The abortion question

I have always been perplexed by the supposed dichotomy between being pro-life and being pro-choice. Taken in its purest meaning, being pro-choice necessarily requires one to be pro-life, and vice-versa, for one has to have life before one can make choices and the ability to make choices is a mark of being human, or having life.

I do not subscribe to either label, much as I would subscribe to both if the politics behind them weren’t so hot. I prefer to be seen as just human. But this is another topic altogether. The reason I bring it up is because this supposed dichotomy was recently used as a pretext for a most misled initiative.

This past Tuesday, the Daily Nation published an article by journalist Verah Okeyo, titled “In the din of moralising preachment, Kenyan girls at mercy of backstreet abortionists.” In it the writer proceeds to use the cases of girls who have sustained the worst injuries after procuring abortions from quacks to subtly make a case for legal abortion. She highlights the really pitiable circumstances in which these poor women find themselves, and somehow manages to tie that to a quest to make abortion more freely accessible (instead of handling the root cause of the problem).

Perhaps the writer hoped no one would notice the paradox of her article dismissing other arguments as moralising preachment outright while itself succeeding spectacularly in becoming moralising preachment. That notwithstanding, the article achieved its intended effect. It managed to paint opposition to abortion in bad light. It placed responsibility for the lives and safety of these girls at the hands of those who refuse to admit that abortion is just a matter of personal choice.

A day after the Daily Nation article was published, MercatorNet, an Australian website, published an article I wrote about the almost maniacal obsession with which Marie Stopes International, a British organisation supported by several Western governments, performs abortions in African countries where it is illegal. The article is based on a video in which a former employee of the organisation details its activities in western Uganda. I have faced a lot of fire for the article, and spent the whole of yesterday defending it before a group of my friends (thanks a lot for the conversation, if you are one of them. I appreciate it).

The articles were not related. One did not result from the other. But I couldn’t help wondering: how appropriate? Why the fuss about abortion? The answer may be found in the firm assertion of the common man that, while abortion has been sold as the sole prerogative of expectant women, it remains an obscene wound in the moral fabric of society, benefiting only those who make money and points from performing and promoting it. On the women who procure it, lasting emotional and psychological wounds remain; on those who procure it from backstreet quacks (and many who procure it from chartered clinics, by the way), these wounds join a litany that also includes physical harm, and perhaps perennial disease and infertility, as our dear Verah aptly outlined in her article.

Abortion, by definition, is the process by which a pregnancy is ended intentionally. The process through which this is achieved depends on the stage of the pregnancy. At the very beginning, the infamous morning-after pill prevents a zygote from implanting in the walls of the uterus, basically starving it to death. At the other extreme end, to which Hillary Clinton would have taken the United States had she been elected president, partial birth abortion takes the legs and torso of the baby out of the mother, then sucks out the brain and crushes the skull. It can be done up to literally one second before birth. In between these two extremes, there are abortifacent pills, suction, dilation and evacuation, among other methods.

The natural repugnance a person in his right senses feels in the face of these may increase with the physical severity of the process, with partial-birth abortion being perhaps the most tragically violent. But at a deeper level, these are all methods of killing human beings who still don’t have the means to fend for themselves (although there’s a case to be made for babies in the womb being able to fend for themselves to a certain extent; otherwise they wouldn’t be alive in the first place).

This truth is important in that it is around it that the conversation about abortion normally ends. For while it is easy to frame abortion as a matter of pure choice solely dependent on the pregnant woman, the involvement of another human being whose life is always taken when an abortion is successful (whether the mother survives or not) is a reality no one who supports abortion has yet been able to adequately address.

And so, instead of trying to address it, pro-abortion lobbies and providers like Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International resort to referring to the developing human body in the womb using such denigrating terms as “pregnancy tissue” and “uterine contents.” Only a fool can claim to not see that the only reason a human embryo could be called pregnancy tissue would be to deny that it is human in the first place, and so make the termination of its life more palatable to the common man. But is it?

This cannot be answered without going back to that primeval question: what is a human being? To you who are reading this, what are you? Just a socially functional individual? Does that then mean when you are not socially functional, like when you are asleep, you cease to be a human being? Or is a human being defined by the ability to take care of oneself? Does that then mean that people on life-support machines or babies just seconds out of the womb, are not human beings?

What is the difference between a baby that is just about to be born and that which has just been born? Is the latter human and the former not? And if the former is human, what differentiates it from a zygote that has just formed after the fusion of a sperm and an ovum within the encapsulating warmth of a woman’s Fallopian tube? Is a human being defined by the stage of development he/she has reached? And if so, who determines what this stage is? And anyway, is this something that is up to anyone to determine?

Of course the above examples are absurd. But it is precisely on such absurdities that the denial of the humanity of a human embryo is grounded. The answer one gives to these questions will necessarily have deep rational consequences if developed to their logical conclusions. The safest one is that which says that a zygote is as much a human being as, say, Christiano Ronaldo at the height of his fitness. Not surprisingly, this is also the answer that brings with it the fullest baggage of responsibility.

It ties down the hands of those who would viciously destroy the nascent life; mutes the tongues of those who would say that this is solely the function of a woman’s choice when they know any abortion at its most basic involves at least two people; and calls for more prudent behaviour on the part of everyone in society. And so, when faced with this stark reality, they resort to emotional outbursts of “it’s my body; it’s none of your business; you will not help in raising the child” and other such infantile emotional proclamations which have no basis on reason.

Abortion remains a moral wrong, no matter what the law or elite zeitgeist may have us believe. But the environment surrounding it is not just a moral one, but a political one as well. In my next article, I will explore the politics behind the numbers, and money, that have been put at the service of this most base of human cruelties.

Feature image: Just Curious.

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