When Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Human Life Protection Act into law, there was an explosion of emotion on both sides of the abortion debate, pulling the pro-life and pro-choice movements even further apart.
This debate has been growing in viciousness in recent years, driven by the departure from the days of “safe, legal, and rare” to an almost dismissive and celebratory attitude toward abortion by the radical elements of the pro-choice movement, where abortion is viewed as nothing more meaningful than the removal of a polyp.
Between the so-called “extreme” advocates on both sides of the abortion debate, there are many who occupy the middle ground. Some who believe that abortion is a “private decision,” some who believe it’s a justifiable medical “women’s right,” and some who believe that it’s only acceptable in certain circumstances.
While it may seem inconceivable to those who seek some form of compromise, the fact is that the uncompromising pro-life and pro-choice positions are the only logically consistent views that exist. When it comes to abortion, we cannot split the baby. There is no compromise.
The reason for this is that the abortion debate has a fundamental question at its heart -- the definition of life. Assuming that life holds inherent value and must be protected, the abortion debate is actually an ideological battle over when life (or “personhood”) begins. The pro-life movement draws the line between non-existence and existence of life at the moment of conception. The pro-choice movement attempts to draw the line elsewhere, and must ignore the fact that none of these lines are founded in logic or reason.
Identifying life by the existence of brainwaves or a heartbeat would surely deny the humanity of many in our midst. Would someone be considered “alive” if we knew that, after a predictable time period, their heartbeat or brain-functions would return?
Identifying life by viability is problematic, given that viability depends on the quality of available medical care. Can we justify assigning the status of personhood to a 24-week old unborn baby in Manhattan and not to a 24-week old unborn baby in the poorest areas of the Appalachian mountains?
Identifying the moment of birth as the confirmation of life is also impossible. Does travelling through the birth canal act as some form of personhood graduation ceremony? Are babies who are born via cesarean “drop-outs”? The only physical difference between a baby moments before and moments after birth is their location. If we cannot distinguish between pre-birth and post-birth babies, should location alone be sufficient in defining life?
Finally, identifying life based on “personal choice” is entirely subjective, and has been used to justify terrible crimes against humanity on multiple occasions. Of course, this is not to say that mothers who make the decision to abort their pregnancies are morally comparable to those who held slaves or perpetrated the Holocaust. The ideology which permits the subjective definition of life is, however, fundamentally the same.
For the “extreme” pro-choice movement, their only alternative is to disregard the logical fact that life begins at conception, which often bleeds into the subjective rejection of the value of life. If certain life has no value, then “safe, legal, and rare” is meaningless. If something is legal, why should it be rare? If certain life has no value, it no longer matters whether abortion occurs at the moment of conception or during the process of birth. If certain life has no value, then why shouldn’t an abortion be viewed as no different to the removal of a polyp, or parasite, or tumor?
The outcome of this reality is that there are only two logical sides to this debate - the side which values all life and the side which either values some life over others, or rejects the very definition of life. There may be many people who believe that they are somewhere in the middle, but the brutal fact is that there is no compromise that would satisfy both ideological camps.
It’s important to note that this acknowledgement of human life does not prevent support or objective debate regarding abortions performed in order to protect the mother’s physical or mental health. However, if we accept the logical personhood of the unborn child, there is no objective justification for the vast majority of abortions which do not fall under this category.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence reads:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Unfortunately for those who hope to split the baby on abortion, we cannot reach a compromise without accepting the immoral premise that some life does not have value. This would effectively set the parchment of the Declaration of Independence aflame, and irredeemably reject the unalienable Right of all to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.