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new featureAn Out of Country Experience-Part 25
(Please check the archives if you've missed previous installments)

Rebecca L. Morgan
Help! I'm Being Held Captive..
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Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien
"Back in L.A."
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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

It's Our Choice

As most everyone knows, Scott Peterson has been charged with double homicide for the killing of his wife, Laci, and her unborn son. Whoa….hold on a second. I mean, doesn't that strike you as somewhat odd? If her son was "unborn," then how could he have been murdered? Maybe it was because he was an 8-month old fetus….you know, practically a human being. But, what if Laci had only been carrying a six-month old fetus? (By the way, have you ever seen a six-month old fetus? It's pretty obvious from the picture that at six months, a fetus sure looks like a human being. Not only that, but due to advances in pre-natal care, babies born as early as 25 weeks now have a good chance of surviving.) Anyway, according to the law, if Laci's unborn fetus had only been six months old, Scott would still have been charged with its murder. In fact, in California at least, murder charges could have been brought against Scott Peterson if the fetus was older than seven weeks! Under California Statute: Section #187, Paragraph A-"Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought." WOW! So then, the law protects the "unborn" from murder just like it protects human beings.

Now I'm totally confused. Oh wait, there's a caveat. The statute adds this restriction: "This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act which results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply: 1. The act complied with the Therapeutic Abortion Act, Chapter 11 of Division 20 of the Health and Safety Code. 2. The act was committed by a holder of a physician's and surgeon's certificate as defined in the Business and Professions Code. 3. The act was solicited, aided and abetted and consented to by the mother of the fetus."

O.K. Now THAT makes more sense. Taking the life of an unborn child is murder under the homicide statutes, unless it's an abortion done with the mother's consent. In other words, if Laci Peterson had chosen to have an abortion when her unborn child was six months old, or three months old, it would have been perfectly legal for her to do so. Off hand, I can't think of another instance where murder is O.K. so long as it's by choice, but that looks like what we have here. At least, that's the law.

Did I just say that made sense? Well, I guess I must have thought it made sense once, because I had always considered myself pro-choice. To me, it was about freedom. In my mind, and I guess in the minds of millions of others, being pro-choice was more of a political statement than anything else. A woman should have the right to choose what she does with her own body. Period. And, being pro-choice was far less troubling before medical technology provided us the opportunity to look into the womb and see exactly what's happening in a pregnant woman's body. Recently I had just such an opportunity when I accompanied a friend for her ultrasound. As I stared at the 5-month old fetus inside her, the doctor pointing out the intricate spine, the fingers on each hand, the beating of the heart and the size of the head, it was all but impossible not to thrill to the sight of my friend's unborn baby girl. A leading fetal surgeon, Dr. Joseph Bruner of Vanderbilt University, says, instead of some mysterious thing inside her belly, a mother and her family can now identify a little human being. A human being. See, I think when you're pro-choice, you need words like embryo and fetus to distract you, to distance you, so that you can focus solely on the body of the woman. When you bring in words like "little human being," it really gets murky.

But it also gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it. Because, if an unborn child, or a fetus, is considered a human being, then questions about its protection under the law, or its mother's choice, or its "right to life" become deeply moral questions. They raise the bar, not just a little, but substantively. For example, it renders moot the argument that it's not appropriate for one group, or a government, to force their morality on others. Perhaps that's why the head of the National Organization for Women's Morris County chapter stated: "There's something about this that bothers me a little bit. Was it born, or was it unborn? If it was unborn, then I can't see charging (Peterson) with a double-murder."

Now most reasonable people would probably agree that whether or not Scott Peterson gets charged with single or double homicide is just about the last thing that should bother us about this issue. What should bother us, just as it's undoubtedly nagging away at the woman from N.O.W., is this; why does an unborn child get protected from murder? Is it because an unborn child is a human being?

This country faced a similar dilemma back in the mid-1800s. As preposterous as it might sound today, the question of whether blacks were human beings came before the Supreme Court in the well-known Dred Scott case. The Court ruled that "the choice to own slaves was an individual decision, a private matter for each citizen to struggle with apart from interference by the state." Dred Scott, as a slave, was declared chattel--human property. He was a possession of his owner, and "the owner had a right to do whatever he wanted with his own property."

Today, we are as repulsed by the answer as by the question. And yet, we might say that the very same question is being asked about the unborn: is an unborn baby a human being? Based on the results, it would seem that our answer as a nation has been the same as it was in the days of Dred Scott. Legally, an unborn child is the property of the woman who carries it. A woman has a right to do whatever she wants with her own property. Abortion is a private, individual decision that cannot be denied by others. Every person has a right to choose.

The ludicrous question of whether or not blacks were human beings had to be answered by a preponderance of moral people "forcing their morality on others." It had to be answered by a Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet no sane person would argue that it wasn't worth it, or that giving up the "right to choose" was a sacrifice.

