Monday, June 15, 2009

Can You Really Be A Rational Pro-Lifer?

The short answer to this is "no". Not any more than you can be a rational believer in Christ, or Kali, or Rael. Faith is, by its very nature, irrational. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. We all have irrational beliefs. However, on issues of public policy which affect the bodily integrity of half the human population of this country, irrational beliefs should not be relied upon.

First, let's look at some definitions (All from Merriam Webster Online).

Reason: a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense ; especially : something (as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact d: the thing that makes some fact intelligible : cause

Rational: having reason or understanding b: relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason

Irrational: not governed by or according to reason .

So, when I say something is irrational, I'm not necessarily saying it is stupid. (Though in this situation, I think there is a case to be made that "pro-life" beliefs, are in fact, based on a rather stupid premise). Rather, I am saying it is not backed up by reason.

There is no proof of an embryo or fetus being equivalent to a sentient, born person. As a matter of fact,all scientific proof points to the opposite, with the necessary structures/ brain patterns needed for sentience not being formed until the 24th week. Which, ironically enough, is the standard for viability recognized by Roe v. Wade. Even since the early 70's, that threshold has not advanced appreciably, due to the fact that the structures necessary for independent life just haven't been formed until then. And of course, let's not forget that even at the 24th week, most fetuses will not survive without extensive medical intervention, and even with medical intervention, survival rates are fairly grim.

It is also important to point out that one being involved with the pregnancy is a fully sentient, human person from start to finish- the mother. Of that, there can be no doubt. If the real pro life argument is that all animal life should be valued equally, sentient or otherwise, the killing apes, dogs, flies, or amoebas would carry the same weight and penalty as killing a human. However, I have never seen a "pro-life" support of this particular viewpoint. The only consistent application of this principle I have noted is within Jainism, which does not enjoy a wide following here in the US. As a matter of fact, many "pro-lifers" believe the death penalty is just. Most believe participation in this country's armed forces is honorable and appropriate. Almost all believe killing in self defense is justifiable. And mind you, all of these acts could kill a sentient person, not just a "life" in the generic sense.

So where, exactly, does the "pro-life" movement come from? A recent net phenomenon can be used to explain the "genesis" of the movement. A woman in Chicago blogged about her supposedly doomed pregnancy, gaining support from the pro-life community as they urged her to see the pregnancy on through to the bitter end. The blog and the pregnancy were a hoax, as it turns out, but the emotional outpouring from the faithful was real.

I believe the pro-life movement stems from a clinging to an outmoded model of human development-
Preformationism, or the belief in a homonuclus, or fully formed miniature human, residing in the uterus from the moment of conception. That preformationism coincides nicely with the Christian concept of creation is no accident. Quite simply, the pro-life movement seeks to keep alive the fairytale of faith that modern science has threatened to disrupt.

Let's go back to "April's Mom", the hoax blog. When the people reading that blog were urging the supposed mother to continue on with her pregnancy, it is highly doubtful that they were envisioning a developing embryo or fetus at whatever stage of development the pregnancy would indicate. Nor, I am sure, were they envisioning an anencephalic infant, (anencephaly is what the hoax-fetus supposedly suffered from). Instead, they were envisioning the perfect homunculus, a thinking, feeling being trapped in it's mother's womb, wanting only a "chance" at life, a chance to fulfill the God- given purpose it had been patiently waiting to live out since the beginning of time.

Since preformationism posits that conception is merely the setting in motion of a pre-ordaned, pre-made human life, the mother is nothing more than a carrier of this life, tasked to be the intermediary between this world and the next- nothing more. Also, since preformationism is explicitly non scientific, it would look at a diagnosis of anencephaly by the medical establishment with a jaundiced eye. Undoubtedly, there were readers of the "April's Mom" blog who believed the force of their prayers might "cure" the anencephaly, or that the doctors might have been wrong from the start. After all, it is difficult to reconcile the belief that a thinking, feeling entity is just waiting to be born into this world with the reality of a severely deformed fetus missing most of its brain. As a matter of fact, the old preformationist line often held that congenital defect was the fault of some "wickedness" on the part of the mother, or some intervention by the Devil or one of his minions. In the preformationist worldview, perfection is the default mode of all homonuculi- defect is caused by external forces, and is reversible, by acts of the faithful, or God himself.

So, as we can see, there is no rational support for the pro-life position. Scientific evidence conclusively shows that first and second trimester embryos and even some early third trimester fetuses do not possess the structures necessary for independent life, let alone sentience. Christian theology does not call for the absolute respect for and preservation of all life, and US Christians do not practice such across-the-board reverence. While other religions do embrace a wider respect for life, they are not at the center of the US pro-life movement. Absent certain religious convictions that center on the embro/fetus being a pre-formed, pre- ordained human person from the moment of the creation of this world,there is no possible reason for the virulent anti-abortion rhetoric prevalent in this country. I would go further, and say that while a portion of the pro-life movement sees the preformationist belief as reason in itself to reject abortion, there exists a sizable portion of the movement that uses preformationist dogma to enforce a cynical and misogynist worldview that seeks to reestablish firm patriarchal control over women and their bodies as either an end unto itself, or as a way of re-establishing an order of domination thought to be preferable to the Christian God.

Is that really what you want public policy to be informed by?


Mrs Gideon said...

I'm not a Christian. I have no religion. I'm completely agnostic. However, I could not bring myself to have an abortion. I don't appreciate being labeled as irrational for that.

I would see my fetus as a human being, because that it what they are developing into, and that is what, all going well, the will become. Even if I found out they would have down syndrome. If my baby was born, and THEN I realised they had down syndrome, I'm not allowed to kill them, so why before?

My mother was advised to abort me when she was pregnant. Firstly, because labour could be dangerous for her, and secondly they thought I may have down syndrome. Well I don't. And I'm so grateful that she loved me before I was even born.

Even if my baby had only a few hours to live after they were born, I'd rather spend those few hours with my child than to never have the chance. I don't believe this is irrational. It's a mothers love. And it's my CHOICE.

Lauren, Todd, and Sebastian said...

I am a liberal democrat, agnostic, and pro life. I possible could have listened to your argument and responded appropriately, but your IRRATIONAL presentation of your opinion dissuaded me from doing so. Either stick to the facts or add your opinion. Calling pro-lifers "stupid", or claiming we haven't THOUGHT about what's really going on or been educated, is complete ignorance. I am a mother of one, rcently had a miscarriage which was devastating (shpuld it not have been so?), and am now 9 weeks pregnant again. Facts: my embryo, almost fetus, has ALL MAJOR ORGANS already forming, the heart is beating, and limbs are moving. I fully understand that he/she could never survive on it's own outside the uterus. But you know what? My 2 year old could never survive on his own, either.