Yes yes, a little late…
Letters to a Liberal
This is an ongoing series addressed to a liberal reader named “timmy.” In these letters I try to show my respect and admiration for those of the liberal philosophy, while clearly (and hopefully persuasively) explain why I place myself on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.
We got a little impatient with each other in that last exchange, methinks. That is to be expected with an issue like the War in Iraq. It is also something to be expected when talking about the topic of this letter: abortion and the sanctity of life.
For me, life issues are not about philosophy. I’m not saying I avoid the philosophical, ethical and moral issues involved in life issues. I know them all quite well. It’s just that philosophy and morals are “arguable.” Instead, I take an engineers’ view of the whole thing. Engineers assume their inventions will have failures. But engineers have control over how their machines fail. The Ford Pinto was a horrible machine since it failed by having an explosive gas tank since it was exposed in the rear of the vehicle. Gas tanks are now located in vehicles where they aren’t exposed in rear-end collisions. Since mistakes happen, engineers try to make sure those mistakes cause the least amount of damage or injury as possible.
I choose to err on the side of life. I’m boring, I play it safe. Somewhere between conception and age 5 (The earliest I can remember) I became “alive” and “a life” and “human” and a “person.” We could argue about what those terms mean, when they happen, and even about individual differences, and we’d never come to a conclusion.
Erring on the side of life applies to more than just abortion. During the Terry Schiavo case I sided with those who didn’t want to pull her feeding tube. Was I certain she wasn’t “gone?” No, her EEG was about 5% of the normal reading, signaling that most higher cognitive functions had ceased. But I figured if she even had a small bit of consciousness left, it’d be wrong to let her die. If she was truly “gone” then it wasn’t hurting to keep her alive. I err on the side of life on the death penalty issue as well, since it’s a punishment that can’t be undone.
Back to abortion. I’m not asking you to come to a conclusion. I’m asking you to err on the side of life. Sure, it’s difficult to think of a zygote as a human being. It’s equally difficult to imagine an infant becoming a mathematician. I spent a lot of time in college learning about how the brain develops, which included learning about what goes on from conception until birth. It’s fascinating stuff, how a single cell turns into a human being. The whole process is quite hurried, including the brain. Fourteen days after conception the cells in the zygote begin to differentiate. At thirty days there are noticeable brain cells, at ten weeks there are measurable brain waves signaling synaptical connections. It’s complex and it’s self directed. The mother’s body is not sending signals to the fetus on how to develop, it happens on its own; it just needs resources to turn into a viable human being.
To me, abortion not about rights of privacy or body, it’s about the question of when life begins. I am not going to make value judgments about one life to another. I recently found out a friend of mine survived an abortion procedure. Her mother attempted a late term abortion, and she came out alive. I didn’t even know it was possible to survive an abortion. Since then she has grown up, gone to college and gotten married. It all could have ended at that clinic over two decades ago, when her entire life was no concern at all. Is she a mistake? Is her life worth less than the rest of us? Was she a choice? In fact, was my life a choice?
I understand the liberal side of this question. We should have domain over our bodies, except where another life is concerned. I have the right to swing away with my fists, until someone else gets in the way of those fists. I think the same rules can apply to those not yet born.
It’s also not a contradiction of liberal values to be against abortion. Liberalism has given us the sexual revolution. Now people use contraceptives, condoms and are promiscuous with relatively little shame. Agree or disagree, that is the modern culture. It’s one a lot of young conservatives have embraced as well. So, given this level of understanding, it’s no longer shameful to be pregnant out of wedlock. It is no longer an embarrassment to put a child up for adoption. People are very tolerant now, and we should be. This is a good thing, if the societal and economic factors for getting an abortion disappear, the demand for abortion should be reduced dramatically.
I don’t care what it takes; I want to reduce by a great amount the number of abortions in this country and in the world. If this means some compromises in my fiscal and social conservatism, fine. The life of my friend, and many potential friends, is worth the costs.