The recent ban on abortion in South Dakota is a victory for the “pro-life” movement–and thus, anti-abortionists claim, a victory for “the sanctity of human life.” But is it?
The South Dakota law bans abortions in all cases except saving the life of the mother. Consider what this would mean for human life–not the “lives” of embryos or primitive fetuses, but the lives of real, living, breathing, thinking women.
It would mean that women who wanted to terminate a pregnancy because it resulted from rape or contraceptive failure–or because the would-be father has abandoned her–or because the fetus is malformed–would be forbidden from doing so. It would mean that they would be forced to endure the misery of unwanted pregnancy and the incredible burdens of child rearing. It would mean that women would be sentenced to 18-year terms of enslavement to unwanted children–thereby suffocating their hopes, their dreams, their personal ambitions, their chance of happiness. And it would mean that women who refused to submit to such a fate would be forced to turn to the “back-alley” at a staggering risk to their health. According to a World Health Organization estimate, 110,000 women worldwide die each year from such illegal abortions and up to six times as many suffer injury from them.
Clearly, anti-abortionists believe that such women’s lives are an unimportant consideration in the issue of abortion. Why? Because, they claim, the embryo or fetus is a human being–and thus to abort it is murder. But an embryo is not a human being, and abortion is not murder.
There is no scientific reason to characterize a raisin-size lump of cells as a human being. Biologically speaking, such an embryo is far more primitive than a fish or a bird. Anatomically, its brain has yet to develop, so in terms of its capacity for consciousness, it doesn’t bear the remotest similarity to a human being. This growth of cells has the potential to become a human being–if preserved, fed, nurtured, and brought to term by the woman that it depends on–but it is not actually a human being. Analogously, seeds can become mature plants–but that hardly makes a pile of acorns equal to a forest.
What can justify the sacrifice of an actual woman’s life to human potential of the most primitive kind? There can be no rational justification for such a position–certainly not a genuine concern for human life. The ultimate “justification” of the “pro-life” position is religious dogma. Led by the American Roman Catholic Church and Protestant fundamentalists, the movement’s basic tenet, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that an embryo must be treated “from conception as a person” created by the “action of God.” What about the fact that an embryo is manifestly not a person, and treating it as such inflicts mass suffering on real people? This tenet is not subject to rational scrutiny; it is a dogma that must be accepted on faith.
The “pro-life” movement tries to obscure the religious, inhuman nature of its position by endlessly focusing on the medical details of late-term abortions (although it seldom mentions that “partial birth” abortions are extremely rare, constituting 0.17 percent of all abortions, and often involve a malformed fetus or a threat to the life of the mother). But one must not allow the smokescreen to distract one from the real issue: the “pro-life” movement is on a faith-based crusade to ban abortion no matter the consequences to actual human life–part of what the Pro-Life Alliance calls the “absolute moral duty to do everything possible to stop abortion, even if in the first instance we are only able to chip away at the existing legislation.” This is why it supports the South Dakota law, which is the closest the movement has come to achieving its avowed goal: to ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy, including the first trimester–when 90 percent of abortions take place. As the Pro-Life Alliance puts it: “We continue to campaign for total abolition.”
The “pro-life” movement is not a defender of human life–it is, in fact, a profound enemy of actual human life and happiness. Its goal is to turn women into breeding mares whose bodies are owned by the state and whose rights, health and pursuit of happiness are sacrificed en mass–all in the name of dogmatic sacrifice to the pre-human.