Op-eds

Galvan ’16: Why I am pro-life

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In high school, I never took the time to think through the issue of abortion properly, letting mantras like “my body, my choice” and “keep the government out of my business” take the place of honest searching for the truth. Yet for all the power my friends and I placed in these words, I never felt completely comfortable with the pro-choice label. For that reason, I resolved to keep the question of abortion open when I stepped foot on Brown’s campus in fall 2012.

Ironically, coming to Brown, arguably the most liberal school in the Ivy League, was the first step in my conversion to the pro-life cause. After taking BIOL 0320: “Vertebrate Embryology” with the late Marjorie Thompson ’74 PhD’79 P’02 P’07 P’09 P’12 P’15 P’16, who was associate dean of biology, the spring semester of my freshman year, I profoundly changed my disposition on human personhood, and I became firmly pro-life. The scientific reality of fetal development first catalyzed this resolution. In every embryology textbook, I found — as you will find — irrefutable evidence that an individual human life begins at conception. At that point, a living organism with unique human DNA is created. This is simply a scientific fact, and no amount of arguing from pro-choicers can make it untrue. What they mean to say is that this fertilized embryo, though human and alive, is not yet a person and therefore not protected under the category of human rights.

The moment that we divorce the concept of personhood from the acknowledgement of someone’s natural humanity is the first step down the fatal path that has led to countless atrocities throughout human history. Slavery and genocide, for example, are both driven by the idea that a select group of human beings are unworthy of the dignity intrinsic to personhood and could therefore be subjugated by a stronger class of humans. When people in positions of power and privilege use this language to deny someone their basic human rights, they do it to justify acts that would otherwise be unconscionable to enact on other people. Labeling these humans as nonpersons or fractions of a person is the first step in allowing them to suffer inhumane violence and at times extinction at the hands of their oppressors.

We must, therefore, beg the question: If we base the right to life on the personhood construct, who decides who is a person and who is not?

In this case, our legal right to life would be dependent on another person or a group of persons, just like it is now for the unborn. All it takes for our rights to be stripped away is for someone more privileged, more powerful and more resourceful than we are to come along and claim that we are nonpersons and therefore do not have a protected right to life.

But if we base the right to life on membership in the human species, all our lives would be legally protected from the moment of conception. In this case, our right to life would not depend on others’ opinions of us, but rather on the simple and indisputable fact that we are all human and that each human life deserves protection under the law. This is the pro-life position in a nutshell.

I am not a pro-life advocate because it is a popular position to hold. I am pro-life because I believe it is morally wrong to willfully terminate the life of a human being. I am pro-life because I believe that our laws should preserve the natural right for all humans to live. Today, I can no longer even imagine calling myself pro-choice, for to say “I am pro-choice” to other people is to tell them that I would have or could have supported their parents’ decisions to terminate their lives. To me, that is the absolute equivalent of telling someone that his or her life has neither meaning nor purpose.

For those who know me today as a devout Roman Catholic, do not dismiss my pro-life conversion as an extension of my religion. My religion did not bring me to the pro-life movement; the pro-life movement brought me back to my faith, the one — I realized after seeking truth — that had been right on the issue of abortion all along. Now, I am proud to be a pro-life Catholic with the proper understanding that each human life matters and has inexplicable value in the sight of a loving God. To tell someone anything to the contrary would be an affront to all truth and reality.

We are each willed into existence for reasons we cannot fully understand or articulate, but I know for certain that my life has value, your life has value and unborn lives have value. These truths transcend opinion. All human life has value, and it’s time we start protecting it.

Lauren Galvan ’16 is the founder of Students for Life at Brown and can be reached at lauren_galvan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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50 Comments

  1. Well said, Lauren. Those who describe themselves as “pro-choice” generally do not talk about abortion per se but seek to discredit or silence those who disagree with them or they change the subject.

    • I am pro choice because I believe abortion should be legalized, regulated and safe for all women of all backgrounds and in all zip codes. I am not pro choice because I wish to discredit those who disagree. Your generalizations are false.

      • But you didn’t talk about what an abortion is; its quiddity.

        • I am not a dictionary nor am I google, but I will tell you want an abortion is. It is a termination of pregnancy. Either voluntary or involuntary. Miscarriage is abortion.

          • Miscarriage is not abortion. Abortion is “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy.”

            Miscarriage occurs “spontaneously or as the result of accident.”

