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Opening Arguments

Yes, it's a choice

Here's an argument you don't see every day: So what if abortion ends life?

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

[. . .]

When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?

[. . .]

But we make choices about life all the time in our country. We make them about men and women in other nations. We make them about prisoners in our penal system. We make them about patients with terminal illnesses and accident victims. We still have passionate debates about the justifications of our actions as a society, but we don’t have to do it while being bullied around by the vague idea that if you say we’re talking about human life, then the jig is up, rights-wise.

Talk about slippery slopes. When you get into "all life is not equal" territory, you're likely to stumble around in a moral fog. It's true that in many circumstances we decide that some lives aren't worth preserving -- the condemned murderer, say, or the terminal patient with only a brief future full of pain ahead of him, or the soldier wearing the other side's uniform. But the more we make such choices, the easier it seems to be to make them. There was a story earlier this month about a set of 45-year-old twins in Belgium who sought permission for doctor-administered euthanasia -- they were born deaf and discovered they were going blind. They got permission and found a doctor willing to give them a lethal injection. Alas, no Helen Kellers are likely in Belgium.

And abortion is unique in that it requires us to think not just about the value of one life but the value of one life when compared to the value of another life. That's what "pro choice" really means -- choosing which life to value more. And unless the life of the mother is at stake, the choice is between inconvenience or hardship for one life weighed against the termination of the other life. Whatever else can be said about abortion, it most certainly chooses to punish the most innocent.

I agree with the main point the writer is  struggling with -- life is on a continuum. A just-fertilized egg is not the same as a fetus late in the third trimester. It's not unreasonable to seek a public policy that recognizes that continuum. Personally, I'd prefer development of the brain rather than viability as the point where potential human life becomes actual human life,  but that would still accept the idea of different public policy treatments. And if "all life is precious" is too broad and simplistic, "So what if abortion ends life?" is about as cold as it gets, especially for someone who says she believes life begins at conception.