Friday, November 7, 2008

Once they said three months. Then they said nine. Whose life will be next to lose all protection?

When Roe V. Wade came down on the side of abortion in 1973, only children conceived less than two-and-a-half months earlier lost most legal protection. States could still outlaw abortion three months after the mother's last menstrual period began, and restrict abortion before that age to those babies whose mothers and fathers (if married) had talked about it and been professionally counseled beforehand, and to those whose mothers had been raped. Prochoicers immediately assured prolifers that the right of states to protect babies beyond that age was unassailable. After all, everyone knew babies at three months have recognizably human faces, hands and feet, move toward light and away from noise and pressure, and have working brains, nervous systems, hearts, immunities -- individual life, obviously human, obviously worth guarding. A few years later such protection was assailed after all. Prochoice activists demanded the "right" to abort children at five months, an age at which some babies had already been born and survived. The new ultrasound imaging showed the child at five months holding her own hands, fluttering his fingers, feeling her face, sucking his thumb -- the things a baby does after birth. The new watchword among prochoice debaters became "viability" -- the ability to live outside the womb -- rather than humanity, consciousness or sensation. They argued that no woman should ever endure one more minute of pregnancy than what she wanted, and that a mother had the right to terminate any baby she couldn't deliver live.

I was a prochoicer then, and passionate about the drive to stop unwanted pregnancy. I had never been pregnant. I assumed it was a terrible feeling. I made up stories to assure myself that a child felt nothing until viability, or even until birth.

But the available data showed that children react to stimuli just the same ways at three months, and many of the same ways at a few weeks, as they do when they're viable. Every time science looked at babies, they seemed to develop faster, and every time the prochoice movement looked at babies, they seemed to become more disposable; it took some years, but I jumped horses for the sake of honesty. Of course life begins at conception, of course killing a human being is murder, and of course murder is a crime. If not, then what is?

Today we face a term under a President who has already promised to remove all legal protection from children from conception to birth, and beyond birth if the children's mothers had tried to abort them but failed. He has already twice voted to overturn the Born Alive Infants Act, thereby leaving infants to cry alone in back rooms of hospitals until they die, because they were "unwanted". I maintain that it is incorrect to call any human being unwanted, as no one can be sure there isn't someone out there who wants another person. Indeed, couples who want any child they can adopt outnumber available children several times over. "Unwanted" in this context is simply a euphemism for "unpopular with someone". The unpopular, the struggling, and the helpless have just taken a hit they can ill afford.

Another may be on its way. Peter Singer is a philosopher who has spoken at college campuses. Singer teaches bioethics at Princeton, founded Monash University's Centre for Human Bioethics and has a major following among utilitarians, winning Humanist of the Year Award in his native Australia but so far failing in his political career with the Green Party. He hit the mainstream consciousness decades ago with the book Animal Liberation, which set the tone for a new voice of radicalism in the animal rights movement.

The grandson of WWII Holocaust victims, he launched his career with an exploration of the meaning of suffering and the meaning of charity. Many of his critics, including this one, consider the course of his philosophizing chillingly ironic. Singer's support of death for handicapped children has been frequently likened to the first moves of the Nazis, the very party that persecuted Singer's own family.
Singer considers such charges a misunderstanding, and writes that he favors the maximum good for those in the most need -- as long as they are fully human. He considers a less-complex brain activity level a factor that compromises the capacity to have preferences or to suffer, thus reducing need and humanity. Full humanity, by that measure, develops gradually along a lifetime "journey" of inventing and reaching goals. He acknowledges a fetus, embryo or zygote's life and membership in the human species, but challenges the assumption that it is wrong to kill a human being. Some, he implies, are more human than others.
It is no coincidence, but rather a trend away from caring, that brings such opinions to the surface just as a majority of American voters choose a candidate who has said the first thing he will do is to sign away the lives of the most vulnerable among us. America has chosen not to care, but it has not made that choice unanimously -- nearly half of us are still paying attention. We can turn this around, but we must act quickly.
Under an Obama presidency, we will very probably see a constant increase in acceptance of death sentences for the disabled at every age, and an increase in diagnoses of disability. The tide of convenience thinking will ultimately erode all that now guards any human being from her or his killers. Within four years life will have no protection whatever unless those who care about life treat this term as an epic battle for which our descendants will remember us as heroes or the generation who let the future die.


I have typed the facts as I have researched them in plain type, including opinions I share. My own commentary, including irony quote marks, is bolded.

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