Most civil rights battles revolve around privileged people desiring to withhold equality from others; this is not the case in the pro-choice versus pro-life debate. Abortion pits two groups, women, who rightfully demand ownership of their bodies and procreative decisions, against the right of pre-born children to live; a dilemma worthy of the wisdom of Solomon.
Don’t let my Biblical allusion throw you. I do not look to the Bible for wisdom nor truth any more than I do the fiction or nonfiction written by others. My abortion dilemma is not a religious battle, it is a desire to find equality and justice for two diametrically opposed groups; one, women who should have autonomy over their person, and the pre-born who deserve the same right to, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” granted to those who have completed gestation.
Both groups are entitled to protection under the law yet granting rights to one precludes rights to the other.
Before I march into the landmine laden maze that is an old white man talking about women’s procreative rights, let’s acknowledge that thoughtful dialogue is important and that knee-jerk name calling, and preconceived presumptions are detrimental to both understanding and progress. Judge my words, not my demographic.
On May second the legislature of the State of Iowa passed a ban prohibiting elective abortion after a fetal heart beat has been detected, a time frame that roughly corresponds to six weeks of gestation. This abortion ban is the most restrictive any state has passed into law since 1973 when Roe v. Wade changed the US abortion landscape and, to be honest, I was delighted to learn that Iowa was stepping forth as a front-runner in restricting abortion.
I was delighted, until I learned the details.
Let me provide some background. Iowa is the state I called home longer than any other, and even though I’m approaching three years as an Iowa ex-pat she is still nearest and dearest in my heart. I was proud to be an Iowan when she was an early supporter of marriage equality, an equal rights issue that the US finally woke up to.
I have opposed Roe v. Wade since I was a child. I have participated in the annual Right to Life March while wearing a huge button that declared ERA NOW! I am a product of my years and experiences but equality under the law is my first-and-foremost cornerstone. My world-view is conservative, but my positions are dictated by a need for advancing liberty and equality among all people. Abortion, as I said in my opening paragraph, precludes easy answers.
Extreme right-wing philosophy, I won’t call this “thought” as it is a religious principle rather than an assertion of logic, would have all abortion precluded by law. The declaration that “Life Begins at Conception,” is true, and irrelevant. Life? Sure. A human being that deserves equal protection under the law? Hardly.
On the far left are those who feel that abortion is solely the province of the mother, that whether to reproduce or not is entirely her choice and that abortion at any time for any reason is a simple sloughing away of tissue, just as menses is. Do we legislate when women menstruate? No, so, as goes the logic, we too should not regulate if and when unwanted tissue is disposed of through medical procedure.
When these two views are compared and contrasted they are equally absurd. The “from conception” crowd would use religious principle to deny women autonomy over their bodies while the laissez faire humanity deniers simply refuse to acknowledge that the arbitrary barrier of pre-birth versus post-birth is self-serving fantasy. How can a baby be non-human on one side of a vagina but suddenly be imbued with human rights on the other?
I have asked countless pro-choice people that question, how a late term, fully formed, able to survive on its own fetus should be denied the right to life while one the same age that has been born is given protection under the law. When asked, most staunch abortion-rights folk admit that this is absurd and -hypothetically!- agree that time/gestation restraints make sense. The question of course is always, “But when?”
In conversations I have always left the answer vague, stating that, as we won’t be deciding, we can leave it there. We still won’t be deciding, but for Iowa women the question is no longer academic.
Fetal heart rate begins when an embryo is around six weeks old. Equal rights for embryos? The tiniest of beings, only 75% done with the journey to fetus? Why not blastula? Or gastrula? The heart-rate law is draconian. Most women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. This is not justice, this is not equality. But what is?
There are no easy answers in the debate that is pro-life versus pro-choice, only losers and potential losers. Women losing their right to self-determination and babies losing their right to existence. Imperative versus imperative where all answers lead to inequality.
What limit would I have been happy with? The earliest limit I would have entertained would be at eight weeks, when maturation replaces an embryo with a fetus; the latest, three months of gestation. Originally, the Iowa bill did not include exceptions for health of the mother, something I believe is essential throughout a woman’s pregnancy, rape, incest or gross fetal deformity, three areas that I feel should not be included with exemptions.
Elective abortion exemptions are heart pullers, but for me the question always comes back to equal rights and if we wouldn’t terminate a post-born for being born of rape, being conceived through incest or suffering from tragedy then we should not terminate the pre-born. Harsh? Maybe. Just? I hope so.
There are no easy answers when the question is the termination of an innocent life, and Iowa’s stance on balancing the rights of one party over that of the other seems tipped against women, a position as mind boggling as Solomon’s baby-splitting edict seemed to the child’s mother.