As a pro-life conservative, I’m getting quite tired of the pro-choice crowed accusing me of wanting to take away the freedom of choice from American women. I’m also quite tired of being accused of wanting to stick my nose into the collective uteruses of all American women. I am a registered nurse by trade. My wife allowed me the privilege of catching our second child. It is a misnomer to say I “delivered” our child. Delivered implies too much of the work fell on my shoulders. I caught. My wife delivered. Because I had the experience of delivering a baby prior to doing medical relief work in East Africa, when in Africa due to that “vast and deep experience”, I was selected to be involved with delivering babies in Sudan. As a nurse, I have been in and around your reproductive organs professionally for any number of medical reasons.
Ladies I’ve seen your uteruses up close. I can assure you with absolute certainty that there is NOTHING about your uteruses I want to make my business.
I’m also sick of another aspect of the pro-choice vs. pro-life discussion. And that is the phrase “reproductive health”. If we as Americans are going to have adult conversations about important matters, it is time we quit blowing smoke up our collective behinds. Pro-life conservatives and pro-life Democrats, which are a larger group than the media wishes to acknowledge, are not against reproductive health. Please get to your doctor, your gynecologist, or your urologist and attend to your reproductive health. In fact, as a nurse who is concerned with the wellness and health of the people I serve, I implore both men and women to get to their doctors. We have costly and life-robbing health care issues in this country because in general, people are ignoring reproductive health issues.
For the pro-choice crowd, which is primarily but not solely the left, the phase “reproductive health” means one and only one thing: abortion. If we are going to have adult conversations about substantive issues amongst each other as Americans, we must conduct that dialogue with integrity and transparency. The pro-choice crowd accusing the pro-life crowd of being against female reproductive health lacks both integrity and transparency. It is also insulting. When the pro-choice crowd tosses the term around, they are simultaneously accusing us pro-lifers as being so stupid that we don’t know what they really mean. Again, IF the desire is to have an adult dialogue, would you in the pro-choice crowd start using words and phrases that speak to the real issue, please?
(You can read more about pro-life Democrats at their web site: http://democratsforlife.org/)
In any discourse, the person who controls the point at which that discourse beings has most of the power and controls the conversation in an unhealthy way. The truth of that statement is illustrated in healthy and unhealthy relationships. In order to have the best relationship possible, both my wife and I had to learn how to have healthy conversations. In doing so, we also learned what an unhealthy conversation looks like. Unhealthy conversations are characterized by one person controlling the starting point or context of the dialogue. Unhealthy dialogues create unhealthy relationships. Even though my wife and I may not come to the same conclusions, our relationship is healthy. It is so because we dialogue in a healthy way. Neither of us controls the starting point of the discourse.
I dare say in America that the discourse between we Americans is unhealthy. That unhealthy dialog is harming our relationships with each other. I for one would like the relationship between us to improve. My observation is that the leaders of both sides of issues, including abortion, do not want us Americans in general to talk to each other as adults. Leaders of both sides of issues increase their power, increase the financial rewards that come with that power, and increase the prestige that comes from that power by keeping us Americans living in fear of each other.
Of course, the pro-choice leadership and those who benefit from the pro-choice position want women to believe little old pro-life me wants to take away “choice” from women and need me to be sticking my nose into the middle of your reproductive organs. Those leaders need you to be afraid of me. If you’re afraid of me, you aren’t talking with me. The pro-choice leadership can’t risk you talking with me. If you and I have an adult dialogue, the risk is that you might come to see that the substance of the pro-life position has merit. To ensure the pro-choice leaders stay in power, you must be protected from honestly examining the merit of my pro-life position.
There are all kinds of jokes that illustrate the power that comes from the starting point at which a discourse begins. Here’s a common example: “Mr. Jones, have you stopped beating your wife yet?” That joke begins at the point in the discourse in such a way that no matter how Mr. Jones answers, he is admitting that he beat his wife. He either did beat his wife and stopped, or he still is. Either way, because of the point at which the question begins in the discourse, Mr. Jones is guilty.
The current dialogue regarding pro-life vs. pro-choice has been set up exactly as that old joke has.
When the pro-choice crowd and its leaders begin the dialog at “choice”, they are attempting to both guarantee an outcome as well as create fear in women who find themselves in the pro-choice crowd. By starting the discourse as a “choice”, anyone who wants to limit abortion is taking away the freedom to choose. The pro-choice crowd begins the discourse way down the road from where pro-life folks want to begin the dialogue.
Where does the pro-life crowd want to begin the discourse? That’s easy. We begin the discourse with attempting to answer this question:
When does life begin?
For us pro-lifers, the start of the discourse regarding abortion begins at that key question. The answer to that question drives the entire discourse and that discourse’s eventual conclusion.
For argument’s sake, let us say life begins at 18 weeks gestation. Up until 18 weeks, whatever it is that is growing in a women’s uterus is not characterized by the word “life”. Until 18 weeks, the fate of whatever is present in that woman’s uterus is her business and is about her choice. That principle equally applied also means that after 18 weeks, the growth is now characterized by the word “life”. The fate of that life is now not about the woman’s choice. It is life. Abortion would be one person, the mom, choosing to take the life of another, the child. The pro-life crowd understandably labels doing so as murder.
Conservatives and conservatism, as I’ve noted elsewhere, are not the enemy regarding freedom of choice. The freedom of choice is inherent in all we conservatives hold dear and value most. When the pro-choice crowd accuses us of taking away a woman’s freedom to choose, the pro-choice crowd grossly misrepresents the pro-life position. Also, as noted previously in my humble opinion, doing so is intentional with the goal of creating fear.
