One of the most sensitive areas in the abortion debate relates to the right of the woman to choose. In simple terms, some argue that the woman has a “right” to do as she wants with her body. If this is the case, then she has the right to choose to have an abortion. It is easy to understand the reasoning behind this argument.
However, almost all of our rights have limits placed on them. A man and a girl aged 14, for example, wanting to have sex. It is the girl’s own body; however our society says that she is not allowed to give consent. Likewise, it is the man’s own body, but our society says that he is not permitted to use his body in this way with a 14-year-old female, even if he believes that she is a willing partner.
We have the right to choose, however that right still has limits placed on the choices that we can make. Most people agree with laws that place limits on choice. Limits that stop my freedom to choose to steal, for example. Why? Because they protect the rights, interests or well-being of other human beings who may be directly or indirectly affected by such choices.
Of course, anyone living in a country where personal freedom is assumed to exist, will say that they are in favour of the freedom to choose. No law should limit that freedom when it comes to issues such as religious beliefs, the type of education we want, the political ideals that we support and myriad personal preferences that we may have that harm no one else. But very few support the concept of anarchy, so they support the idea that some choices are not allowed. We don’t allow a person to choose to commit murder, rape, child abuse etc. We understand and accept that a law that prevents harm of another person is acceptable and just.
If our choice will harm another person, then our right to choose is lost.
In reality, just about everything that a person does – be it good or bad – is associated with a choice that they make. We cannot logically argue that a person’s choice is OK, simply because it’s a choice. The fact that it is a person’s choice, reveals nothing about whether or not the action that the person has chosen to take is morally or legally acceptable.
Likewise, we understand that when we make choices in life, there are likely to be consequences – be they good or bad. We have control over our choices, but not over the consequence that flows from the choice that we make.
Does the woman have the right to choose what happens to her body? The answer is yes, she has the right to choose. She has the choice of engaging or not engaging in sex and using or not using birth control methods. However, once that choice is made, there may be consequences.
If she chooses to engage in sex, there is a possibility that the consequence may be that her body becomes the host of a virus or other sexually transmitted disease. Of course, she doesn’t WANT the disease, but it becomes a consequence over which she has no control. The way to avoid the disease, would be for her to have chosen not to engage in sex. Once she has chosen to engage in sex, the consequence is beyond her control.
The same principle applies in the abortion debate. One of the consequences of engaging in sex, may well be a pregnancy. The woman has the right of choice to say no to the sex in the first place. But if she says yes and engages in sex, then the consequence of that choice may well be the formation of a new human life within her.
Except in the rare instance where pregnancy is the result of rape (and I’ll address this issue in a later article), a woman carrying a child has exercised control over her body and the action that she chose resulted in pregnancy. Her choice has produced a new human being.
She cannot choose whether or not she wants to be a mother. That choice is made, she is already a mother and her child is already present in her uterus.
So does she have the right to terminate that new life in order to avoid the consequence of her original choice?
I noted above that if our choice will harm the other person, then our right to choose is lost. In the case of a pregnancy, there are 3 people involved. Obviously the woman is one, but the father of the child is also involved, as is the newly formed life within the woman’s uterus.
Of course, some argue that the unborn is simply a part of the mother’s body. Just as a kidney or an appendix. We allow such organs to be removed from the woman, so the same should apply to the unborn. The baby, it is argued, is simply a part of the mother’s body and she must be free to do whatever she wants with it.
It must be understood that the newly-formed baby has, among other things, a DNA profile that differs from its mother’s. The baby has a different blood group to that of its mother and unique finger prints. Clearly, the baby in utero is a human being that is individually different from its mother.
Every cell of the mother’s kidneys, appendix, heart etc., has an identical genetic code. The unborn child however, has a different genetic code. Every cell of the unborn child’s body is uniquely the child’s and clearly different to every cell of the mother’s body. So, for example, if the baby is male, its reproductive organs are clearly not a part of the mother’s body.
So if we consider surrogacy, we could have a European woman implanted with an egg from an indigenous Australian female that has been fertilised by an indigenous Australian male. The fact that the baby develops inside the womb of the European woman will not change the nature of the baby. The child will be fully indigenous, because the baby’s biological identity is based on its own unique genetic code, not that of the body in which the baby is developing.
It is a clear and undeniable fact that the mother is one distinctive individual human being and the child is another.
The right to abortion is often presented simply as a matter of choice for a woman. However, it is clear that her choice to abort will bring harm to another human being – namely the baby.
Of course, once the baby is born, the woman is again free to choose: she can choose to raise the child herself, or choose to give the child to the appropriate agency for placement with one of the many couples waiting to adopt.
We see today in our hospitals a very inconsistent attitude towards human life played out because of such choices.
In one part of a hospital, we see the mother who chooses NOT to abort, but who gives birth prematurely. There we find medical staff and technology striving to save the life of the prematurely-born baby. At the same time and in the same hospital, we see the mother who chose TO abort. There the medical team will be terminating the lives of unborn babies of identical age, merely because their arrival in the world would be deemed to be in some way “inconvenient”.
The question that remains is simple. Does the woman have the right to negate the choice that she made by taking the life of another human being? It seems unconscionable that one could refuse to give the baby the right to choose to live simply to satisfy the right of another human being to make such a choice.
No matter what the mother may feel at the time, pregnancy is a temporary condition. However, abortion is a very permanent solution—the death of an innocent child cannot be undone.
Regardless of the circumstance, one person’s right to choose should never be greater than another person’s right to live.