Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Just another little bit more about abortion

In response to Fiona’s post.
Fiona said I discussed abortion and not legislation. The argument that abortion and the legislation of it, are in fact 2 separate arguments doesn’t make that much sense to me – for example, some people think all recreational drugs should be legalised. I don’t believe in legislation because I believe drugs are bad (simple argument here!) and damage both users and society. It is not sensible to say, well, actually I think using heroin is wrong, bad and stupid but I don’t mind the State legislating for it because its people’s own choice anyway, and sure, legislation doesn’t mean condoning when it’s all about choice.
And from my point of view, abortion legislation would legitimise the ending of another human being’s life. That, to me, regardless of where I stand on freedom of choice issues, makes abortion a special case.

Fiona says this point is only valid if “you accept that a foetus is a human being”. Believing that a foetus is not a human being is akin to wilfully believing that the earth is flat and revolves around the moon. It flies in the face of all scientific evidence about human embryology.
Most of the philosophical justification for abortion has been based on the concept of personhood, not humanity.
I can understand the argument that a foetus is not a person (even though I thoroughly disagree with the notion that we have to fulfil certain personhood characteristics set by philosophers/lawyers etc before we have any standing in the world), but I can not understand the “foetus is just cells” arguments.
Without going in to a big birds-and-bees discussion, I want to explain the very basics of human reproduction – because believing foetuses are not human beings or are some other species is just mad, Ted, mad.
Human sperm and eggs have only 23 chromosomes – they are not human beings, they are human. They’re not bovine or canine. Sperm and eggs go through a very complicated process where they started as primitive germ cells with 46 chromosomes and are cut up in different ways until they’ve 23. (This is not a scientific paper so excuse the generalisations! But remember meiosis from the Leaving Cert!)  
They meet up and join and become something else entirely.
This new “thing” is a zygote, a brand new human individual that never existed before – with 46 chromosomes. It immediately starts growing (by division) and making all kinds of human proteins etc which make up human cells which then starting migrating up, down and all over the place which over time forms various parts of the body (which is already male/female!) Embryo is the term used after 1 week, a foetus after 8 weeks, an adolescent after 12 years, a pensioner after 65 years – the substance of our humanity has not changed since we began our existence – at the end of the process of fertilisation.
As for the argument that somehow the zygote can’t human until the potential for twinning as passed, it makes no sense either – scientifically. Monozygotic twins are essentially natural clones. But this implies that a unified being (that’s human) had to exist beforehand, for the 2nd twin to clone it. If not, then neither are human.
But even if you are to accept that unique human beings exist only after the last stop for twinning, abortion still denies the right to life of that human being. Twinning will have happened well before a woman misses her first period.  
Anyway – that’s beside the point of these points that Fiona makes.
Fiona says that “In terms of advancing equality for women the prohibition of abortion tends, at the very least, to perpetuate inequalities between women where wealthy women can afford to go abroad for safe and clean abortions if they want them but poor women generally can’t and tend to suffer the dangers and difficulties of illegal abortions to a disproportionate extent.”
I do not accept this at all. If anything, abortion legitimises and continues the situations that leave poor women facing no choice but abortion. My point about abortion not always being safe was to illustrate that legalising something does not make it safe. Talking about illegal abortion in the Irish context is disingenous as we do not know enough about illegal abortion here to make an informed decision about it.

Disregarding the right to life of unborn children so that we can equilibrate the access to abortion among all social classes is not a good enough argument for abortion (even among socialists, I would imagine). Especially when the evidence available to us is pointing more and more in the direction of the universal harm that abortion does to women.

As for the arguments about the absence of debate on reducing crisis pregnancy and abortion rates check out this transcript from Prof Patricia Casey and Breda O’Brien from 2000 at the Joint Committee on the Constitution’s public hearings on abortion.

And on Saint’s arguments that the real victims (the foetus are inevitable victims) in this are the women coming back in the veil of secrecy. In serious need of supports. If abortion services were supplied in the state a better after care services could be provided and women would not be suffering in silence on this issue. Also in the state women could be allowed to see all the options or maybe after counselling more would chose adoption or to keep the child.
That’s just wrong. Several agencies provide post-abortion counselling already here (Life and Cura). In fact, this is one area where the Crisis Pregnancy Agency could really help women, and have failed to show leadership to date anyway.
Having abortion in Ireland is not going to reduce the number of abortions. It’s not going to reduce the number of women who need counselling after an abortion (we have no evidence, ancedotal or otherwise that travelling plays into any negative effects a woman might feel after an abortion – the abortion is why she needs counselling, not the trip abroad).
Arranging for a woman to have something that might potentially do her harm in Ireland, just so she can access services to deal with that harm in Ireland, makes no sense.

Nor does Saint’s other point about extreme cases in his poll. Changing the situation with regard to abortion legislation will not affect current medical practice in matters of life, death or otherwise. Irish pregnant women have access at the moment to all medical services they might need. Full Stop. There is nothing else that abortion can offer in this regard.
Saint’s post, which follows the debate, and his poll (which I still can’t find on the page) are worth a visit.



Blogger Simon said...

thats me told :)

I added this post to the lot. The debate is really building up . thanks for the link. Did you try clicking on the link to the poll in the post about the poll.

I just realised the problem you are using internet explorer arn't you. I'll work on this in a giffy.

February 07, 2006 10:19 p.m.  
Blogger Simon said...

should be working now. Sorry about that

February 07, 2006 10:30 p.m.  
Blogger GrannyGrump said...

Well said.

I've used the Visible Embryo to counter folks insisting that abortion only destroys "a couple of cells." I don't think it changes their minds, but no doubt it plants seeds. It's hard to hold up denial levees against a flood of information.

February 11, 2006 6:08 p.m.  

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