Abortion Supporters Must Address Fetal Development
TO THE EDITORS
Undoubtedly, many opponents of abortion were disappointed to read The Crimson's staff editorial defending abortion rights ("Alliance Brochure is Fallacious," 3/14/96), but the people to whom the editorial did the greatest disservice were those who agree with its premise that women should be free to choose abortion. By making unpersuasive and contradictory arguments in favor of abortion rights, the editorial staff has undermined its own cause.
First, the staff argues that the fetus does not have rights until it "has reached a state [in which it can] survive on its own or with the aid of machinery if extracted from the womb." But the staff argues that abortion will still be morally acceptable when medical technology becomes capable of saving very young fetuses, making them "viable" according to the ahove definition. The staff never resolves this apparent (and real) inconsistency. Using the argument that a fetus' viability determines its moral worth renders the staff vulnerable to the argument it anticipates: that if viability is the criterion for deciding when a fetus is a person, then abortion rights would have to be restricted as technology pushes the age of viability back further and further.
Indeed, the staff's failure to distinguish the young fetus from the older fetus (which the staff agrees must not be aborted) plagues the editorial from start to finish. The argument that "the mother knows what's best for her and for the unborn fetus in her womb" is unreasonable not only because the mother's decision to kill the fetus is rarely a product of her concern for the fetus' interests but also because the staff acknowledges that the mother would not be allowed to abort an older (third-trimester) fetus. If the right to privacy invoked by the staff does not justify third-trimester abortions, then why is it of use in attempting to justify first-trimester abortions?
The staff makes the sweeping statement that society "has no claim on the individual...that trumps the individual's right to privacy in decision making." No claim? Didn't the staff just say that it would prohibit third-trimester abortions?
The same argument applies to the examples of rape and retarded children. If we would not accept third-trimester abortions in those cases, then the fact of the rape or the retardation is not what justifies the abortion.
The staff proclaims that "it is unfair to force [the pro-life] position upon those who do not share this belief." But if it is fair to prohibit mothers who believe they have a right to third-trimester abortions from having these abortions, then the real issue is not whether the mother should be allowed to decide for herself but whether the young fetus is morally equivalent to the older fetus.
The primary reason we object to third-trimester abortions is not that they present added danger to the mother but instead that we believe the older fetus has a right to life comparabale to that of a newborn baby. If a young fetus is morally equivalent to an older fetus, then the arguments about privacy, rape, retardation and the mother's right to choose do not provide adequate justification for abortion. If the young fetus is a rights-bearing person, then the staff's points are outweighted; if the young fetus is not a rights-bearing person, then the staff's points are superfluous.
The staff's most relevant point is that the young fetus does not have 'life or even a self." Unfortunately, the editorial leaves this as a naked assertion with no elaboration or defense. In fact, by equating viability with having "life" or "a self," the staff drastically weakens its argument.
Any persuasive defense of the position supporting abortion rights must focus on explaining the reasons that the young fetus does not have the same right to life possessed by the older fetus and the newborn baby. The editorial should have explored developmental differences between the first-trimester fetus and the third-trimester fetus, arguing that such differences create a relevant distinction between the two beings. Does consciousness, a heartbeat or something else confer rights upon the older fetus? This is the issue at the core of the abortion debate. --John Bronsteen '97