          • Of course, we are talking about induced abortions. Isn’t talking about an abortion as the termination as the termination of a pregnancy like killing the occupants of a rented room and calling it the termination of the residency? Is violence involved with abortion? Is dismemberment involved? Beheading? Crushing? Burning? Poisoning? Is a human life taken in an abortion? Let’s go to its essence.

          • Doctor Alum says:

            Think of the violence involved in much of medical practice. Poisons, burning, dismemberment and mutilation are commonplace in many other treatments. Many treatments that parents are given the right to do to their children.

            We also give children the right to withhold life sustaining medical interventions from their mentally incompetent parents. It would seem to me that a woman has the right to withhold life sustaining medical interventions provided by her own physical body.

          • Poisons, burning, dismemberment, and mutilation are not used in other treatments to terminate a whole human being, just malign cells or a body part. In this case, a death of an individual human life is not the intention, the intention is to preserve that life. In the case of abortion, this is all happening to a whole human being with the intention to kill it.

          • The principle of totality comes to mind in the area of medical ethics. In the normal course of things it is unethical (to say the least) to amputate a person’s limb but in order to aid the total person, it is very morally acceptable under certain circumstances to amputate say a gangrenous limb. This principle does not apply to induced abortion because one is trying to kill the total human being,

          • A woman cannot physically withhold life sustaining medical interventions provided by her own physical body, for it is in her body’s nature to carry a child to term and provide the child with her body’s support. The nature and purpose of withholding life-sustaining support (which is not even possible in this case) is completely different than the nature of *intentionally* terminating the life of a human being, which is what we’re talking about here.

          • Doctor Alum says:

            And when you kill someone as the result of an accident you are still held accountable, so if abortion is illegal why wouldn’t an accidental abortion be illegal too?

          • Strategy: use the miscarriage straw man argument as if anyone is suggesting that miscarriage is the same as induced abortion.

          • Referring to an abortion as a termination of a pregnancy is like referring is like referring to capital punishment as the termination of a sentence. Are there any corpus delecti involved with an abortion? Can dismemberment be involved? How about burning, or cutting, or brain suctioning or poisoning or crushing? Can arms and legs ever be detected after an abortion? Does a heart ever stop? Tell me in non-euphemistic terms what an abortion is.

  2. Jeffrey Noble says:

    I disagree but with appreciation for my fellow Brunonian voicing what would have been considered a minority opinion when I was an undergrad. I also like reading such well written and thought out articles. Thank you Lauren!

  3. Man with Axe says:

    I’d like to hear someone who is pro-abortion argue with you on the issue you have raised, namely, the personhood of the unborn. Typically, they stick to the “hands off my uterus” line of argument, which is no answer. The pro-abortion side has a hard time explaining why it is that if abortion is moral then infanticide is not. They stay away from discussing sex-selective abortions. And if they ever figured out how to identify homosexuals in utero and allowed abortion for that reason, liberal heads would explode.

  4. I view abortion as wrong on its face, and increasingly wrong as the fetus nears viability; I would love to hear more pro-choice advocates explain where they think the legal line should be in terms of aborting a fetus for a specific genetic abnormality (i.e., Down syndrome). In such cases, I fail to see how abortion is compatible with other legal protections afforded to specific groups. Like Lauren, my views on abortion come from logic, but are buoyed by Catholicism.

    However, I am not “pro-life.”

    Why? As Lauren acknowledges, “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are political statements. While the decision to identify as pro-life may be an expression of someone’s philosophical, ethical, and intellectual outlook (see: Lauren’s references to embryology), identifying as pro-life would lock me into a political box that I find abhorrent. If I am pro-life, and if I truly think all abortions are nothing less than murder, then I’m inclined to vote for politicians that are anti-life in every other part of their political ideology. Cutting off or refusing to expand Medicaid, which could play a role in increasing options for a low-income family or a single woman that doesn’t want an abortion? Anti-life. Not condemning the death penalty, bragging about a willingness to “carpet bomb,” and refusing to support gun protection and screening laws? Anti-life. Attempting to defund Planned Parenthood and other medical providers that, yes, offer abortion services, but also can be used by woman to gain access to contraception or cancer screenings (particularly relevant for women with health care plans that require referrals to access cancer screenings, or for those without health insurance)? Anti-life. As an aside, if you think PP can be defunded without impacting women’s access to public health services, please take a look at Texas. It’s almost impossible for smaller, local clinics to meet women’s needs in a timely manner.

