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
"…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
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
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
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
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.
me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com