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Talking about Abortion, Part IV: More Questions and Answers

Way back on April 20, we ran three questions that readers sent in for us to pose to anti-abortion readers, along with answers from C.H. in Atlanta, GA; M.E. in Roanoke, VA and K.K. in Washington County, TX. Today, we're going to run three more questions and answers; you can click on the link if you'd like a reminder as to each of the three answerers' biographies. And without further ado:

T.O. in Portland, OR, asks: How do you justify overriding bodily autonomy? I concur with the sentiment that abortion ends a human life. This seems like an obvious fact that does not need a religious foundation and is one that I wish more pro-choice people could acknowledge to better understand the motivations of our pro-life compatriots. That said, for me it comes down to bodily autonomy. If you can justify overriding that to save a human life, could you likewise make organ donation mandatory? Could the State compel me to surrender a kidney to someone if I am the only compatible donor and they will die without it?

C.H. answers: Thank you for having the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that abortion is the termination of a unique human life and not the casual discarding of amorphous cells. I think I would challenge you to let that truth sink in. I did not give birth to my daughters, but that's not to say they haven't interfered in some way with my autonomy every day since they were born. This morning my bodily autonomy to sleep soundly was overridden by my youngest's desire to climb into bed with mom and dad because she wasn't feeling well. My wife's bodily autonomy to not be sick was overridden as she got sick with the same thing as our daughter.

Why do my wife and I pay a king's ransom in babysitting fees whenever we want to go on an all-too-infrequent date? Our autonomy is limited by the State of Georgia telling us that we can't leave our young children unattended in our house. To be part of a polity is to accept limitations on one's autonomy all the time. The State of Georgia (along with 47 other states) dictates to women and men that they cannot decide to seek out someone to assist them in terminating their own life. If, as a society, we have decided overwhelmingly that individuals lack the autonomy to ask for help in ending their own lives—how is it so shocking that many find it even more extreme to allow a mother to unilaterally choose to terminate her own child?

When someone speaks about a woman's bodily autonomy and that her desire to not be pregnant outweighs the fetus's right to continued existence, one must view a fetus as nothing more than a parasite leeching off the mother in utero. If the lens used is that we're talking about a human being, then it follows that we must weigh that individual human's needs against their mother's conflicting needs and desires. Women have been prosecuted in 45 states for using drugs while pregnant because of the harm they inflict on their fetuses by that behavior. It feels surreal to me that it's okay for that mother to terminate the life of her child but harming that child because of her drug use is where society draws the line.

Your question about state-mandated organ donation is interesting—I've never thought about it before. Feels a bit like comparing apples to anvils though. Abortion results in the death and destruction of a separate, unique human being. Mandatory organ donation involves harvesting organs from an already dead human being to give multiple humans an opportunity at continued life. I'd have serious problems with a program that actively involved killing human beings to harvest their organs—that's dystopian. But no, I don't think I have a particular moral problem with an opt-out approach to managing organ donation. Of course, I am an organ donor and am happy to know I could help save several lives once I shuffle off this mortal coil.

M.E. answers: I likewise wish pro-choice individuals were willing to acknowledge that abortion ends a human life! Indeed, out of all the questions posed, I find yours the most difficult to answer and can offer only a partial explanation.

To start, consent is an important factor. If an individual consents to sex and pregnancy is the result, it seems relatively straightforward to suggest that this individual has voluntarily and temporarily surrendered their right to bodily autonomy. Indeed, this highlights a major difference between pregnancy and forced organ donation—in the former, two individuals engaged in a consensual action that created a life; in the latter, the donor did not engage in any action to cause the sickness.

While convenient, this line of logic breaks down when examining the "tough cases" of rape and incest and it is here where I struggle to fully answer your question. My reading of this study from the National Institute of Health suggests that there are roughly 16,000 U.S. rape-related abortions per year. Set against a CDC estimate of approximately 620,000 U.S. abortions per year, this implies that abortions stemming from non-consensual sex account for roughly 2.5% of all U.S. abortions.

For these tragic cases, my ability to cleanly balance rights ends. A life exists and yet bodily autonomy has been violated at least once. Especially given my personal moral opposition to abortion, I don't trust my ability to apply unbiased logic to this situation. Perhaps it is a bit of a dodge, but ultimately a reduction in abortion of 97.5% without violating consensual bodily autonomy seems like an excellent starting point.

K.K. answers: I am happy to hear that you recognize as an obvious fact that abortion ends a human life, and I totally agree with your point. I, too, wish all people could recognize this reality. As to your point concerning bodily autonomy, it has always been the case that your right to bodily autonomy ends when it infringes upon another person. You have every right to walk down the sidewalk punching the air, but as soon as another person could be harmed by your actions, your autonomy ends. You have a duty not to cause harm to others. The judge won't buy the argument that you were just exercising your bodily autonomy when you hit the other person on the nose. And since it is a biological fact that at the moment of conception, the child formed has its own DNA separate and unique from the mother and father, it is obvious that there is another human life, as you have pointed out. And this child is also entitled to bodily autonomy. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the mother has the right to exercise her bodily autonomy before the child is conceived by not engaging in sexual intercourse. So, the example of the state compelling someone to donate an organ would only be analogous if the state was compelling the mother to become pregnant. Which, of course, they are not doing. Once the child is conceived, its bodily autonomy must also be considered.