    I’ve long admired Lauren’s passion and bravery in restarting a pro-life group at Brown, but it seems to me that being pro-life is a long and complicated equation. Even if you’re politically pro-life and also committed to expanding services and options for potential mothers and their babies, you’re voting for people that refuse to expand such services on an institutional level. You may be pro-life politically, but you’re anti-life in plenty of other (and perhaps equally important) ways.

    Finally, Rhode Island Right to Life supports a RI law that requires women to notify their husbands before getting an abortion. Even pro-life advocates must admit that this law puts countless women in danger. Why would Brown Students for Life, and any other discerning group, want to align itself with a group that would promote such a policy? Even Sandra Day O’Connor was against the federal version.

    • Pro-choice rule: Never, never, never actually talk about what an abortion is. Attempt to discredit or silence or change the subject but never talk about the quiddity of abortion. If the subject is gun control, do you bring up abortion? If the subject is the Iraq war, do you bring up abortion?

      • Bill: Actually, yes, I do bring up abortion when people bring up war and gun control. What I say is this:

        Many people who have lived through the experience of having a loved one killed by a gun would support advocacy for further gun control measures. People who have had friends and family die in war often question whether the war was justified.

        Meanwhile, studies have shown that the majority of women who have abortions do not regret removing and killing their fetus (this is what I think abortion is. I’m not avoiding it). My interpretation of this lack of regret is that we’ve created a society which makes it almost impossible for a woman to “choose life”–if she’s young, she’s poor, she doesn’t have the means to raise a child with a disability, she doesn’t have a support network that will help her and her child, or she’s experiencing social pressure to abort, then abortion is easier.

        Bill, for all of your implications that I’m avoiding the point, I’m simply not. I think abortion IS wrong. This leads me to ask how we’ve come to a place that abortion is often the “best” option. For all of pro-lifers’ insistence that women should choose life, they usually do not help women who would want to make that choice. And even if pro-lifers help women on a micro, case-by-case basis, they don’t support politicians and policies that would help expand social safety nets/healthcare for women and children. This is why I find the pro-life label to be hypocritical at best.

        • “For all of pro-lifers’ insistence that women should choose life, they usually do not help women who would want to make that choice. And even if pro-lifers help women on a micro, case-by-case basis, they don’t support politicians and policies that would help expand social safety nets/healthcare for women and children. This is why I find the pro-life label to be hypocritical at best.”

          MM, instead of calling it hypocritical and denouncing the work pro-lifers do to save lives (and help women; have you ever heard of Feminists for Life, Sisters of Life? if so, I don’t understand how you can say pro-lifers don’t help women) you should join the cause and fight for what you believe in order that your voice be heard. You don’t have to call yourself Pro-Choice just because you don’t like the way other Pro-Lifers vote.

          In terms of how we need to “help” women, many people do not believe putting women (or a significant portion of the population in general) on welfare is the “best” way to do so. That’s a valid point, but you can’t say that’s not because they don’t want to help women. It’s because the way they believe in helping is different than yours. And if you want to combat that welfare is better, go for it. But that shouldn’t influence being pro-life or not. You would ideally just like to help people in a different way.

          Lastly, some people do not have the capacity to help women and children on a large scale, and you should not judge those who can only do so on a small scale. They may not be hypocrites but simply people who do not have the ability to do go out, vote, and make tidal waves of change.

          • I’ve read about all the pro-life groups you mentioned. I’ve also done work for an organization that helps mothers/babies on a case-by-case basis, so I understand how that approach can make a significant difference, and I’m not “judging” those who do work on the small scale. My point was that by and large, if I vote for pro-life politicians/legislation, I may effectively support anti-abortion policies–but my “pro-life” choices would often limit the extent to which I can support politicians/laws that emphasize the care and education of children and the poor. It seems like we’re both implying that being pro-life needs to be broadened to include people who want to create a positive culture of life in a variety of ways; but in the current political climate, the reality is that it’s almost impossible to vote for politicians that are anti-abortion without also voting for their less life-giving views (guns, war, immigration policies). Brown Students for Life would be well served to incorporate some broader pro-life stances (not just abortion). Otherwise, the group will continue to be an echo chamber that will never connect with the broader Brown community or anyone who isn’t prepared to vote for anti-abortion legislation.

