AN ESSAY ON HUMAN RIGHTS
The Senate of Ohio is working on a definition of when human life begins, although their express project is to specify an early end-date for legal abortions. In “breaking news” as of December 6, the senators have decided that no abortions should occur after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (using the most sophisticated equipment). That is “22 days after conception or earlier”.
To put that into perspective, the current practice is to draw the line at “viability” which is about 28 weeks after conception. “Viability” is the point at which about 90% of fetuses could survive outside the uterus. Before 20 weeks 0% of fetuses are “viable”. Full-term is 40 weeks. So the senators have agreed to shorten the time from 28 weeks to 3 weeks for pregnant women in Ohio to decide whether to become a mother.
In real terms, 22 days is before most women are even aware they are pregnant since they have not yet missed their first menstruation, much less their first two. The Ohio bill would effectively eliminate abortions, since no abortion (or any medical procedure) would be considered before someone is aware of the need for it. Ohio “Pro-life” (anti-abortion) groups are rejoicing because this is a step toward reversing the US Supreme Court’s “Roe vs Wade” decision that permitted legal abortions in order to reduce the dangers of illegal abortion practices by bringing all abortions under the law. In theory, as articulated currently by pro-life moralists, human life begins at the moment of conception Pro-life activists hope that Roe vs Wade will be overturned when the US Supreme Court takes on conservative Republican justices as soon as next year.
In short, the abortion issue in the USA and elsewhere is, “at what point is the will and welfare of the woman replaced by the welfare of the fetus she is carrying?” In its starkest form this question is, “When is it more important to save the baby than the mother, and who gets to decide?” On one side of the issue are the woman’s welfare, her emotional and physical health and well being, her social existence, and her human rights. On the other side, of course, are the child’s rights, which brings us back to the question of when does the embryo (later called a fetus) become formed enough to be called human and have legal standing.
The current choices are essentially these:
Option ONE: the state decides. Example: The Nazi state made the decision that the “Aryan Race” was fully human and other beings were less human, sub-human, or inhuman. Those excluded were Jews, Slavs, black people, homosexuals, and mental ill or deficient and physically deformed persons.
Option TWO: The church defends what God decides. Example: the Roman Catholic Church made the decision that having an abortion is a grave sin and that all who are supportive of abortions are involved in the sin. The rationale is “natural law” as a basis for canon law that human life is sacred and that no matter when “human” life begins, the purpose of sex and procreation is to produce human life. The church actually defends the process by which life has a chance of beginning.
Option THREE: the impregnated woman decides. When complex factors began to be recognized in mid-twentieth century, those factors distorted and re-described what was theretofore “normal”. At that point, priority began to be assumed in favor of those responsible and obligated to provide care for human children. The right to decide about continuing a pregnancy was allocated to parents and medical professionals as the most competent to assess the specific factors in a given case. In effect this meant that finally the mother decides. It was considered a huge victory for women gaining standing in a male-dominated world.
As of 2016, once again, the state is maneuvering to remove mothers from having a legal voice in the issue of whether or not they will be required to bring every conception to full-term if possible and then to be accountable for 18 years of care and nurture. All associated matters are obliterated. If the anti-abortion movement prevails, it will no longer matter that lives may be ruined or unsustainable. The only issue, once again, will be whether the conception happened.
Beneath this presenting issue is the philosophical one of who decides what constitutes a human being, at what point it begins and at what point it ends. Who decides who should live or die?
This round of the contest will be between states versus individuals. The problem is that states/nations fail to handle particular extenuating circumstances, and the cases all are unique, every one of them. Churches/religions also insist they are dealing with universal truths. Ironically, both states and religious entities are less comprehensive, with concerns more limited than human rights are supposed to cover. On the other hand, the problem with allowing free decisions is that individuals tend to be sometimes erratic and inconsiderate. There needs to be a steadying influence.
When it comes to defining who is human, however, states and religions have a terrible track record. Human rights are in the wrong hands when the handlers lose sight of half of the human beings they are supposed to be protecting.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.