D.R. in Omaha, NE, asks: This is specifically for those who are opposed to reproductive choice and also in favor of the death penalty. How can you claim to value "life," when you are also in favor of the death penalty? Aren't you perhaps valuing innocence or chastity, and not life?

C.H. answers: Not applicable to me as I adamantly against the death penalty for the same reasons I against abortion. I guess, in some ways, I am even more anti-execution than anti-abortion in that I can accept some limited circumstances wherein an abortion may be necessary. It is genuinely surreal to me that there are Christians out there claiming to worship a falsely condemned and executed itinerant Palestinian Jewish rabbi and yet they are unfazed by the systematic murder of human beings by the State. It's nuts.

M.E. answers: I guess I get the easy way out for this one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly holds that "...the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that 'the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person' and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide." And yes, I am aware that this places me in opposition to many Republicans. I have written my letters and made an uneasy peace with the knowledge that the taking of life via the death penalty is a small but tragic fraction of the lives lost to abortion.

K.K. answers: Let me preface my answer by saying that I am no longer in favor of the death penalty, but at one time was, and currently believe the government has the right to enforce capital punishment. One can be pro-life and also support the death penalty without holding contradictory views. The biggest difference is that the child in the womb never has their day in court. There are no charges filed. There are no rights read. No lawyer is appointed if they cannot afford one. There is no jury trial of one's peers. There is no trial. No evidence is presented by the state of the capital offense the child committed to warrant its execution. The child never gets the chance to speak in their defense. They never get the chance to answer the charges. There are no chances for appeals. No chance for clemency. The child is simply deemed unworthy of life and executed. The adult who is executed by the state has all those opportunities. And from a religious point of view, we are not to murder—that is, to take the life of an innocent person. Yet the government is tasked with carrying out the power of the sword (Rom. 13). And for the record, I have changed my position on the death penalty for the same reasons I stated above. There have been too many instances when due process was not followed, and innocent men and women have been executed. Until we have a better justice system, I will remain against the death penalty.

E.C. in Baltimore, MD, asks: I assume that a significant majority of anti-abortion sentiment is rooted in "Christian Values." Why wouldn't you just let God work it out and let the "sinners" burn in hell?

C.H. answers: By this logic, we should trust God to exclusively punish murderers, rapists, thieves, USC Fans, etc. I believe these individuals will face divine judgment for their actions, but it's silly to suggest that society has no right to intervene to stop evil from happening in the first instance. This isn't simply someone cheating on their spouse or embezzling from their boss—we're talking about the unilateral choice of a mother to kill her child. I know that's charged language, but those are the stakes to those of us that believe as I do.

I reject the premise that a tiny human being's residence in a uterus as being the only grounds for allowing that life to be deliberately extinguished.

M.E. answers: I oppose abortion for both Christian and non-Christian reasons. Speaking strictly to the Christian side of things, my very real personal belief is that Hell is the worst possible state of existence. Why would I wish that on anyone? I am a sinner, and I don't wish Hell upon myself even though it is what I deserve. Indeed, this is the entire point of mercy—that I (and everyone) can, through no merit of their own, receive grace.

My wife and I met while attending Texas A&M in College Station. There, we were very active members of a newly formed organization called 40 Days for Life (now one of the largest anti-abortion protest groups). The director of the local Planned Parenthood at that time was none other than Abby Johnson. My wife and I easily spent hundreds of hours outside that facility before it closed. We saw Abby's conversion and have nothing but love and respect for her journey in our hearts. The same is true for all—the past may be unchangeable but it is also forgivable. I have received more than I deserve; how could I ever wish less for another?

K.K. answers: For me, my pro-life stance is certainly rooted in my faith. And Christ tells us when asked what the greatest commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:37-38) So, as Christians, we are to care for our neighbor. The child in the womb is the most vulnerable of our neighbors, and therefore we don't want to see any harm come to them. The same way we care for the widowed and elderly, the sojourner and the orphan, all of God's people. You are also missing the point of being a Christian. It is not to let sinners burn in hell but to do everything we can to witness to the truth of salvation, which lies in Christ, and pray that everyone repents and believes. God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4) Christianity is not a fatalistic religion, where we just sit back and let God sort it out. We are tasked with sharing the Good News of Christ crucified for all. So that is why the vast majority of Christians are pro-life.

Thanks to both the questioners and the answerers. Back on May 4, we ran an account from a reader who very much needed an abortion, despite desperately wanting that to not be the case. Our plan tomorrow is to run an account from a doctor, and their experiences since Roe was overturned. If any other physician-readers would care to add to that, we'd be very grateful to have your perspective. (Z)

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