          • Also, contrary to what you said, I have never called myself pro-choice and didn’t call myself pro-choice in my response. Not pro-life =/= pro-choice. Both are political labels, not an expression of my outlook.

          • From what I’ve observed, the pro-life group at Brown has done a variety of things, including but not limited to discussions on abortion, physician-assisted suicide, the death penalty, etc. They are not just “echo chambers.” I’m not sure, MM, where you’re getting your information from, but I’m pretty sure they’ve done — or tried to have done — exactly what you are imagining an ideal pro-life club to do.

            And my apologies, I thought I read that you identified as pro-choice. And I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken. Pro-life isn’t just a political label. I think you are doing yourself a disservice when you don’t engage with pro-life people and seclude yourself from pro-life discourse. Maybe the people you’ve talked to see the pro-life position as a political label, but I assure you that not all pro-lifers do. It would be prudent to set aside biases/hostility/hurt you may have against politics/politicians and engage with the pro-life group on campus, especially because your values align w/ pro-life values to a core despite not wanting to label yourself as pro-life.

          • I’m sorry, I do know Brown Students for Life has done a few panels on assisted suicide, the death penalty, etc., and I didn’t meant to suggest that BSFL doesn’t discuss anything outside of abortion. I’m referring to what I saw as an unwavering commitment to a certain view of abortion–for example, BSFL has chalked Beyonce quotes about the beauty of motherhood on campus sidewalks (which completely misses the point of why most women seek abortions), and BSFL chose to align itself with national conservative pro-life groups that define being pro-life largely as a matter of voting for pro-life laws/politicians. I can’t blame BSFL for wanting the support of a national group (especially considering BSFL’s existence on a campus that is generally hostile to its message), but it would be great to see BSFL explore the “gray area” of what we need to do to make abortion not just illegal (and it won’t be, to be realistic), but unwanted. All of this article’s arguments about biology, human rights, and the purpose of life can’t erase the reality that people often really do want to get abortions, and will get them regardless of whether or not its illegal. I was suggesting that it would be interesting to see BSFL discuss policy changes that may alleviate the social/economic pressure to get abortions in the first place. I’d do something myself, but I’m not on campus anymore. And when I was on campus, I observed that people weren’t exactly clamoring to engage with BSFL–perhaps because for all its panels on assisted suicide and the death penalty, its real emphasis has always appeared to be pro-life politics.

          • “I can’t blame BSFL for wanting the support of a national group (especially considering BSFL’s existence on a campus that is generally hostile to its message), but it would be great to see BSFL explore the “gray area” of what we need to do to make abortion not just illegal (and it won’t be, to be realistic), but unwanted.”

            In order to do that — which, as you said, they are willing to do — you must first realize that the unborn are human, don’t you think? That’s probably their first aim. Humanizing the unborn. Can’t blame them for wanting to promote the science behind fetal development because it basically makes their case 100% undeniable.

            Also, disagree with you on this point: “people often really do want to get abortions, and will get them regardless of whether or not its illegal.” When something’s illegal, people usually tend to stay away from it. Texas is a good example. Abortions have decreased since restrictions. When a law is made, people tend to uphold it.

          • First of all, the comments on this thread from medical professionals illustrate that promoting the science behind fetal development does not make BSFL’s case “100% undeniable.”
            Secondly, the abortion rate in Texas has been falling for nearly a decade, not only since more legislative measures against abortion were enacted in 2011. Moreover, even if a woman can’t actually get an abortion (and the abortion rate drops as a result), many women will still wish that abortion WAS an option. It’s nice to debate the humanity of the fetus, but the humanity of the fetus doesn’t change how difficult it often is to face an unexpected pregnancy. When abortion is by and far the “easiest” option for a woman, then I think it’s the responsibility of pro-life advocates to do everything humanly and legally possible to make sure babies and mothers can access better care (expanding social safety nets, advocating for better paid leave, etc.). You’ve previously called me “hostile,” and I am indeed frustrated that people can’t draw a connection between being pro-life and absolutely prioritizing mothers/children on an institutional, policy-based level. I thought one of Brown students’ defining features was an ability to think holistically, and that’s why I (perhaps unfairly) expected BSFL to try a new approach to the pro-life movement.

        • Also, please research Democrats for Life. From your posts, it sounds you may be interested in their work.

        • Put a check under attempt to discredit. Pro-lifers are uncaring bad people which justifies dismembering babies. Pro-choicers who acquiesce to the violent death of babies now they are practically saints!

        • My back is sore from helping to load foodstuffs from a truck to a food pantry just hours ago. I did two home visits to people that are finding it difficult to pay their utility bills and I have to listen to lecture from you about being a hypocrite or that people like me are hypocrites! At some point we need to look at the numbers, more people are violently killed by abortion than the death penalty, the Iraq war combined. Far many. And I say that as an opponent of both.

        • Suppose you had a candidate that you agreed with on every issue and you felt that he or she was very qualified for the office he or she was running except there was one issue that you disagreed with him or her on; they thought that we should acquiesce to the deaths of 1.2 million migrant workers per year in the US. Would you even consider voting for such a candidate?

          • I know you’re not proposing a hypothetical, and I know this is the choice we face during this election. My feeling is that by voting for a candidate who is pro-choice, among other things, we aren’t acquiescing to millions of certain deaths from abortions; we will do what we can to provide for expectant mothers and babies in our communities, and we will work toward alleviating the pressures they face to abort. We give money and time to them, and we support churches and pregnancy centers that do the same. Plenty of women are going to get abortions whether it’s illegal or not; sharp sticks and herbal abortive supplements have been around as long as pregnancy has existed (and let’s face it, Roe v. Wade isn’t going to be overturned soon anyway). Meanwhile, if I vote for a candidate that is pro-life, I believe I’m signing up for almost certain bigotry, violence, and the murder of immigrants, casualties of war, etc. I’d take the first future over the second future anyday. In response to your other post–I wasn’t calling you or any other individual a hypocrite, but I’ve met enough pro-lifers to believe that the pro-birth, anti-later life approach isn’t too unusual.

          • Substitute child abuse for abortion in your argument and see how it sounds (people are going to abuse children whether legal or not etc).

          • Even if I vote for candidate #2, they aren’t going to succeed in making child abuse/abortion illegal, and we should probably focus on the underlying reasons why people are so eager to abuse children in the first place and find ways to treat them psychologically or separate them from children. Likewise, we can make sure would-be expectant mothers have access to the birth control they need, so they can’t access children to “abuse” in the first place. In the end, I’m just a stickler for prevention. It doesn’t get rid of the issue, but it can go a loooong way!

          • So you oppose statutes against child abuse because they are going to do it anyway?

          • Taking away the “metaphor”: yeah, if I can vote for a statute against abortion, I’ll do that (and then I’ll lobby even harder for the policies I think will lower the demand for abortion by addressing the foundational reasons why women seek abortions). At the moment, however, I can’t simply vote for pro-life statutes in a vacuum with no strings attached–abortion rights are upheld by a Supreme Court ruling, and promoted by politicians that I view as anti-life in most of their others views. Until I’m a Supreme Court judge (…not going to happen), I’m not expecting to have an opportunity to vote on a purely anti-abortion law (and even then, who knows? As I said before, Sandra Day O’Connor was in favor of Roe v. Wade because she felt the alternative would endanger women by making it impossible for them to get an abortion without their husbands’ consent).

          • Doesn’t seem the unborn can depend on you. You have too many other things you think are more important.

          • If you or anyone else chooses to make abortion the linchpin of your voting decisions (which is the natural extension of thinking abortion, at every stage of fetal development, is always murder), that’s your choice. My mother votes exactly along those lines. As someone who believes abortion is highly wrong but isn’t quite equivalent to murder until a certain level of viability (as child abuse and rape are also highly wrong, but not murder), I’m more inclined to also prioritize policies that will make it less likely for women to go to the extreme of abortion and will help babies and children after they are born.

          • Viability (having to with the ability of the child to live (supposedly) independent of the mother is a totally irrelevant notion to the questions of whether there is a human involved or whether that human has a right to life or not. Dependent human beings are still human beings and have the human right to life. Infants are dependent and humans in different situations are dependent on others. So what? That is irrelevant to being human and having rights. Is an astronaut or aquanaut not a human or not having the human right to life because they are dependent on the cord to the spaceship or submarine to keep alive? Of course not.

          • My point was simply that I view destroying a fetus at 22 weeks as morally worse than aborting a zygote at two weeks. I’m not saying I think viability is the litmus test for whether the fetus can be killed, or whatever you’re suggesting I’m saying. I’m not stupid, and I can see that with advances in medical technology, we’re approaching a time when a fetus can be incubated outside the womb from conception until ‘birth.’ That’s great for the pro-life cause, in my opinion. But even when that becomes a reality, we need to think more about how we’re caring for those children post-birth. Whether the baby is coming out of an incubator or coming out of a uterus, too often people are more concerned with making sure it is born than making sure it’s educated, well-cared for, etc. Once again, that’s why I’m into policy measures that make motherhood/raising children easier, and will gravitate toward the politicians and laws that are invested in those ends.

          • Yes, important things like working toward making sure mothers and babies receive the best possible medical care/education after the birth…

    • Lauren Galvan says:

      Hi MM,

      Thank you for your comments! Just wanted to let you know that if you have any suggestions for activities, events, or discussions that Students for Life at Brown can host, or about how we can reach a broader audience at Brown, please send your feedback to studentsforlife.brown@gmail.com. We welcome your thoughts and look forward to hearing from you soon.

      Warmly,
      Lauren

  5. Doctor Alum says:

    “In every embryology textbook, I found — as you will find — irrefutable evidence that an individual human life begins at conception. At that point, a living organism with unique human DNA is created.”

    On some level, yes, it’s refutable, but as you said, what is the line to delineate between personhood and living thing? As tumors mutate and develop, they begin to acquire DNA that is distinct from the person whence they originated. Certain tumors, such as teratomas, can develop into beating hearts, eyes, skin, teeth, hair, and any other organ structure since they originate from germinal cells. So while you could argue that drawing a line between personhood and life is dangerous, I think it’s more dangerous to not draw that line later than you are suggesting it should be drawn.

    I’ve often heard as a retort to this that a teratoma will never be a viable baby, therefore it’s not a person. So if a baby has a severe birth defect such that it will be still born or die shortly after birth, does that now justify abortion where previously it did not? What becomes the cutoff then as to whether it will “become a person?”

    When we perform in vitro fertilization for people who cannot conceive on their own, we create a surplus of embryos – are we now going to suggest that these embryos each have full personhood rights? Does that mean it’s criminal negligence if we do not implant them and allow them to die naturally?

    About 1/3 of zygotes will not implant and will be spontaneously aborted. Again, is this a form of involuntary manslaughter? Certainly it doesn’t require any criminal intent to have a spontaneous abortion but if personhood begins that early, must there now be a criminal investigation into every woman to ensure that it wasn’t an intentional abortion? If you kill someone in any other context, unless it’s self defense, you are guilty of murder in some degree regardless of intent. The earliest spontaneous abortions occur before a woman has even missed her first period so does literally every woman of childbearing age not using contraception need to be investigated? Do we need to investigate the ones who are on birth control or using condoms too since they aren’t 100% effective?

    In the case of a voluntary abortion where a woman knows she is pregnant, I assume that such violation of a person’s rights requires some form of punishment, no? Recently we’ve heard lots of pro-life groups condemn Trump’s comments that he would want to punish women who have abortions or at least leave it up to the states to decide. The pro-life groups say that only the abortion provider should be punished because they are the one “profiting” off the abortion. Why do they feel this way? What other crime do we allow this to happen? When a woman hires a hit man to kill her husband she is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and often receives a sentence similar to the hit man. Do they mention “profit” because if an abortion provider practiced for free they wouldn’t be punished? That seems inconsistent with the previous line of reasoning. Certainly if a hit man murders someone free of charge both he and the person who hired him are still guilty of crimes and receive the same sentences as the hit man who charges a fee.

    In medical practice, we routinely allow healthcare proxies to withhold life sustaining care which leads to someone’s death. An embryo certainly does not have the competence to make an informed decision so one could argue that the mother, its proxy, has the right to withhold the life sustaining care that is being provided by the umbilical cord and the woman’s own body. The woman is a person too and has the right to decide how her body is used.

    “Today, I can no longer even imagine calling myself pro-choice, for to say “I am pro-choice” to other people is to tell them that I would have or could have supported their parents’ decisions to terminate their lives. To me, that is the absolute equivalent of telling someone that his or her life has neither meaning nor purpose.”
    What do you say to the person who is only alive BECAUSE of a prior abortion? There are many people on this planet who would not exist if their mother had not previously had a voluntary or involuntary abortion (ectopic pregnancy or other life threatening complication for example). Could I not argue that you are telling those people their entire existence is based on an abomination? Being pro-choice does not require that you support anyone’s decision. It simply requires that you agree that legally they should have that choice. I can support the right of someone to own a gun and carry it around with them without supporting a friend’s decision to own a gun and carry it around with them in my presence. If it bothers me enough and the person is unwilling to compromise because it is their right to do so, then it is my right to stop associating with said person. You would have the same right to not associate with people who chose to get abortions despite understanding that they should be legal.

