Abortion debate part II -- is the fetus a human?

by Brandon Del Pozo | 5/17/93 5:00am

In celebration of the end of this weekend's alcohol-consecrating festival, which I have personally found to be vastly superior to winter's pseudo-carnival, I will return to a suitably serious topic in order to get your brains moving past the hangovers from which you are undoubtedly suffering: abortion.

In last week's column I set my goal at trying to refute that abortion was justified on the grounds that a person has sole control over her body and what she can do with it, although abortion is perhaps defensible on other grounds. It was suggested that the government can tell us what to do with our bodies in general, as virtually every law regulates something we do with our bodies, be it stealing or hefting a weapon in an effort to murder someone.

Now, however, another question must be focused on: the government can tell us what to do with our bodies, but does telling us what women can do with their bodies to the inside of their bodies fall under this blanket of legislative power?

There are two ways to look at this. The first is if you are especially righteous. The second is if you are slightly less righteous.

First, a righteous person could say that a government can stop you from doing anything that it deems a moral transgression. For example, a government may think that smoking pot in a locked room is illegal, and the righteous person would say that the government should then make the practice illegal.

In this case, the government could tell you what to do with your body simply if it thought it was wrong. However, many people believe that they should have the right to do whatever they want as long as it does not affect anyone else, and that whatever happens in your complete privacy is your business.

In this case, the government's main power is to regulate things that occur between two parties, in which one comes to harm unnecessarily.

Certainly, the person who does not believe that the government can tell you to do something to yourself simply because it is wrong would have a hard time making abortion illegal if it was a completely isolated act between a woman and her body.

However, if government has any power at all, it is to regulate what goes on between people. In this case, we see a far more important issue surface: is the fetus a human?

I cannot answer this question, and I will not attempt to. Despite the fact that this question cannot be answered, it is still an important one.

Another obligation that the government has is to categorically protect the human life in its boundaries, regardless of where it may find it. This may make me seem like some bleeding heart, but I must secretly confess it is true: the government has no right to decide that some humans should be perishable, and others should be protected. To give the government the power to decide which of its humans get to live and die is to give it a very dangerous power.

For it would seem very arbitrary if a just government could decide what types of human lives are important and what types are not; that could change from day to day and society to society.

If a human is growing in its mother's womb, should any institution have the right to sanction this human's termination? Is it just because the human is not fully developed yet? Then how is that different from sanctioning the death of the severely retarded? The senile?

Furthermore, unlike convicted murderers, this fetus, if it is a human, it is a completely innocent one, only guilty of being conceived under inconvenient circumstances. Is it okay, then, to terminate a human who is not developed, though innocent in perhaps the most perfect sense, simply because unfortunate circumstances surround its conception? The answer is no.

However, we have yet to establish whether a fetus is a human. So now this is not the issue. What follows is of central importance.

If it is a human, then what goes on between it and the mother is an interpersonal action. As said, if a government has any right at all to control actions, they are interpersonal ones. Moreover, a government has no right to decide what types of human lives are valuable and what types are not. Finally, a fetus may be a human.

What comes of this is that the main question is not whether one can control what is done to a part of their body or not, for the embryo is not a bunch of meaningless cells. It could be a person. What is the most important question, then, is whether the fetus is a person or not. Unfortunately, the fact that a woman wishes to eject it from her body becomes secondary to the fact that she may be terminating a human and simply has no right to do so.

Note that I have readily confessed that we cannot tell if the fetus is a human or not, or that abortion should be illegal. But still, the bodily autonomy argument has been thrown out for most intents. It is not a question of running a small vacuum through your innards because you want to get rid of a bunch of unwanted cells: if those cells comprise of a human, then you simply cannot run about and kill it, and the government cannot decide that in your special case it's okay to murder.

In making the decision, then, we need to put bodily autonomy aside and discuss the merits of humanhood, which I will attempt to delve into next week, and present another reason for abortion being legal which is more with the pressing issue of personhood and the fetus.