Alliance Brochure Is Fallacious
The pamphlet door-dropped en masse last moth by the Harvard-Radcliffe Alliance for Life was a healthy but disturbing episode in campus life. We are pleased to see vigorous debate and excited commentary at Harvard so that this bastion of intellectuals does not become petrified while studying in Widener's stacks. It is also pleasing to note the Alliance's editorial independence from the student publications, specifically The Harvard Salient and Peninsula. The Crimson always welcomes another voice on campus. That said, we would like to evaluate the "She's a Child--Not a Choice" brochure on its primary claim that abortion is morally wrong and, in the process, to restate our position in favor of a woman's right to choose.
The Alliance, along with the original author, Human Life Alliance of the Minnesota Education Fund Inc., sees the question of the legality of abortion in the starkest of terms. It writes, "'the only choice' in abortion is between a dead baby or a live baby." Abortion is deemed an absolute moral wrong because it involves the murder of an unborn child. If this claim is true, if abortion is murder, then it should be illegal under current American law, the brochure states. But for a multiplicity of other reasons, it can be shown that the ethical questions of the abortion procedure are not black and white.
The fetus itself should not be considered human. Just because an embryo has the potential for life if it is allowed to grow inside the mother's womb doesn't mean that it has life or even a self. The fetus, in fact, does not and should not even have any legal rights apart from the mother until it has reached a state of viability, defined by the Supreme Court in Roe v Wade as the ability of the fetus to survive on its own or with the aid of machinery if extracted from the womb. It is true, though, that because of technological advances in the coming decade or two, almost every fertilized egg will be able to develop independently outside of the womb. Should abortion then be illegal? No.
The pro-choice position represents the woman's right to opt whether to carry her baby to term. Perhaps she didn't intend to get pregnant in the first place--should the unrequested pregnancy burden her for her lifetime? Rape violates the agency of the woman; she should not be required to keep alive something that she is attached to, but is completely foreign to her.
Perhaps the pregnancy itself threatens the life of the mother and the child. In such a case, the answer of abortion is obvious. The instance in which one, but not both, of the lives are threatened presents a moral decision as to which party is to survive, but not one of whether either is to survive.
What if the fetus is retarded or plagued with the Epstein-Barr Syndrome--should the child be forced to live an unpleasant life? As in the other instances, the parents should be able to make the decision as to whether the quality of life will be so bad as to justify the fetus' not having a life at all.
In all of the above examples, we believe such decisions belong to the mother in question because she is the one most affected by the situation. Because she is to deliver and have ultimately responsibility for the child, she has greater decision-making status than both the father and the state. Society has no claim on the individual, must less on a fetus yet to become an individual, that trumps the individual's right to privacy in decision making. It is precisely because the mother knows what is the best situation for her and for the unborn fetus in her womb that she is legally protected by both the Ninth and the 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution to make that decision.
Though we have no complaints about the Alliance for Life's making claims to moral certitude, we do believe theirs a fallacious argument. While the pro-life movement holds that abortion is murder, we believe it is unfair to force this position upon those who do not share this belief.