The recent court case of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has revived the abortion discussion in our country. Dr. Gosnell was recently convicted of first degree murder in the deaths of three babies who were born live after botched late-term abortions, but then killed by severing their spinal chords with scissors (sorry to be so graphic). Gosnell could have gotten the death penalty but struck a deal with prosecutors to serve three life sentences without the possibility of parole or the opportunity to appeal.
Late-term abortions are overwhelmingly opposed by Americans. According to Gallup, over two thirds oppose second trimester abortions and a stunning 84% oppose third trimester abortions. Because of this sentiment, abortions after the baby is capable of surviving outside the mother’s womb (i.e. ‘viability’) are either illegal or highly regulated in most states. Forty-one states now have laws restricting post-viability abortions, and eleven states have banned partial-birth abortions since they deal with post-viability babies. However, here in New Mexico this is not the case. Our state has virtually no laws pertaining to viability. As a matter of fact, it is legal to have an abortion up to the day of birth in New Mexico. This has made us a very popular state for late-term abortions. According to the website for Project Defending Life, Albuquerque attracts women from “all across the globe” and has earned it the title of Late-Term Abortion Capital of the World. Also, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective claims that New Mexico is No. 1 in the nation for providing equal access to sexual and reproductive health services. Sadly, these factoids give more credibility to the adage, “New Mexico is at the bottom of all the good lists and at the top of all the bad lists”.
As mentioned, polls indicate the vast majority of Americans do not approve of late-term abortions. This is probably due to the fact that folks generally believe taking an innocent life is immoral. But clearly there is murkiness among the population about when life actually begins. Currently, we use the concept mentioned above called “viability”. However, is viability the best way to determine when life begins?
Using viability means that right and wrong would be determined by our ever-changing biomedical and technological capabilities. Additionally, Webster’s further defines viability as the capability to exist and develop as an independent unit. Many older folks entering the twilight of their lives might not fit into this definition, yet no one would argue that they are not “viable” human beings worthy of our care and protection.
So, if not viability, when does life begin? It seems to me that life begins at conception for two undeniable reasons. First, the Bible is very clear on the subject; Psalm 139 tells us that God “…knit us in our mother’s womb.” In light of this I don’t believe it would be wise to interrupt this process. Second, immediately following conception the newly formed embryo contains a metabolism that allows it to maintain structure, grow, reproduce and respond to its environment. And along with a full complement of DNA, this zygote has everything science calls life. In fact, the only difference between you and a zygote is different stages of development.
On the other hand, reasons that are generally cited in favor of abortion are several: economic, age, maturity level of the parents, dangerous world, rape, incest and life of the mother to name a few. I don’t understand how killing the baby would save the life of the mother, but I’ll admit ignorance and leave that to the doctors. As far as the repugnant acts of rape and incest are concerned, the result is still a human being who has the potential of being a tremendous blessing as Scripture promises. Besides, killing the baby doesn’t seem like it would improve the situation.
All the rest of the reasons, honestly, seem to fit into the category of convenience. Needless to say, we should not be aborting babies due to convenience.
Furthermore, abortion doesn’t stand on very solid constitutional grounds. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court declared abortion constitutional in the landmark decision Roe v. Wade ruling that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. But does it make sense that abortion is a privacy issue when there are two individuals involved in this decision? Also, when the Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed with certain “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” it seems one of the primary responsibilities of our government is to defend one’s right to life. Instead, since 1973 tens of millions of innocent lives have been taken.
I admit this all sounds idealistic, and I’m not holding my breath for things to change. But whether the issue is the Constitution and a woman’s right, or when life actually begins, it seems that we are capable of great rationalization when it comes to abortion. I hope and pray that someday we would see abortion for what it truly is.