The death of Savita Halappanavar after she was denied an abortion while going through a miscarriage in Ireland revived the discussion on abortion and I found myself thinking out my own position on abortion, which is a little different from the mainstream feminist one.

When I read the chapter on abortion in Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman I felt this tingling of recognition. The debate around when human life begins strikes me as ridiculous. If I recall my biology textbooks correctly (and I do, I checked), algae and even spores and bacteria are considered alive. But mysteriously the blotchy mass of cells that forms a human embryo is not? Heh. I’m not buying it. I am also shocked at the ignorance of some pro-choicers who seem to have an insufficient grasp of fetal development or maybe actually experiencing it stops it from being merely academic and brings the whole issue into the realm of the tangible.

The whole thing is even more messed up when you consider that science, on which we rely on for answers to everything, has not yet entirely agreed upon a definition for anything being alive. So then one might argue that since the entire discussion seems to be based on shaky ground, let’s just randomly set a starting date for life out of convenience (say 20 weeks). But noone says that. They all try to make it sound logical.

But if the textbooks by and large do say that algae is life, why get shifty about identifying an embryo as living? I understand that politically it’s just easier to classify an embryo as non-living but really, it is stretching the imagination especially if you put a sonogram of a 6-week embryo next to spore.

At the higher levels, the debate is not about whether this is life but at which stage does an organism have the right to life. Ah. But even here, it gets sticky. If you say 20 weeks, then why? The fact is that post 20 weeks an abortion becomes medically more dangerous for the mother and therefore that deadline. It has nothing to do with a foetus mysteriously showing signs of life. Saying the latter seems entirely arbitrary.*

I think this: If the entire scientific community can agree that spores are alive, then so too is a 6-week embryo. So we need to stop instructing people to stop saying “kill” when referring to the act of killing an embryo. Let’s call a spade a spade and move on.

If it is alive, then does it have the right to life?  That is the question.

Human society allows its members to end life, even human life, quite a lot. Take capital punishment. Take war. One might argue that an embryo is blameless. Not all the people who die in a war, even a just war, deserve to die.

So the question should be why should we permit human society to end this particular life?

Why indeed? According to me, because:

  1. The peculiarities of pregnancy mean that the embryo has a parasitic relationship to the mother. Even putting a baby up for adoption does not solve the issue of the nine months of pregnancy which are pretty damn hard or would be considered so if they weren’t so routine and only happen to women. If the mother’s body is to be taken over by the f, she needs to be the one that decides whether she can do this or not. If science discovered a way to relatively painlessly transfer the embryo from a woman who didn’t want to go ahead to a woman who did, then we could do this discussion over.**
  2. Even Ireland, with its restrictive laws, allows abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.  It’s another matter that Irish doctors don’t seem to want to risk being told that they made the wrong call and therefore they play safe with the life of the child while risking that of the mother. But is danger only restricted to the physical body there and now? What about the danger to the physical body by a society that will not accept an unwed mother? Or to a physical body that will starve because it cannot support two physical bodies? And why is the physical only stressed – what about the mind that is not prepared for a child?
  3. A baby does not only depend on its mother during childhood. It needs to be looked after for a good 20 years after. It is a huge commitment. And while a woman may be physically capable of having one, she may not be capable of raising one. Which is the greater evil – killing a baby or neglecting a child you do not want, thus condemning it to misery for years and years? It is always assumed that mothers, particularly mothers who have already had children, will fall in love with their children but the large number of neglected and abused children are proof that this is not so.

Caitlin Moran has a great chapter on abortion in her book. It gives a no-holds-barred description of what goes on in a D&C too. This is not a pleasant experience or one that most people would do lightly. This is something one might choose when the preventative options failed. Condemning women to having and raising children because they had sex when they were not prepared to have children is not practical. Sometimes – hopefully rarely – what you don’t want to happen, what you have to tried to prevent from happening happens, and for the good of everybody, the living and the precariously alive, a choice needs to be made.

*It also gets more complicated if you ask why the right to life in these terms and conditions only applies to human life, but that’s another tougher debate.

**And this made me rethink my stance on the rights of men who do not want to have a baby but are forced to pay maintenance for the child because the woman insists on having the child. If the logic is that a human being who is forced to look after another human being should have a say in whether that human being lives and attaches itself to her body, then men, being human beings, should also have some say in something that will involve at the very least a financial commitment for two decades. These will always remain grey cases and I suspect would always involve third party mediation but I don’t think the automatic solution should be that men should be forced to maintain children they state they do not want from the beginning. However, since an act that they participated in now results in a woman having to go through a lot of trouble (whether abortion or pregnancy) the woman should be given some compensation. I think we need to value, in the less complicated cases, if possible, approximately how much that should be. But I don’t think it need be maintaining the child for life in all cases.

*** Let us not say here that people should not have sex till they are ready to have babies. The human body does not work that way. It is not practical. It has never been practiced that way, no matter what we would like to think. Humanity has had to contend with how to deal with unwanted pregnancies for a long, long time.