So what remains is the question of the unborn child. We know what theologians say about the beginning of life; it happens at conception. We find this expressed often, as in this Davidic Psalm from the Old Testament:

"…For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother's womb.
I will give thanks to You,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…." Psalm 139:13.14

But for those for whom an answer from Scripture is unconvincing, how about turning to science. What do the scientists say? Well, in what might come as a shock to many, Bioethicist Hadley Arkes, of Princeton University, put it this way when asked when human life begins: "The leading textbooks on embryology say it's the time of the union of two gametes, a male gamete or spermatozoon and a female gamete or mature ovum . . . on the medical side there is no dissent on this matter." In fact, Arkes went so far as to say that when debating pro-choice vs. pro-life, "people are not arguing over the science, they're arguing over the social definition of a human being."

And what, do you suppose, might THAT be? The social definition. Is it anything like the social definition of a black person as less than human…..something that's temporarily convenient to a certain group in a given situation but that can't bear up under the scrutiny of absolute morality or human intelligence? Because sadly, we all know our American history. And, we also all know people for whom pro-choice was just a way to politicize an otherwise inconvenient situation or rationalize a difficult decision. Too often, being pro-choice meant choosing the most convenient option for the mother.

Does that mean that I believe that the millions who are vehemently pro-choice are without morals? Not at all. In fact, I truly believe that the majority of pro-choice advocates are highly moral, and that they and the pro-life advocates have a great deal in common. Both are guided by what they believe are high moral principles. The pro-choicers most assuredly value human life, and the pro-lifers certainly value human freedom. The only difference has been that the pro-choice side has considered freedom of choice to be the highest moral value, while the pro-life side has considered the highest moral value to be the right to life. All that separates these people is a simple question; when does human life begin? If, somehow, it were possible to demonstrate, beyond a shadow of doubt, that a fetus is NOT a human being, that human life begins only outside of the womb, then pro-life advocates would no longer concern themselves with saving the lives of the unborn and everyone would be pro-choice. Their desire is not to limit choice; their desire is to protect human lives.

So we're back to that pesky question; there's just no way around it. How do we define human life? And again, science answers loud and clear. Maureen L. Condic, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology & Anatomy at the University of Utah, states that, "embryos are genetically unique human organisms, fully possessing the integrated biologic function that defines human life at all stages of development, continuing through adulthood until death." Ms. Condic, in fact, goes on to say that "… embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury . . . mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances." For this scientist, human life can be defined best when compared to its opposite-death. "…..the ability to act as an integrated whole is the only function that departs from our bodies in the moment of death, and is therefore the defining characteristic of 'human life'."

If we agree, even a little, that human life begins at conception, or when a fetus is one month old, or three months, or five months, then where's the choice? If a human life is at stake every time an abortion is performed-just as it is presumed that a human life has been ended when a fetus is murdered-then what could this possibly have to do with personal freedom?

A dear friend of mine emailed something to me a few weeks ago that was, upon first reading, quite chilling. He had recently taken his daughter to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. He and I had also spent a great deal of time in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Both experiences tend to make you think an awful lot about the atrocities humans can inflict on one another, as well as where our own country, and our own conscience, fit in that continuum. So, my friend asked me if I thought we'd ever have a National Abortion Museum. How appalling, I answered. Well, he wrote back, with all the genocides we've been witness to, or have learned to abhor retrospectively, it still appeared that the number of lives lost to abortion would so far out-scale the others as to be incomprehensible. How much volume would be needed for the 1.3 million babies lost in just one year in this country? How could we demonstrate the enormity of that number in an exhibit? Would we take naked plastic baby dolls and fill up the Rose Bowl every year? How could we even begin to convey the loss?

It seems that we can all view our country far better from an historical perspective. We see the times when our country was most tolerant, most compassionate, most courageous, most freedom-loving. And we also acknowledge when we were most violent, most racist, most hypocritical, most immoral. Still, I think that the majority of us are proud of our country. I think we believe that, on balance, history will show that we've done a pretty good job when it comes to human rights, despite our most glaring lapses in the realm of racial, ethnic and sexual equality.

But if human life begins in the womb, and we make the taking of that life an issue of choice rather than of human rights, then the scales will have tipped. If it is true that we are killing more than one million human beings each year, then one day our legacy to our children will be just what we have chosen: our very own National Abortion Museum. And THAT will be a history of which we can never be proud.

NOTE: When writing these columns, I generally dispense with such formalities as footnotes, bibliographies etc. After all, my monthly column is intended to be a pleasurable experience for me, not more work. However, in this particular column I "borrowed" (without permission) from the following sources: Newsweek Magazine, Bill Haynes, William Maple, Francis Beckwith, and Greg Koukl. I doubt they'll mind, and I thank them all.


Send me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com

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