The pro-choice crowd’s key task, to be able to frame abortion as a “choice”, is to demonstrate conclusively when life begins. It is very much the case that before life has begun, the decision to abort would be about choice. It is also very much the case that after life begins, life gets the benefit of the doubt.
Life getting the benefit of the doubt is not only a conservative value; it is a core value of our country. As a value, it is a key ingredient of our justice system. In any decision-making process or dialogue, life getting the benefit of the doubt appropriately influences the conclusion. As a value, it is part of why America is different and better than any other country in the world. The blessing of this value in America is easily seen when looking at news we see from countries whose culture values death more than life.
If the pro-choice crowd can demonstrate for me the point at which life begins, I will be the first person in line to support abortion as a woman’s freedom of choice up to that date. I value personal freedom and limited, less invasive government. If whatever is growing in a woman’s uterus is not life, then to be consistent with my conservative values, of course I would support a woman’s freedom of choice.
However, the answer to the key question of when life begins isn’t so simple to determine. All of the traditional measures keep changing.
The viability factor has changed a great deal in the last decade. One way the “when does life begin” question used to be answered is by asking another question: could the fetus live outside the mother’s body? If no, it was not “life”. If yes, it was “life”. A fetus can live outside the mother’s body at an incredibly early gestational age.
The aborted babies who have survived have also lowered the fetus survivability point. There are lots of places on the Internet that detail the stories of those who survived abortion. We’ve seen their stories on the news now and then. What you don’t see on the news is how abortion survivors have driven down the age of viability. The pro-choice media crowd would prefer we not be aware of the impact survivor stories have on the answer to the “when does life begin” question.
The only intellectually honest answer to this question is that we don’t know. None of us know for sure. One of the mysteries of life is that we simply don’t know exactly when it begins. We know it exists. We know life when we see it. We know death when we see it. Even with death, there is an uncertainty about exactly when a person dies. We can measure pulse, respirations, brain activity, and all sorts of things. We can use those measurements to determine when those signs of life cease, and we can technically determine the time of death.
I worked hospice for 9 years, and without hesitation, I can tell you that people died before the lack of vital signs confirmed death. I experienced a great deal of death while working in Sudan as well. There is a moment when a person dies. I’ve felt it. I’ve been very close to bodies in whom whatever it is that makes them alive ceases to exist. There is a discernible change in the feel of their bodies. That change can come before a heart stops beating, or a diaphragm finally stops creating the false appearance of breathing.
Science can’t tell us exactly when life ends, and it can’t tell us exactly when life begins. It is no wonder that the church is involved in the abortion discourse. The question of when life begins is most appropriate for the field of religious belief.
In America, life gets the benefit of the doubt. I want my society and my country to be characterized by life, not by death. I’m also a medical professional and value science and objective data. There is no clear, consistent, concrete data that tells me when life begins. My faith tells me life begins at conception.
As a conservative, I value highly the freedom of choice. I do not easily limit a person’s right to choose. I also resist the attempt to mischaracterize an issue to be about “choice” when doing so is a clear strategy to avoid the core issue. I value the freedom to choose so much that I will not allow it to be misused for anyone’s agenda.
Until the pro-choice crowd can demonstrate to me the point at which life begins, and that point justifies the time frame during which they want abortion to be characterized as a “choice”, I cannot frame abortion as a women’s rights issue.
As a result of my core American values, my faith, and the facts regarding life as we know them, I am solidly pro-life.
Abortion as a practice should only be performed in the case of rape (and the woman does not want to keep the child due to that rape), incest, or the health of the mother or another life (such as multiples also beginning in the mother’s reproductive organs) is at risk.
If you are pro-choice, I honestly would like to hear your answer to the question of when life begins. We who are pro-life would like to know what you’ve decided and how you reached your conclusion. I am fully prepared to change my position if a clear answer to this question reveals a particular time frame during which whatever it is that is growing in your uterus is not “life”.
At this time and for this conservative, however, life will always be given the benefit of the doubt.
Acknowledging that a fetus is not just a fetus but is life brings another core conservative value into the pro-life mix. That value is the value we place on individuals as opposed to the group or the “collective”. The value we place on the individual is seen in many of our laws and founding documents. You can see that core value in practice in due process laws, private property laws, privacy laws, and all sorts of places. The value we place on the individual is a critical part of the conservative values regarding self-initiative and keeping what we earn. When it comes to abortion, it is no surprise that in cultures that place the collective above the individual, abortion is practiced in astounding numbers.
Exact abortion statistics from China are hard to determine. According to the Vermont Burlington Free Press in a 2009 article, for the year 2008, there were 13 million abortions and 10 million abortion pills sold in China. 23 million pregnancies were terminated.
Those numbers make perfect sense given the value system of China. Life is not valued in the same way as it is in this country, and the individual is not given the same value in China’s society as in ours. China places the collective first and foremost.
When I let abortion battle with my conservative value system, combined with my understanding of medical science’s answer to when life begins, the clear winner is LIFE. The pro-life position is the most consistent and reasonable position I can assume. Abortion is not about a woman’s freedom to choose. Abortion is about taking life. As such, abortion needs to be very rare and limited.
Next time you find yourself in a discussion about abortion, and the dialogue starts out with “a woman’s right to choose”, you now know the first question has not been answered. The first question is and has to be “When does life begin?”. You understand why the dialogue has to step back and address that first question. If we begin the discourse at its proper point, the “When does life begin?” question, the pro-live position avoids what appears to be a troubling inconsistency with something we value as equally and highly as life, the freedom of choice.”
Photo Credit: Planetrussell (Creative Commons)
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.