Sacrificing the Common Ground

During the recent elections, the topic of abortion came up, but not framed in the typical pro-life vs. pro-choice categories. This time it was framed as the condoning or condemning of rape. One politian’s remarks about whether he supports abortion in the context of rape became framed as the condoning of rape and using his spirituality to do so. From the sound bite I heard, this seems incredibly unfair. He seemed to be commenting that God willed the life of the child, not the rape. It is unfortunate how the way we frame an argument can actually create more conflict and reduce the chances for agreement, especially in this case, when the fundamental question is “When does life begin?”

We all can agree (I hope) that there comes a point in a child’s life when the mother no longer has the choice to end his life regardless of the circumstances around his conception. It would be considered murder for a mother to decide to “abort” her daughter when she is 5 years old, despite the fact that the daughter was conceived during rape. So that brings us back to the question “When does life begin?” which enlightens the question “When does abortion become murder?”

Some argue that life begins at conception, or at implantation, or at some time in the first two trimesters, or even once the fetus is viable outside the womb, whether on its own or with artificial support. There are still those who believe that life doesn’t begin until birth. Regardless of the position, there is an agreement that at some point, termination of the development process becomes murder. When approaching the topic, people are coming to the table passionately opposed to murder. However, the political posturing and rhetoric is demonizing opponents not because of their view of when life begins, but rather on the implications of that view.

Of course, if I believe life begins at conception, then I will consider abortion, IVF, cloning and embryonic stem cell research as acts of murder. Likewise, if I believe life doesn’t begin until sometime after the nervous system is formed, then I would see these processes no more as murder than me having my gall bladder removed. Can we know for sure? Unlikely. We can’t even agree on a technical definition for life. Thus, the dilemmas and conflicts around euthanasia also.

Yes, it is the mother’s right to choose. To choose what to believe and how to act on that belief. When she considers whether to abort, she takes a position on when life begins and acts accordingly. May we only limit freedom when there is general consensus that aborting at the time would be murder (i.e., the third trimester) and give freedom when it is unclear. Giving the freedom to choose still allows those women who abhor abortion to reject it.

Let’s be careful how we frame these topics, as it may only bring additional conflict and unnecessary harm rather than resolution.

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