, I can’t force a dead body to give me something I need to survive. And giving a fetus a body to live off of it taking away the rights of the body it is using, possibly endangering it without its permission.

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    You still don’t get it. Is the child that the man is molesting residing in his body?? ANYTHING in my body is subject to my will.

    • John Robin

      Yes, Randall, I understand that you think so. You think that your rights completely negate any rights that your child living inside you may have. And I disagree with you.

      • RandallPoopenmeyer

        No, you don’t even understand what bodily autonomy means. It doesn’t mean someone gets to rape someone else. It doesn’t mean you can enslave someone. It means you have control over your body and what is inside of it.

        • John Robin

          Correct, Randall, autonomy is not absolute. It doesn’t mean you or I may rape someone else. It also doesn’t mean that you can kill your unborn child simply because you don’t like it growing where nature has ordained it should grow.

          But you disagree. You believe that the any rights the child has are nullified by your “right” to kill your child. I think I understand your position. We strongly disagree.

          If you know someone who has had an abortion, you should know that many -if not a very large majority- of pro-lifers are not looking to judge or condemn these post-abortive women for their choices. Many women consented to abortions without being in a position to make a fully informed, free choice, and many did so while under enormous pressure from others. The goal here is not to condemn woman who have had abortions, but to try to find a way to protect the lives of the unborn while also helping women in difficult or catastrophic situations.

          In any case, God is merciful, and both pro-choicers and pro-lifers are in desperate need of His mercy. Women who have had abortions -and those who might be inclined to judge them- need to remember this.