What could possess a couple to decide that the decision to continue a pregnancy or not was best left in the hands of millions of people on the Internet? Whatever the reason, the decision reeks of moral turpitude; one would have to examine their competence to have and care for children in the first place, given this turn of events. It would seem however, when we would look past the first blush, that there is more to this than meets the eye. Pete Arnold – with or without the tacit consent of his wife Alisha – seems to be playing a trick on the world. His explanations are hollow, filled with bullet points that sound vaguely contrived, as if handed to them from somewhere else. The whole episode smacks of a desperate attempt to put the abortion debate back in the spotlight after a contentious election season.
Any political playing aside, what would possess anyone to do it, for any reason?
The abortion “debate” revolves around a central idea: that a woman should have (or not have) the right to terminate a pregnancy at her request. Most of us will never stand in those shoes, where a woman is forced by circumstance to consider the possibility of ending a pregnancy prematurely. There can literally be no harder decision for anyone to make. Who can live with such awesome responsibility? And yet women do, and are able to make the decision clearly and succinctly. It is not easy, but there are always larger considerations to be accounted for.
This seems a cold and clinical assessment of the situation, but then that it is part due to the fact that I cannot know what really goes on when a woman is pregnant. I will never bear a child, and that means it is not a decision I will ever have to make. I can only infer from what I've read and heard that the idea of pregnancy, of life stirring within, has a positive effect generally, but circumstances outside the womb can change that rather easily. What must a woman think when pregnant at a time she was not expecting it, perhaps with a man she is uncertain she wants to start a life with. Worse, what if the growing fetus inside her is the result of incest or rape: does she condemn an unborn child based on the evil of a man? And what does the eventual birth mean for her? Her life will change, irrevocably, having to care for another helpless life, raise it, guide it, clothe and feed it, teach it, love it, and do so while either having to support herself or being supported by a man who cannot give her enough help to make it through each day. These things are only part of the myriad factors that will ultimately come into play in making such a decision.
We have not even considered the spiritual implications up until now, for the simple reason that it is spirituality and faith that are the major roadblocks to making this decision easier and safer for women, both internally for the mother and externally, from the anti-choice forces who would see their beliefs made law, taking the choice away from the mother and investing it in the State. They mean well – their faith tells them that an unborn child is still a child, a soul, deserving of life. It is a seductive view, and the truth of it remains veiled, for there is no definition of “soul” that allows us to say definitively where it resides and when it forms or attaches itself to the fetus. Even the anti-choice community cannot necessarily agree on exactly when a fetus is a person, save when it is born, which everyone can agree on as a starting point.
The weight of this decision is oppressive, no doubt. It certainly does not help that groups of people outside the immediate actors in the drama want to put in their two cents, and are willing to turn a woman and her body into a moral battleground. As with most battles, the people who suffer most are not the soldiers, but the villagers in the path of the fighting, and so it is with an expectant mother saddled with this choice. Ultimately, whatever others may say, it is her choice. If driven to desperation, she may just take matters into her own hands, with potentially horrific results. Laws are but words on paper, and are only followed where a human mind can grasp them and decide to follow them as a consequence of being part of a larger society. When that feeling is lost or absent, though, the individual sometimes finds it easier to take an illegal action to mitigate their personal pain and suffering, rather than have society dictate how they should feel. Before being made legal, abortion was the province of back-room “specialists” working with primitive tools in unsanitary conditions. Its legality in the United States at least allowed it to move into more controlled and sanitary conditions, allowing women a chance to survive. Do we really want to go back to the way it was?
I applaud the idea that life should be celebrated and nurtured – I am dubious about those who attempt to make something into what it is not. The fetus, tucked safely inside the womb, is, for most of its gestation, a part of the mother, and once it grows to be the recognizable form of a baby, does it take on the characteristics we recognize as wholly human. No ball of indistinct cells can be considered a living, breathing being; to do so, is ludicrous. The fetus cannot survive without it's mother for the better portion of its life cycle, and past that, only with complicated equipment and the heroic efforts of a fully-trained medical team, which is no guarantee in most areas of this nation. These are not people, and while they should not be so lightly cast off simply because they are not, they should also not be imbued with the rights of full humanity, until such time as they physically become part of the human milieu.
The whole issue of abortion would be moot, if instead of fighting over its existence, more was done to prevent its necessity. There is nothing wrong with accepting that human society is a spectrum of beliefs and those broad rights are what the Constitution seeks to protect. As such, we must be prepared to educate our children in those practices that will safeguard them from being put in the position of having to make such a choice. We could work to enlighten girls to their rights as women, and how their sexuality is a gift to be given, not a prize to be taken, and how they are not required to submit to a man's request for sex. Boys must be taught their responsibilities as men, to protect and love women, not to see them as trophies or conquests. We must also make sure that rape and incest are taken more seriously as violations of social norms and human law, prosecuting them to the fullest extent possible, making examples of those who choose to take what they cannot earn through honesty, trust, and sincerity.
We may pray that there will come a day that no more abortions will need be performed; we would do better to put our efforts to making sure that comes about, by taking the necessary steps. We cannot leave some things solely to the hand of God.