With the recent revelation of heavily edited footage showing a Planned Parenthood official discussing fetal tissue, the topic of abortion has once again come storming into the center of the national narrative. Unlike the homophobic right, anti-choice activists have made gains at the state level, and if Rand Paul and the Republican congress have anything to say, they’ll at least be entertaining the possibility of an anti-choice agenda at the national level.
And the anti-choicers are out in force, emboldened by the heavily doctored video and armed with misinformation and scientific/religious/legally specious arguments.
As a pro-choicer, it can seem rather daunting at times. So, presented below are five arguments to help give you the edge in the debate and shut down the anti-choice right wherever you find them.
No Definition For ‘Life’
This seems obvious, but think about it for a minute. What is life? How can you tell something that’s alive from something that’s not alive? Does life metabolize and produce waste? So does a wildfire.
Does life reproduce? So does a computer virus.
Does life mature and grow? So do crystals.
How can you stand for something if you’re not sure what it is you’re standing for?
Now, the obvious response is that life is “a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution,” which is as good a definition as any. But good luck getting any pro-life creationist to admit that.
Even that definition has its holes, however: viruses are self-sustaining chemical systems capable of Darwinian evolution (it’s why you need a new flu shot every year), but not everyone agrees that they’re alive.
Life is one of those things we know when we see it, but with anti-choicers, we’re not all seeing the same thing.
No Definition For ‘Human’
Of course, this is what anti-choicers often times mean when they call themselves pro-life — pro human life.
But this runs into a similar problem: What is a human?
Is it a member of H. s. sapiens? Does that mean the E. coli in your gut necessary to process your food isn’t part of you? You couldn’t live without it. In fact, the human microbiome — composed of symbiotic fungi and bacteria — numbers 700 unique species alone in breast milk. There’s about 1,000 species of bacteria on your skin. Do you consider that microbiota human? It reacts to your emotional and physical states, after all, just like any other part of your body.
So I ask again: what is human?
Anti-Abortion Laws Criminalize Innocent Human Chimeras
Let’s grant them that the fetus is alive and human. One of the arguments that right-wingers use is the idea that the fetus is an independent person, worthy of human rights.
If this is the case, then, should we recognize human chimeras as murders and charge them for it?
A chimera is defined as “a single organism composed of genetically distinct cells.” A chimera results when two fertilized eggs merge to form a single being; in effect, one siblings “eats” the other sibling and incorporates their genetic material into its own body.
This process is documented among humans. And it may not be rare, either; most people will go through life without ever knowing it. Boing Boing offers a very elegant description of the process leading to a human chimera:
Imagine you’re a fertilized egg, just a few days old. There you are, floating around the womb and minding your own business, when, BAM! You run smack into another just like you. Well, not just like you. But certainly close enough to be a threat. Now, you have a choice. You can roll over and let yourself be born as just another fraternal twin, or you can stand up for your individuality and absorb the interloper. Naturally, you do the smart thing, and nine months later your parents take home one healthy baby.
It’d probably be justified under various stand-your-ground laws if a gun was involved.
If you believe that an individual fetus/embryo is an independent person with personal rights, this is murder. Should we jail newborn baby chimeras for killing their siblings?
Now, some may come back and say that because it wasn’t premeditated, it shouldn’t matter; which is patently false, since that’s what the manslaughter charge exists for. Are you willing to force DNA tests on every newborn to tell who killed their sibling in the womb, and then charge them with manslaughter or murder if you find out they did? What should their punishment be? The same thing as a woman who aborted a fetus? It’s the same “crime,” isn’t it?
Abortion Is A Free Ticket To Heaven
While not true for all “pro-lifers,” there’s so much religious overlap that this works on most of them.
Stepping away from biology, let’s take a look at right-wing theology. In some right-wing circles, there exists something that’s called the Age of Accountability. This is the age at which you’re officially accountable for your actions before God; at anytime before this, you’re not responsible.
This is how the cheerleaders for Hell Theology ease their dissonance-addled consciences; it creates a mental “buffer zone” so they can assure themselves their God would never be seen roasting baby souls on a spit over open Hell fire.
But for the “pro-lifers” that believe this, it opens a gaping hole in their argument: If you knew it was possible, wouldn’t you morally be obligated to prevent someone from going to Hell by denying them the chance in the first place?
If the goal is to keep them from going to Hell, then abortion is a Godsend (pun completely intended), since abortion happens well under the Age of Accountability. These aborted souls are given a free ticket to Heaven, where they’ll spend the rest of their eternity.
Isn’t that a good thing?
(Usage note: exceptionally clever right-wingers might try a reductio ad absurdum on this argument, using it to justify the murder of all children under the age of accountability. The problem here isn’t the argument, it’s the age of accountability, and yes, by that belief, they’re absolutely justified in the mass murder of all children. They’re morally abhorrent for having a belief in Hell that requires an age of accountability in the first place, but what is the religious right if not specious morality built on amoral authoritarian fantasies?)
Anti-Abortion Legislation Violates Bodily Autonomy
The right-wing lives in mortal fear of the government coming in to tell them that they can’t do something, whether it’s drink their big gulps or own fifty-million guns.
A right-winger, then, should understand more than anyone why bodily autonomy is an intrinsic human right. But they don’t.
If we take a look at what the “pro-lifers” seriously propose, we can see that they’re making two core claims: 1) the fetus is alive and has human rights and 2) the fetus has rights to all the material in a woman’s body.
The last one is left unstated but enunciated very clearly by their attacks on choice. What we have here is them demanding that the government come in and tell women that they have to sacrifice their bodies — because pregnancy is a huge and very dangerous sacrifice — for a person they’ve never met. And they make this demand while screaming about socialism and government overreach.
In the case McFall v. Shimp, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that Robert McFall could not force his relative, David Shimp, to give bone tissue, even though they were a match and McFall was dying. In his ruling, the judge said:
For our law to compel defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change every concept and principle upon which our society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual, and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn.
While not national, the ruling is pretty clear: you cannot force someone to sacrifice their body for another person, regardless who that person is.
Now, right-wingers will come back and cry, “What about the bodily autonomy of the baby?” Nothing. Nobody’s doing anything to restrict the bodily autonomy of the baby. If they die, that’s because they couldn’t survive on their own, just like McFall ended up doing in August of 1978.
What the doctor performing the abortion is doing is akin to pulling the life support plug. The fetus wasn’t going to survive on its own anyway.
Right wingers don’t seem to have a problem with this when it happens to people that are already born and capable of surviving, so why should they care anymore about a fetus that’s not and never could?
The answer: they don’t. They just want to use pregnancy to punish women — but anyone watching their behavior recognizes that already.
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons