ABORTION: THE LEGAL CONUNDRUM

ABORTION: THE LEGAL CONUNDRUM

(Some of the material for this discussion comes from Tom Head, About.com guide
Readers are referred to his full article Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice for the full text and further detail.)

The terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” generally focusses on whether or not abortion should be permitted, but it is also worth remembering it is part of a wider debate.

The Pro-Life legislation requirements
A person identified as “pro-life” suggests that they will support preservation of life as a pre-eminient position and insist all levels of potential control be brought to bear on this issue. This includes governmental, legal and medical authorities who should all be focussed on policy to preserve all human life, regardless of intent, viability, or quality-of-life concerns. For this to work, the legislation has to emerge from an expressed need to deal with a problem, and may in this instance begin with identifying the underlying ethical issue.

A typical example of a comprehensive pro-life ethic, would be that currently suggested by the Roman Catholic Church and supported by religious organizations with a similar pro-life stand. Pro-life in this instance is to prohibit abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, the death penalty and even war (with a few stated exceptions). The first part of the conundrum arises because the abortion discussion matters more to the pro-life lobby than the issues relating to war. Despite the horrific consequences for those caught up in conflict, since such events are inevitably emeshed with patriotism, political idealism and even matters of perceived honour, it is much more difficult to mobilise protest or present a unified voice against war. In practice we note that the supporters of prolife are more hardline where personal wishes are involved such as for abortion and euthanasia, whereas they are more muted and even liberal in instances of war. When it comes to the death penaly again the pro-life supporters sometimes find themselves compromised in practice because it is often the conservative Church lobby who are the leaders against what they sometimes term a soft approach to crime.

The Pro-Choice Legislation requirements
To be “pro-choice” in the case of abortion is to believe that mothers whose well-being and outlook are likely to be affected by the decision outcome, should control such decisions with respect to their own reproductive systems as long as they do not breach the autonomy of others. Where for example a decision relating to celibacy or abstinence is breached eg rape or incest, abortion should remain an option and in addition contraception and emergency contraception must remain as options. The decision for childbirth should be allowed to stay an option and abortion in the first two trimesters of pregnancy should also stay as an option.
The conundrum for the pro-choice faction is that although abortion is promoted as a means of dealing with damaged or genetically compromised foetuses and a means of dealing with the intractable problems like incest, rape, poverty, and teenage pregnancy, in practice the very high number of abortions in places where abortion is allowed indicates that abortion is happening for convenience rather than for necessity.
Although we normally think of pro-choice as voluntary abortion, different circulmstances such as in China where the one child policy often leds to an abortion decision favoured by the state and not the mother. In this instance pro-choice means the decision option to avoid the abortion should remain in the hands of the mother. In this instance the legal problem is to persuade the government to legislate for a situation which is perceived to be against the national interest.
The Conundrum of Religious Interests The third area of legal confusion comes because part of the motivation for challenging abortion hinges on a point of religious belief. Whereas a significant portion of those supporting a government might share that belief, most governments in states or nations liberal enough to support abortion are also expected to be non-sectarian, if not secular. If for example a good part of the anti abortionist lobby believe that the soul enters the zygote at instant of conception, then for them, the real issue focuses on the underlying sacred need to protect that soul right through the development of first the embryo, then the foetus and finally to the baby at birth. Since no form of science is known to be able to detect the soul, let alone show when it enters the developing baby, and since there is no clear agreement between religious groups on the matter, this cannot be allowed to become an overt part of the legislation even when it is known to be part of the belief pattern of the voting public. Without reference to the soul, scientists fall back on the concept of personhood, where they say that until the child develops the standard range of sensations, feelings and is viable – ie able to survive even with external assistance outsid the mother, the baby should not be thought of as a person. Since the evidence actually suggests when a developing baby develops the brain (neo-cortical development) sensations and feeling and places this after the desired abortion period (late second and early third trimester), without the soul argument the pro-life faction is restricted in what can help the legislation. Just as for a murder you have to show evidence that a living person has been turned into a dead body, it would be very difficult to establish a case for murder against an embryo when the embryo by definition has few of the characteristics of a living person.

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