For 50 years our country has been embroiled in a bitter fight over whether it should be legal to end a pregnancy for any reason. Both sides are passionate about their position but there has been little leeway for both sides to influence the law on this until now that the Supreme Court has returned this to the legislative branch. This was the appropriate action because the Supreme Court refused to make any judgement on when human life begins so it is now up to the court of public opinion. While we will never reach total consensus on this, we can move toward a more common view that will ease the tensions. This can be achieved if the media will foster open debate on the key topic of when should a baby be protected.
To support why this topic is key to the debate some background is needed. To date the proabortion group has focused on the “right to privacy” that every person has to determine what happens to their own body. The prolife community agrees that this is a valid privilege for every person, but they take it a step further and say it should be applied to every person, not just pregnant women. This is a privilege that every person has regardless of their gender, race or age. So, the main argument of the proabortion group does not really support their position of abortion on demand unless they limit it to a minority of the population (i.e., pregnant women) and discriminate against the most vulnerable members of society by withholding this right from babies. Limiting this right violates our tenant of equal protection under the law so we need to get past this argument to the real key issue which is how old a baby needs to be to deserve to be protected like every other member of society? Should a girl or boy in the womb deserve the same right that proabortion groups claim pregnant women should have?
In order to resolve these questions, we need an open debate on when a baby should be protected like every other person. This debate should cover all aspects of this issue: physiology, ethics and moral views. The lack of public knowledge on when life begins has resulted in a double and contradictory set of values. If the mother wants the baby, then we are horrified if another person comes along and ends that baby’s life. We want justice for the life that was lost. But if the mother does not want the baby then we allow other people to come and end that life. The only difference in these two scenarios is whether the mother wants the baby. There is no other instance in our society where we give the choice of life or death to any single individual without due process. So this is why it is so important that the arguments when a baby deserves to be protected (i.e. when do they become persons) be presented to the public so they can be informed and understand what is at stake in this conflict of views. It is the job of the media to bring this to the front and not allow it to hide in the shadows any longer. One of the difficulties that the media will have is keeping the debate centered on the key issue and not allow the discussion be distracted by rare exceptions (rape, abnormalities, etc.). The exceptions can be debated after the key issue is fully vetted because this debate will provide a foundation and the principles that will guide the course of action for exceptions, which to date have been driven primarily by emotions, not reason or facts.
The media at every level (local and national) should provide the forum for knowledgeable experts from both sides of the issue to present their standard for when a baby deserves to be protected and back it up with facts about the physiology of the growth of the baby, ethical arguments about how and when human life should be protected and widely accepted moral standards that support their position. A well-informed public will enable them to: 1) make informed decisions about what they will and will not support, and 2) report this to their legislators so the laws will reflect a common set of values.
By John Moor, first published in the Indianapolis Star newspaper.