October 06, 2012

The Abortion Debate

Just want to put my thoughts on the topic on the record here.

I haven't thought about this issue much. But it seems to be a recurring issue in developed nations such as the United States and the U.K.

It seems obvious to me that there are far more important and serious challenges facing the world out there. In India, the far bigger issues facing women have got to be issues such as domestic violence. I believe millions of women must be silently suffering from malevolent males -- drunk or otherwise. Society in India is structured in such a manner that women have very little explicit economic value and in a poor society, it's the men who make the money -- howsoever little it might be -- who hold the strings.

To change this state of affairs, women will need to realize that taking care of kids and cooking have got to be secondary to developing skills and expertise. It's a kind of long term change that is tied in with a lot of other issues and in the next 30 years, we'll see some changes thanks to the disruptive interventions of technology. The old guard unfortunately plays the role of a dead weight holding the new generation down. The new generation is a bit slow to recognize that our ancestors were mostly assholes.

The old realities of what it meant to be human have fundamentally and irrevocably changed and we have to learn to live with new realities. Progress is a one way street. Our history lies in the forests, in foraging and hunting and gathering. But that history is over forever. We were farmers once upon a time but that time is over too. We have to move on to an era where technology determines the pace and substance and future of our lives.

We have the technology today to travel to another planet if we wish to. It's another matter that we choose NOT to because of economic constraints. But let economics not hide the fundamental nature of the change that has occurred in what it means to be a human in the last 100 years. Admittedly, it's difficult to easily let go of inherited influences going back hundreds of thousands of years.

That also applies to the issues at stake in the abortion debate. This debate would have been moot before the 20th century. It's only since the 20th century that medical technology has become advanced enough where the issues at stake are worth debating. We have the tools now to make interventions to save the life of a pregnant female by removing the fetus if that is necessary.

It's worth reminding ourselves at this point -> in much of the world, the reality is that hundreds of thousands of women still die in childbirth for lack of basic medical amenities. It's just that we choose to focus more on the valuable lives of women in the developed nations.

But women in developed nations also have access to medical facilities where C-sections are commonplace. So, where a fetus might be endangering the life of the mother, she can safely go through the procedure. Where it's a case of an unwanted pregnancy -- teen pregnancy, caused by rape, or merely unplanned as might occur because of failure of contraception -- clearly, the woman has the right to abort. But does she have the right to abort after she carries the fetus for six months? Well, that leads to the question of when a fetus becomes more or less fully developed and resembles an actual human. That question has been dealt with from a scientific perspective by Carl Sagan in this article.

Roe v. Wade created a fine balance between the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus and need for humanity not to appear to be wantonly killing our own

As Sagan and Druyan wrote:
"What was the reasoning in Roe v. Wade? There was no legal weight given to what happens to the children once they are born, or to the family. Instead, a woman's right to reproductive freedom is protected, the court ruled, by constitutional guarantees of privacy. But that right is not unqualified. The woman's guarantee of privacy and the fetus's right to life must be weighed--and when the court did the weighing' priority was given to privacy in the first trimester and to life in the third. The transition was decided not from any of the considerations we have been dealing with so far…--not when "ensoulment" occurs, not when the fetus takes on sufficient human characteristics to be protected by laws against murder. Instead, the criterion adopted was whether the fetus could live outside the mother. This is called "viability" and depends in part on the ability to breathe. The lungs are simply not developed, and the fetus cannot breathe--no matter how advanced an artificial lung it might be placed in—until about the 24th week, near the start of the sixth month. This is why Roe v. Wade permits the states to prohibit abortions in the last trimester. It's a very pragmatic criterion. 

If the fetus at a certain stage of gestation would be viable outside the womb, the argument goes, then the right of the fetus to life overrides the right of the woman to privacy. But just what does "viable" mean? Even a full-term newborn is not viable without a great deal of care and love. There was a time before incubators, only a few decades ago, when babies in their seventh month were unlikely to be viable. Would aborting in the seventh month have been permissible then? After the invention of incubators, did aborting pregnancies in the seventh month suddenly become immoral? What happens if, in the future, a new technology develops so that an artificial womb can sustain a fetus even before the sixth month by delivering oxygen and nutrients through the blood--as the mother does through the placenta and into the fetal blood system? We grant that this technology is unlikely to be developed soon or become available to many. But if it were available, does it then become immoral to abort earlier than the sixth month, when previously it was moral? A morality that depends on, and changes with, technology is a fragile morality; for some, it is also an unacceptable morality.

And why, exactly, should breathing (or kidney function, or the ability to resist disease) justify legal protection? If a fetus can be shown to think and feel but not be able to breathe, would it be all right to kill it? Do we value breathing more than thinking and feeling? Viability arguments cannot, it seems to us, coherently determine when abortions are permissible. Some other criterion is needed. Again, we offer for consideration the earliest onset of human thinking as that criterion.

Since, on average, fetal thinking occurs even later than fetal lung development, we find Roe v. Wade to be a good and prudent decision addressing a complex and difficult issue. With prohibitions on abortion in the last trimester--except in cases of grave medical necessity--it strikes a fair balance between the conflicting claims of freedom and life."

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