However, as I am spending this summer within shouting distance of the Austin capital building where new limits have just been imposed on the practice of abortion in the state of Texas, the buzz about the birth in London got me thinking.
When people were watching Kate’s “baby bump” grow—a highly chronicled event during which a lady’s belly was scrutinized on a practically daily basis—was that bump ever considered only tissue? When did it stop being tissue and start being a prince? How can so many Americans greet the life of a stranger with such joy and anticipation whilst calling any move to protect legions of the more common unborn as some sort of salvo in a war on women?
To be fair, none of these questions have easy answers.
For many people who say they support “choice,” a baby does not exist at all until a baby draws breath on his or her own. Therefore, when measures to stop conception fail, these folks feel the woman has simply been inflicted with a biological condition that changes her body and has little to do with new life. Choosing to return to one’s original, physical state is about as morally complicated as taking an aspirin to disperse a headache.
However, when one takes the position that a fetus is not a baby, it seems getting excited about a wanted pregnancy—such as that of the future king of the United Kingdom—as opposed to an unwanted pregnancy—such as the more than 1,000,000,000 fetuses that have been terminated world wide in just my own lifetime—requires a certain amount of doublethink.
When a fetus begins to move, many people suddenly want to touch a woman’s belly and see if they can feel a kick. I can imagine this was true about the Duchess of Cambridge as well. The flutter that is noticeable for most women by sixteen weeks is viewed as the stirrings of life when a baby’s arrival is joyfully anticipated. It is apparently dismissed as insignificant as gas when the baby is to be discarded.
Here can be found the main divide that exists in the abortion debate.
Those who believe in “choice” sincerely want women to have control over their bodies and futures. Despite rhetoric sometimes deployed against them, their primary purpose is not to kill babies. The vast majority of these people do not think life begins at conception. Therefore, only the woman’s future should be considered when making any decisions about termination. Even the father isn’t a significant decision maker because no one is talking about his child. Those kicks at 16 weeks are involuntary spasms. This mindset should not change simply because the baby is wanted. A fetus is not a baby.
On the other hand, there are a great many people who think that the miracle of procreation does not involve one body or soul but two bodies, two souls. Despite rhetoric sometimes deployed against them, there is no desire to impose a life of servitude on a woman who does not want a child or who is not ready to support a baby. There is simply a desire to protect the two people who are most impacted by an abortion. Life begins at conception, and those kicks at 16 weeks are clear evidence of a separate human being.
Though there are people who fall firmly in one camp or the other—pro-choice or pro-life—there are many more who form their opinions in gray zones. They aren’t sure when life begins, but they feel the mother’s life should have more weight than the life of an embryo smaller than a kidney bean. For them, there is a point in which an abortion is acceptable—especially under certain circumstances—and then there is a point at which it is not. They do not want to defend abortion at all costs, but they tolerate it as necessary.
When looking at the Texas legislation, the idea that abortions after 20 weeks—five months—is now illegal is a cause of celebration for anyone who views a fetus as a baby. Of course pro-life advocates want to eradicate abortion all together. Science has made the date of viability outside the womb much younger per any reckoning, but, again, pro-lifers consider the baby a baby from the beginning. However, no matter when the magic “switch” from “tissue” to “baby” clicks in the minds of others, those in the “gray zone” can look at an ultrasound of a 20-week-old fetus and find a face. The debate is no longer about an abstract by then for them either.
Therefore, when arguing that a fetus is still just tissue and thus disposable, the pro-choice lobby seems radical to many. It is also weak to say a woman cannot make a decision in this amount of time about how she will address her pregnancy. The vast majority of abortions happen before 20-weeks anyway, so the desire to keep this delay legal seems to be a devaluing of life in the womb for more than just the pro-life lobby.
Having said this, one should consider the impact of other restrictions on abortion clinics also in the Texas bill. If abortion is regulated out of existence per lack of access, those in the “gray zone” might shift their opinion to supporting more pro-choice agencies because of an intrinsic ambivalence about when an embryo is a fetus is a baby. For these folks, better balance between the two lobbies—pro-choice and pro-life—is the most essential outcome for the debate.
I also understand that whilst there are exceptions to the Texas bill for fetuses with severe anomalies, some medical professionals are concerned about physical issues that are not detectable for a mother until after 20 weeks that should be considered when taking into account the health of all involved and keeping options available for protecting an unborn child from what might be undue pain after birth. Who would argue that this isn’t a legitimate problem?
Though I am personally, unapologetically and fervently pro-life, I think it’s important for reasonable people to recognize the different ground on which each side stands, the reasons why advocates feel the way that they feel and thus push with equal levels of passion for different laws.
On the left, there is primarily a hope that women can always control their own lives. On the right, there is primarily a belief that the least of all human beings—the unwanted unborn and the handicapped—are as worthy of individual consideration as royalty.
It seems to me that both sides can be seen as springing from noble intentions.
Regardless, when a new baby is celebrated—and a new law comes into being—there is another opportunity for Americans to think deeply about how one frames, understands, and feels about this very divisive issue. Perhaps they can even work harder to identify points of common consensus.
That sort of effort—to have discourse and consider all viewpoints—might be the healthiest choice of all.