… and “the Sacredness of Human Life”
Part 1: Legal and Moral Predicament
Men do not get pregnant. We have no standing in Canadian abortion law. It may be easy sometimes, for some men to pretend the abortion issue is a women’s concern that does not involve us; but that would be “really true” only if women could become pregnant without sexual intercourse (which a minority of women have wished to do for centuries); and furthermore, only got pregnant with male assistance, when the man fully gave informed consent (which simply is not true of 21st Century human sexuality).
I believe the “abortion mess” should influence men’s conduct. To understand how, i believe we should first have a look at the old “Is abortion homicide?” issue; and “reflect on” the legal standing of abortion vis-a-vis some other kinds of involuntary death.
Let our look at the old question begin with four statements so obviously true that they would be accepted “with judicial notice” in most courts of law:
- A foetus is alive.
- A foetus is animal life rather than plant, fungus, bacteria, etc.
- Zoologically, a foetus belongs to the human species.
- A foetus is genetically and anatomically distinct from its mother.
Ergo, a foetus is a distinct human life.
One could argue with the same logic, that a human embryo is a human life. That argument is [or perhaps was] important in the debate over embryonic-stem-cell research. Apparently, stem cells can now be “cultivated” from other sources than embryos; and the research can be done without raising the philosophical issue of “destroying human lives”; but mentioning this further argument has value because the process of development from zygote to embryo to foetus is continuous.
A foetus has some hope of independent survival if taken from the womb where it is growing. The continuum from embryo to foetus to baby is just that—a continuum—it is not a set of discrete categories. Somewhere along that continuum, “spontaneous abortion” becomes premature birth and “induced abortion” becomes infanticide. No exact point where that change happens can be specified. Mathematically, and thus logically, the point is indeterminate—the “termination” of an “intrauterine” life becomes gradually more murderous as the zygote becomes an embryo and then a foetus and finally a baby—all of which categories are merely words for portions of the continuum from the merger of a human ovum and a human sperm, to the full readiness of a baby to be born—and which portions not only have no identifiable beginning and end-points; they overlap.
Modern Canadian law allows a woman to direct a medical practitioner to terminate her pregnancy and kill the [embryo or foetus]. It denies that power to a father (and if a woman has not been monogamous, there may be no way to know, short of genetic assessment of foetal tissue, who is the sire1); and it denies that power to the State. In past human societies, States and fathers 2 have been given that power. One could say that Canadian pregnant women have life-and-death power over the lives they “carry”, but those lives have priority over the State’s and sire’s interests; while in some previous societies the priority ordering put State or sire first and foetus or woman, last.
Many Christian churches would put foetus first, as an innocent and vulnerable human life.
Some past societies, (and imaginably some societies extant today) permit[ted] infanticide in its 19th Century meaning of killing a baby after viable live birth. Though birth is a discrete event, there are important ways in which this acceptance of infanticide constitutes an extension along the continuum of development, “past parturition”, of social permission to kill a human being3. A society that permits induced abortion to any pregnant woman who demands it, is closer to accepting infanticide than one which is more restrictive.
“Societies” in the form of “States” ( that is, “nation-states” rather than those subdivisions of the USA and Australia which bear that name), also claim and sometimes exercise the power to put young adults to death, (and other than as punishment for crime.) Some modern societies permit the “conscription” of young people into military service for which they would not freely volunteer, and which military service includes the risk of death. Seldom are soldiers ordered to accept certain death; but very often, they are ordered to do things which will bring death to some unknown fraction of their number, which individuals cannot be named in advance. In the conscription case, the State is given priority over the lives of young men (but very rarely over the lives of young women).
Prohibition of “child soldiering” brings into the conscription problem, a continuum-issue similar to the embryo-foetus-baby continuum, with the reverse consequence that a boy is protected [a foetus is not] but when deemed a young man, that boy becomes subject to involuntary mortal risk [while in Canadian law at least, a newborn is not]. Conscription brings not the certain death of “induced abortion”, but a risk too great to be trivial4.
Soldiering and conscription entail another distinction in human value: Gender. Prime Ministers, especially of the Liberal Party, and many other political leaders at various levels, have said in various English and French phrasings that violence against women is intolerable. I do not believe i have ever heard any political leader say that violence against men is intolerable. Men are in some cases legitimate targets of violence, and not just in war; women, never? Conscription laws are consistent with this conclusion, except in a very few States, of which Israel is the best known, which conscript women.
If we were to go further and ponder the end of the ordinary human lifespan, questions of “extreme measures to delay death”, “palliative care”, dementia, and whether someone well into retirement age should have drastic and costly surgery to treat a condition which might shorten her or his life by a few years or perhaps, only a few months,5 we might encounter still further issues about the value of human life; but they are qualitatively different from questions about the early years of the mortal human lifespan. Suffice here, to say that if human life is eternal (or even indefinitely long), such eternality differs miraculously from the mortality of the natural human body6; and for the purposes of any practical decisions about human life protection, a mortal body with a normal span of 70-100 years should be the context. In that context, the survival or death of a foetus, a baby, or a young adult is a larger concern than the extension of a life in decline.
So have we come to a juncture in Canadian legal philosophy, where the innocent child is sacred, and her mother, provided her mother decide to let her be born, nearly as sacred, or perhaps more so? But yet, if that expectant mother decide not to allow her foetus to be born, the same human life that would be a sacred baby and then little girl, has neither rights nor value?7
Such a distinction is too heavy for an arbitrary set of categories imposed on a continuum, to carry.
- A woman who wants an abortion badly in a jurisdiction where fathers have a say, could lie and say she was not monogamous. ↩
- sometimes the fathers of pregnant unmarried women rather than sires of the lives they carried. ↩
- The word “being” in this usage, is virtually identical with “individual”. “A human life” is “a human being”, but the connotation of the phrase “human being” is such that the other phrase was used initially, to facilitate reasoning. The statement, “a foetus is a human being” still carries heavy emotional baggage from its use in 20th Century debate. ↩
- and accompanied, for those who survive as well as for those who die, by various privations, and disruption of the lives they would have chosen and lived if not conscripted. ↩
- but might involve a far larger difference in the life expectancy of someone aged 20-40 ↩
- Mat 22: 29-32; Mark 12: 24-27; Luke 20: 35-38 offer a Christian view of this ↩
- If the foetus and-or baby be male, has he less value than she? The hearings into the death of Robert Dziekanski are a noteworthy case in point. What is the probability that a crew of Federal police, of any gender composition, would have killed a tall agitated non-Anglophone non-Francophone woman with a stapler in her hand? In the event that a police team did kill a woman whose weapon was so non-lethal—what would have been the consequences? ↩