    I think personhood starting at birth is simplest, but I also see the merit in starting it at when the fetus would be viable on its own (24 weeks usually). Basically the point at which it could survive without the interventions of an umbilical cord and placenta is the point at which aborting would require more than simply “withholding” and thus cross into what is illegal for healthcare proxies to do.

    • Man with Axe says:

      I prefer to think of a baby in utero as a person. it seems that you don’t. This disagreement, however, is not dispositive of the question of when it is moral, or should be legal, to kill such persons (or non-persons, if you prefer). It begs the question to say that they are non-persons and therefore we can kill them, because it’s okay to kill non-persons.

      You are making a case that sometimes killing these unborn persons is okay. You said, if I understood you correctly, that you would prefer birth as the bright line, but you’d accept 24 weeks, perhaps as a compromise with those who don’t approve of this killing at all. You would accept killing unborn persons for any reason that the mother comes up with so long as the killing comes before your bright line. I don’t expect i could convince you that this is wrong. But I think it’s wrong.

      Why not allow the parents of a born infant to kill it during what we could whimsically call the 4th trimester? What does its residence outside the womb add to personhood?

      There are times when the mother’s medical needs (to save her life, for example) might justify killing an unborn person. But I don’t see a justification for her to kill her baby just because the baby is inconvenient to her situation. That would justify killing the born infant in a whole lot of cases. Are you willing to go that far?

      A woman’s body is hers. No question. But that doesn’t make all the choices she makes about that body morally correct. Would you allow her to sell herself into slavery, on the theory that it’s her body and no one can tell her what to do with it?

      • Doctor Alum says:

        I wish I could respond to you Man With Axe; I do have much to say. But when I came for my daily dose of BDH today, I saw that half of Brown students do not support Jews discussing things not relating to the Israeli-Palestine conflict so as a Jewish alumnus, it appears my comments on this issue are not welcome and I don’t want to be accused of “[]washing” or whatever term will be created to describe discussing medical practice as a way to distract people from what is happening in Israel.

    • “What is the line to delineate between personhood and living thing?”: It is necessary and sufficient for a living thing to be a member of the human species to be considered a person. Obviously, tumors aren’t whole human beings and never will be (as Doctor Alum stated) even though they have human DNA. A teratoma that has developed into a beating hearts, eyes, skin, whatever is only a PART of a human being and will never develop into a whole human being. A heart is not a whole human being. A tooth is not a whole human being. The teratoma can never — no matter whether they turn into an organ or not — develop into a whole human being.

      “If a baby has a severe birth defect such that it will be still born or die shortly after birth, does that now justify abortion where previously it did not?”: No, abortion is the termination of a human life. You have still not refuted that. And you cannot. As a physician, I believe you know that’s true. If a baby develops a life-threatening disease and only has two months to live AFTER he is born, can a mother legally terminate that baby’s life? No. Why is their right to life different after he is born? Only difference is location. Baby is still dependent on mother right after he is born.

      “Are we now going to suggest that these embryos each have full personhood rights? Does that mean it’s criminal negligence if we do not implant them and allow them to die naturally?”: Yes.

      “About 1/3 of zygotes will not implant and will be spontaneously aborted. Again, is this a form of involuntary manslaughter?”: Obviously not. Abortion is the willful termination of a human being. Zygotes that do not implant are not willfully terminated.

      “In the case of a voluntary abortion where a woman knows she is pregnant, I assume that such violation of a person’s rights requires some form of punishment, no?”: The law is the law. As to what type of punishment one would receive and who would receive it…I must think of that more.

      “In medical practice, we routinely allow healthcare proxies to withhold life sustaining care which leads to someone’s death.”: Usually the person gives consent before they are unable to do so. Since that’s the case, you cannot make an argument that an unborn child has given consent.

