I'm encouraged by Joshua Kwan's opinion piece "Abortion: What is Moderate?" (Feb. 22) because he seems genuinely interested finding an answer to the abortion controversy. Kwan represents the large middle ground of people who don't think abortion is a good thing but are reluctant to advocate government interference. But Kwan's questions can be answered much more precisely than many people realize, and the answers to his questions support the pro-life position.
First, the pro-life position should not be seen as a 'religious view.' Many religions oppose abortion, but the pro-life argument need not be religiously based. As a pro-lifer I believe (1) an individual's life begins at the moment of conception and (2) every human being has the inalienable right to life.
The second premise is clearer than the first. Every human being has the inherent right to life because that right is an inalienable natural right, which means that a government or another person should not have the authority to take that it away.
While most people acknowledge the right to life, many people fail to see the connection between the inalienable right to life and protecting the unborn child on the grounds that life does not begin at conception.
An individual human being becomes a human being when it becomes a being. That is because things do not become other things as they grow--they continue to be the same thing, just at a later stage of development. Our growth and maturation, both inside and outside the womb, is the continuation of the same being, not a transformation into a different species. I did not come from a fetus, but I once was a fetus. I did not come from an infant, but was once an infant. Conception marks the beginning an individual's human life because that is the first time when she exists. At conception, a full human genome comes into being for the first time, and the the zygote has all the information it will ever need. No new genetic data will ever be added. Is it alive? Certainly, for it fulfills the four criteria for life: growth, metabolism, reaction with its environment, and reproduction (an asexual cellular reproduction know as twinning). Is it human? It certainly is not any other species; its genetic makeup is distinctly human--besides, we know that species can not reproduce other species. The zygote is therefore a human being, just at a very early stage in development. It may not look like one of us, but it certainly looks perfectly like a human being is supposed to look at two days old. Infants, children, and adults also look very different because they too are at very different stages of development. As a being grows and develops, it doesn't become more or less of that being, its physical characteristics just change.
Once we see that the unborn child is indeed a living human being, we can no longer be neutral on the abortion issue. Yet, as Kwan points out, many Americans are neutral on abortion, in that a large majority (69%) think that abortion is "the wrong thing to do," but that the government does not have "any business preventing a women from having an abortion." Kwan concludes that "Americans are reluctant to impose their morals on the great public." But we do this all the time--they're called laws. The logic here seems to say, 'don't like abortion? Then don't have one.' If we extend this line of logic, we would find ourselves saying, 'Don't like murder? Then don't murder anyone,' or 'don't like drunk driving? Then don't drive drunk.' It's not sufficient that I myself don't drink and drive, the government should make laws that prevent others from drinking and driving. If we know that abortion is morally wrong, then it is not sufficient to rely on individual choice. The government should take a stance as it does with other moral injustices like drunk driving. We need to protect the right to life for all people.
Kwan states that "Americans are reluctant to impose their morals on the great public. Despite their individual misgivings about abortion, they would rather allow each women to make the choice on her own." This is the exact same line of argument that perpetuated slavery. Many citizens believed slavery was wrong but were reluctant to impose their morals on others. Jesse Jackson (pro-life before running for president) once said, "There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life...that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to be concerned." If people stayed out of issues that were "none of their business," we would still have slavery today. --Noble M. Hansen '00 Harvard-Radcliffe Alliance for Life