Monday, April 26, 2004

Abortion: Part 1

In "The King and I", the king of Siam puzzles over the fact that people will "fight to prove that what they do not know IS SO!" His puzzlement came to mind as I considered this business of fetuses and souls--when fetuses or babies get said souls, if indeed they ever do. Noone's ever seen one, but some folks will fight to prove that a fertilized egg has a soul. That's why they opposed stem cell research, not to mention abortion. Aside from any lack of proof, this view is unconvincing. The few dozen cells in a fertilized egg could turn out in the finished baby to be fingernail tissue. Sure those cells have a complete set of chromosomes, but a soul? During the stem cell brouhaha, Katha Pollitt commented that "[N]early half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant and are washed out with menstruation--maybe there should be funerals for tampons, just to be on the safe side."

Carol Wise, writing in Democracy 4 America, had a different theory. "Like anyone who has ever seen any kind of animal or human birth, I know that at the moment of birth, the baby is basically dead until its airway is cleared and it takes its first breath. It is with that first breath that the soul enters the body." No proof for that theory either, but it does seem more probable that a soul might enter a complete baby along with the breath of life than that it would reside in a few dozen cells of fingernail tissue.

The problem with this stubborn insistence in fighting "to prove that what they do not know IS SO" is that banning abortion is so impractical. Consider Portugal, where abortion is illegal. Women--and their parents, husbands, boyfriends, even a cab driver who took a woman to a clinic--are tried and sent to jail over the issue. What sense does it make to send a woman to jail and leave her three small children without a mother? Other Europeans find this situation "medieval", and the Portuguese are faced with the impossibility of trying to prevent a woman's choice on this matter. Although virtually all Portuguese abhor abortion, 86% of them now want it legalized.

It's enough to make you wonder if we should just let the anti-abortionists have their way and see how much even they end up hating it.


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