      “What do you say to the person who is only alive BECAUSE of a prior abortion?”: As a Christian, I would thank God that He makes everything work for the good. I would be grateful that they weren’t aborted, and be full of grief for their sibling. Every life is precious. No matter how they were conceived or what the circumstances leading up to their conception were, their life is precious and not an abomination in the slightest. If anything, they are miracles.

      “Being pro-choice does not require that you support anyone’s decision. It simply requires that you agree that legally they should have that choice”: No one should have the choice to terminate another human life. Murder does not need to be promoted or legal in any way.

      “I think personhood starting at birth is simplest”: Please provide justification for late-term abortion. It’s uncanny that as a physician, you would support dismembering children especially right up until birth.

  6. Tyler Rowley says:

    Great job, Lauren. Perfectly articulated. If one believes in legal abortion, one does not believe in human rights for all human beings.

    I am a Brown grad ’07 and I am also the President of Catholics for Life in Providence. (Also known as Servants of Christ for Life.) We focus on getting people to pray and counsel in front of Planned Parenthood so that the 30 children who die there every week have an advocate. In the very short time that we have we try to tell the mother that she will love her baby and that we can help her. That’s what we must do — love them both — mother and child.

    These little boys and girls only get one life. We must fight for them before they are killed.

  7. Barbara Jean says:

    I was not quite 20 years old when abortion was legalized in our country. Like Lauren, I had not given the matter careful consideration…until I became pregnant with my second child. My marriage was on the rocks and I was scared and alone. My doctor “casually” suggested abortion and I came face to face with the reality of legalized abortion. Since then we have become coarsened as a nation. After all, to violently take the life of another human being, to do it with the blessing of our legal system, and to do it 1.3 million times per year…we have to numb ourselves to reality. Making a choice NOT to abort when social and economic pressures are all around is not easy. I have met many women who made the decision to abort and have lived a lifetime of regret, pain and profound sorrow. I never met a woman who made the choice to give birth and later regretted the decision. More often than not, they look back and are amazed that they had ever considered taking the life of their beloved child, no matter how difficult the circumstances. I made that life giving decision, my 38 year old daughter is today my best friend and the mother of 4 of my grandchildren. Life is a GIFT that keeps on giving! I pray that those of you who were raised in a culture that consents to abortion learn to reject the lies you have been taught.

  8. The author appears to take the position that establishing the right to life under the “personhood construct” leaves the right to life open to the interpretation of other people, and therefore not guaranteed.

    The author then asserts that “But if we base the right to life on membership in the human species all our lives would be legally protected from the moment of conception….”

    But would not this basis also be vulnerable to the future interpretation of men as well?

    Besides, “personhood” is already acknowledged legally under our current social contract, the US Constitution. The definition of the human species is not.

    Therefore would not acknowledging personhood be the more viable legal ground upon which to anchor the unalienable, God given right to life of every innocent person?

    Furthermore the author asserts that “We are each willed into existence for reasons we cannot fully understand or articulate, but I know for certain that my life has value, your life has value and unborn lives have value.”

    But the fact is that human life has value because every person is created in the image and likeness of the Living God, (which is perfectly understandable). There is no other basis upon which the right to life can be effectively defended.

  9. But your article ignores a reality — we all are aware that personhood evolves over time in the womb; that is why a miscarriage at 5 weeks is typically mourned differently from a miscarriage at 5 months. It is disingenuous to say that the moment of fertilization engenders personhood — I find it hard to believe you actually think that. Perhaps in the name of playing it safe regarding personhood, you prefer to draw the line — when does zygote become human being? — early. Have your opinion for all it’s worth, but don’t shirk the more interesting scientific and philosophic question at hand; when does personal identity and assurance of human rights begin? The very moment the sperm hits the egg?

    And let us not forget that in the 1950s, the Catholic Church okay’ed abortions when the intent of them was to save the life of a mother; although you say your religion did not lead you to your position on abortions, I do wonder what you think of this particular piece of policy. If you take it as correct, I’m not sure I can believe your insistence that all fetuses are human beings; or, at the very least, you must admit you are entering into the shaky and intimidating territory of making cost-benefit analyses with human lives.

    • No, we are not all aware that personhood evolves. Either you’re a person or you are not. A zygote becomes a human being the moment it is conceived.

      The question of personal identity and assurance of human rights is a purely philosophical and moral question. The question of whether or not a developing embryo/fetus is human is a purely scientific one.

      The Catholic Church has always condemned abortion.

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