Yesterday I strongly criticized Colorado Right to Life (CRTL) for promoting the prohibition of abortion even of fertilized eggs and even in cases of rape and risk to the life of the mother.
Bob Kyffin offered several arguments in reply. However, he did not address the central point: a fertilized egg is not a person, as CRTL claims. Kyffin states:
Is there ever a case where slavery should be allowed? Ever a case when a Jew should be allowed to be killed? Never.
And there should never be a reason to take the life of an innocent human being…
Nobody doubts the evils of slavery or murder. But a fertilized egg is just not a human being (a person). It is alive, and it has human DNA, but so does every cell in our bodies. It is a potential human being, but a potential person is not a person.
The overwhelming majority of abortions occur in early stages of pregnancy, when the embryo is barely developed and still only a potential human person. As a matter of ethics, women who get abortions should do so in the early stages whenever feasible. (As a matter of ethics, people should have sex responsibly and take reasonable steps to avoid unwanted pregnancy.) Individual rights apply only to actual people, individuals who live a “biologically independent existence” (in Diana Hsieh’s words.)
As a matter of rights, women have the right to get an abortion for whatever reason they deem fit. This is true even if some women get abortions for bad reasons or come to regret them. Similarly, women have the right to decide their sexual partners, even if some have sex for bad reasons or come to regret it.
A fertilized egg is not a person. An embryo is not a person. Neither Kyffin nor CRTL has offered any reason for thinking otherwise, beyond the pseudo-reason that God allegedly said so.
In his more specific arguments, Kyffin begins by addressing risks to the life of the mother:
They [CRTL] say you don’t kill a baby to save the mother because it’s a truism. It’s never medically necessary to take active measures to kill the baby in order to preserve the mother’s life. That’s an abortionist’s lie, and a popularly believed myth.
A Caesarian section is one of the safest and quickest medical procedures that exists. It takes 5 minutes, and if the baby is capable of living outside the womb, then she will live.
A late-term abortion, on the other hand, takes many hours, at the very least, and often takes days. If a woman’s life is in danger, a doctor would be criminally incompetent to take the time to kill the baby before removing her, rather than simply delivering the baby alive.
A doctor should always try to save the life of the baby and the mother — to do anything else is negligent.
Kyffin claims that in medical emergencies the interests of the mother and fetus usually coincide. This I do not doubt. However, it is not always the case, and unexpected emergencies late in pregnancy are not the only relevant cases. Doctors may know very early in the pregnancy that the mother would risk her life by carrying the embryo to term. Last November, I cited the case of a woman who died following an ectopic pregnancy. A woman might have any number of medical conditions that make pregnancy dangerous.
Kyffin fudges his case when he forbids only “active measures to kill the baby,” adding that “if the baby is capable of living outside the womb, then she will live.” That’s a fairly big “if.” Obviously, if a doctor removes an (early-stage) embryo, it’s going to die. Kyffin’s trick is to define “active measures” so narrowly that some cases of intentionally killing the embryo are discounted.
CRTL uses the same sleight of rhetoric. Recall that the position of CRTL is that “It is… wrong… to kill the baby to save the mother.” CRTL opposes “the intentional killing of the unborn child, for the life of the mother.” CRTL states, “When the mother’s life is seriously threatened by a pregnancy, of course it is morally justified to deliver the baby but not if the intention is to kill the baby. … If the baby dies, it is a tragedy; if the baby is intentionally killed, it is murder.”
CRTL’s position doesn’t hold up for early-term pregnancies. “Delivering” an unformed embryo will kill it. Yet the only way that CRTL can preserve its stance that a fertilized egg is a person and still allow doctors to save the life of the mother is to pretend that “delivery” of an unformed embryo to death is somehow different than intentionally killing it.
In practice, though, medicine is often an art of managing risks. In many cases, a pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother somewhat. Only a certain fraction of dangerous pregnancies will result in the death of the mother. To flesh out its position, then, CRTL needs to specify when it’s acceptable to risk the life of the mother. If the mother has a 40 percent chance of dying and a 60 percent chance of carrying the embryo to term, must the government force the woman and her doctor to continue the pregnancy?
So long as CRTL clings to the faith-based fantasy that a fertilized egg is a person, the group has only two paths. Either it can openly acknowledge that it would sometimes sacrifice the lives of women, or it can allow women to get abortions whenever they see any risk to their lives. This second path, however, is inconsistent with CRTL’s position that “It is… wrong… to kill the baby to save the mother.” And the first path is horrific.
Next Kyffin addresses the issue of rape:
On the subject of rape babies, surveys show that most victims of rape or incest want to keep their babies. The ones who don’t keep their baby often regret it for the rest of their lives. An abortion simply re-victimizes the young girl.
Abortion for rape and incest also hides the crime from authorities (abortionists NEVER report underage pregnancies, even when they suspect rape — this is WELL documented). The rapist is free to rape the same girl again, and again, without his wife (the girl’s mother) or whoever else knowing about it.
The issue of documentation and protection of underage victims is distinct from the issue of abortion (though I doubt Kyffin’s claim that abortion clinics “never” report rapes to the police). Obviously the issue is wider than underage pregnancy (though I don’t know what percentage of pregnancies caused by rape involve minors).
Regardless of what the surveys say, the matter is not properly up for vote. Even if “most” women want to carry embryos resulting from rape to term, some do not, and they have the right to get an abortion. I do not doubt that many women regret getting an abortion, just as many do not, and many would have regretted not getting an abortion. But that’s beside the point. It’s the government’s job to protect people’s rights — in this case, the rights of women — not play psychoanalyst and protect people from their own choices as evaluated by the religious right. (The broader point is that the government should fight rape.) Besides, according to CRTL’s premises, even if all raped women who became pregnant wanted to get an abortion and none regretted it, CRTL would still wish to prohibit all abortions, so Kyffin’s argument seems misplaced.
Nothing Kyffin has written mitigates the fact that CRTL wants to grant a fertilized egg the full legal rights of a person, force women to bring pregnancies to term against their will, prohibit valuable medical research, force women to have the babies of rapists, and sacrifice the lives of some unwilling women in order to save embryos. Those who actually respect life must reject CRTL’s faith-based politics.