Monday, January 22, 2007

Three Reasons Why I Am Pro-Choice

1. Because Woman One is not Woman Two is not Woman Three

The late S. I. Hayakawa wrote a groundbreaking book, originally titled Language in Action and later, Language in Thought and Action, the preface of which was written by the semanticist Alfred Korzybski:
The original version of this book, Language in Action, published in 1941, was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Adolf Hitler's success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views. It was the writer's conviction then, as it remains now, that everyone needs to have a habitually critical attitude towards language — his own as well as that of others — both for the sake of his personal well-being and for his adequate functioning as a citizen. Hitler is gone, but if the majority of our fellow-citizens are more susceptible to the slogans of fear and race hatred than to those of peaceful accommodation and mutual respect among human beings, our political liberties remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue.

What does Dr. Hayakawa's language book have to do with the ongoing debate between Pro-choice and Pro-life groups? Quite simply, it exhorts us to examine language more critically, separating symbol from signal, and, perhaps most importantly, to differentiate the realities of a person or object from those of another, seemingly similar one.

So, three twenty-five-year-old women stand before us, each of whom has just discovered she is six weeks pregnant. They all look similar to our uneducated eye. They are all called women, they are all pregnant, they are all the same age. Our language applies the same terms to each, however: pregnant woman. Or, if you like, expectant mother. Yet these women are not the same, and if we examine their stories, it's not hard to make objective distinctions: the first woman is a single waitress who currently struggles to make ends meet, though she keeps up her course load at the local community college in hopes of attaining a four-year degree that will certainly widen her range of employment opportunities and, in due time, improve her financial security. She is not in a long-term relationship; her birth control method failed.

The second woman has been married for three years, and until now, was considering returning to school to pursue a graduate degree. Her husband is financially secure but demonstrates abusive tendencies that have already led the woman to consult a divorce lawyer; now this.

The third woman is also married; years ago, a geneticist informed her she carries a dangerous gene, one that translates into a fifty-fifty chance that each of her offspring will be born horribly deformed. She and her husband had planned on a vasectomy or tubal ligation with an eye toward eventually adopting kids, but somehow the surgery was always getting postponed; now this.

Bearing in mind that Woman One is not Woman Two is not Woman Three, which woman is morally justified in seeking an abortion? Each of them is justified, should she so decide. This doesn't mean all of the women necessarily will choose to end their pregnancies--they are, after all, separate and distinct persons--only that each of them must be able to make that choice based on her own assessment of matters.

Each of them must be able to make that choice about her own life, her own body, and her own destiny.

2. Because, Worrisome Trends Indicating Otherwise Notwithstanding, America Is--Still, Thankfully--Not A Theocracy

A quick quiz: Where is one most likely to see a lawn studded with hundreds of tiny white crosses meant to symbolize all the "babies" killed by abortion? a) On the grounds of the local library b) Surrounding the new mega-mall c) In front of a church.

Which is not to say there are no Pro-life atheists or agnostics (though I must admit I have never met one); rather, the illustration aims to place the fanatical, anti-science, anti-woman views of the vocal Pro-life movement in the realm of the fundamentalist religions that, predominantly, are fomenting them.

Faith is an extremely personal matter, and the ways in which one's faith manifests itself in one's life, from daily decision-making to the tackling of profound, difficult questions like abortion, are equally personal. It is everyone's right to believe as he wishes; however, it is no-one's right to expect others to uphold or adhere to that belief, especially if said belief directly contradicts a person's right to privacy, her Constitutionally-protected right to have faith in the supreme being or beings of her choice (or not), or her right to have her own take on things. Regarding religion, Jean-Jacques Rousseau opined that there are two categories:

...Religion of the man, and religion of the citizen. Religion of the man requires only an inner belief in a supreme being; the religion of the citizen, however, requires dogmas, rituals, and external forms of worship; and views other religions as alien and backward.


When the church becomes the government, the sovereign is no longer sovereign. Intolerance leads directly to this consequence. Due to this, there must be no national religion, but rather all faiths should be embraced, with one exception: religious dogma that forces people to be bad citizens — this must not be tolerated.

Shorter Rousseau, courtesy of my college roommate, Mori:

"Keep your church out of my crotch."

3. Because A Blastocyst Is Not A Baby

Last summer, in response to George W. Bush's outrageous veto of a bill to fund important stem-cell research, I wrote about the blastocyst, the tiny cluster of cells that is a human egg about five days after fertilization:

Notice that this cluster of cells is not entirely made up of the very early stages of a baby; rather, some cells are designated for the formation of the placenta, an amazing and temporary, task-specific, unique-to-female-mammals organ, the functions of which--should successful implantation occur--include receiving nutrients and oxygen from the mother's blood and passing out waste and carbon dioxide. Further, there is no nervous system, no brain, and no heart--only multipurpose cells that might, at some point in the future, differentiate and become the beginnings of these organs and systems.


Here is another fact that is, more often than not, conveniently left out of all those mainstream media stem cell sound-bites to which we're treated: when a blastocyst develops within a woman's body, there is an approximately 40% chance that it will not successfully implant itself into the uterine wall--at the same 5-7 day point when its petri dish counterpart would be utilized for stem cell cultivation--and will therefore not develop into a fetus, but rather, will simply be expelled and a normal menstrual period will follow a couple of weeks thereafter.

According to the President's logic, then, as many as 40% of all sexually-active menstruating women could be party to murder every month.

After weighing the President's statements and drawing upon my own logical processes, I came up with this:

Utilizing a 5-day-old American blastocyst for stem cell lines = murder

Killing a 5-year-old Iraqi child while waging an illegal and immoral war = collateral damage.

A blastocyst may indeed become a baby, given all the right conditions and, on average, 40 weeks of gestation. Or it may simply be expelled in short course by the mother's body; stored in a Petri dish alongside other frozen blastocysts and possibly destroyed--either intentionally, when it is no longer needed for an IVF procedure or accidentally, when a long-term power outage affects the cryogenic storage facility; aborted naturally later on by the mother's body when certain life-sustaining organs such as the placenta fail to develop properly; and finally, aborted surgically for any number of reasons, foremost among them being the woman's personal, private choice about how she wishes to use her own personal, private body.

And while I fully support the right of everyone to ignore science--indeed, to ignore reality--and hold whatever personal beliefs he or she wishes about a fertilized egg being sacred, or the act of conception being comparable to Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling complete with God's muscled hand reaching beneath the clouds to bestow life upon man, I cannot and will not support the right of anyone to declare or legislate that the many must all subscribe to the delusions of the few.

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