virus: Stance on abortion

David McFadzean (
Mon, 27 May 1996 13:01:23 -0600

[Pat Washington has kindly submitted an essay for the Virus Takes a Stance
page. Please review and check for possible inconsistencies with Virian
doctrine/ethics. -- David]

Copyright 1996 by Pat Washington

The abortion debate is a very important battle, more so than the current
litigants know. What is being argued is deeper and has future
ramifications much more profound than whether or not it should be legal to
abort embryos or fetuses.

There are actually two major ethical meta-dilemmas in play that are
represented by abortion. The first reflects on not only the abortion
battle, but also upon every other question of bio-ethics facing us now,
from Jack Kevorkian -- to genetically engineered pig organs for transplant
-- to genetically engineered human children. How we settle the abortion
issue will greatly affect how we set policy for these other issues.

The second meta-dilemma is how we settle a clash of rights. The abortion
conflict is purely a clash of rights. Not wrongs. Not one side right and
the other side wrong. BOTH SIDES ARE RIGHT. Both sides represent deeply
held principles. And until each side comes to respect the principled
stance of the other, the abortion battle will continue to be a circus of
yelling crowds, waving coathangers, plastic fetuses in little coffins --
and the regrettable murders and bombs.

If it were in my power to chastise the litigants of both factions, I would
do so. This is no way to set an example for our children to follow in how
adults handle disagreements. It is shameful and it is bigoted. It is also
highly unintelligent.

The media like to characterize the argument as a polarity of right-to-life
vs. pro-choice. This is too much like the agent provocateur's game of
"let's you and him fight." It makes for newspaper sales and increased
viewership, but it also creates hostility where none need be. Do not go
into agreement with it. It is a lie that a polarity exists. The majority
of the American people hold both views simultaneously.

The debate features those who hold life dear and feel deeply that abortion
is the murder of a child. This is a very principled viewpoint, and I wish
to acknowledge that. Each individual holding this viewpoint has a unique
reason for having it. It may be religious, it may be logical, it may be
emotional. And it is right. I invite everyone reading this to respect
this viewpoint as a principled one. You don't have to agree with it, I
only ask you to be respectful like you would be in the house of worship of
a different religion.

After millenia of women being treated legally as chattel and as breeding
mares, they want sovereignty over their bodies. The women and men who are
characterized as pro-choice people believe that a woman has the right to
make decisions that affect her life. They believe that her life is more
important than the life of a potential person growing inside of her. This
shared stance is a principled one, and I want to acknowledge that. Each
individual has a unique reason for having it that may be religious, or
logical, or emotional. And it is also right. Again, I invite everyone
reading this to respect this viewpoint as a principled one. You don't have
to agree with it, I only ask you to be respectful like you would be in the
house of worship of a different religion.

There is so much misinformation out there that further inflames this
overheated situation. Such as the misinformation about the partial birth
abortion procedure. There are those agents provocateurs who have seized
upon a rarely done but gruesome procedure and mischaracterized it as
mothers at the last minute wanting to use it for birth control. Sort of an
"Oops, I know it's late, but I changed my mind." Nothing could be further
from the truth. These fetuses would not live long after birth. Many are
without brains or have spinal columns so misformed that they are not
encased in bone. The procedure is done to either save the life of the
mother or to protect her ability to conceive again. Many of the women go
on to have successful pregnancies, still grieving for the child that was

Partial birth abortion is a perfect example of the intentional
inflammatory rhetoric in the debate. It is an example that has duped many
well-meaning people who have not done their own research. I invite you to
do so now. Call a neutral medical professional. Ask. Get facts, not
rhetoric. Do it.

More inflammatory rhetoric is the charge that to outlaw abortion would
send women once more to the coathanger abortionists in back alleys. With
the advent of the so-called abortion pill, and the many women who have
trained themselves and others in doing safe early abortions on other women
with simple dilation and suction equipment, there will be little need for

So let's just calm down here folks and remember Confucius' admonition
about stones and glass houses. Cease demonizing the other. There is no
"other". Most of us are capable of conceiving a child. Each individual
would like to have choice and flexibility in handling a life-altering
situation. Each individual would like to have his or her principles
respected. Compromise is definitely in order. Compromise based on facts
and logic, fully respectful of the principles involved.

So I offer a compromise based on these principles.
1. Since it is the women who must bear the child and experience the
ordeal of birth, she whose body is captured by a growing life within her,
her decision is sovereign, relative to a timetable mentioned in #3 below.
2. Her decision must be based upon full knowledge of consequences and
alternatives, such education to be presented impartially. This would be an
excellent reason to have counsellors who are trained in abortion
counselling. The father's wishes should also be considered by her.
3. Women shall have the right to unrestricted abortion in the first
trimester. However, in recognition of the growing personhood of the fetus,
abortions are more restricted in the second trimester, limited to
petitionable circumstances. Third trimester abortions would be
petitionable, mainly restricted to saving the life of the mother.

What would petitionable circumstances be? Deformation of the fetus, any
genetic condition that could be monumentally expensive to deal with, severe
retardation, any number of things that should be that woman's or family's
decision alone. Some women do not suspect pregnancy until it is advanced
into the second trimester; some ten year old girls are incestually
impregnated, hidden by the family until it is obvious in the third
trimester. We must always leave room for the rare abortion as last resort
to be considered compassionately.

This is one good compromise. In the historic tradition of compromises, it
is guaranteed to make nobody happy. Interestingly enough, we have been
living with this compromise for decades now, except for #2 above. It is
called Roe v. Wade.

The recognition of the woman as sovereign over her fate, of the family
unit as sovereign in decisions affecting it, is necessary in order to have
an enlightened solution to looming ethical dilemmas such as genetic
engineering and euthanasia. To do otherwise means that the heavy hand of
the state makes a blanket decision, stripping individuals of the right to
steer their own course.

We must also recognize that society has a valid interest in these
decisions. Perhaps panels comprised of lay people, medical people and a
bioethicist could be petitioned as representing society's interests. The
panel in turn would be restricted to denials in certain delineated
circumstances. For example, if a family is athletic, its choosing to
genetically engineer for enhanced general athletic ability would be
acceptable. To genetically engineer for unnaturally long arms and legs
might not. To genetically engineer to remove a genetic source of disease
would certainly be allowed. The family chooses and petitions, if they want

An individual is dying slowly and painfully and chooses to die. Shall we
not allow it? Another individual is dying slowly and painfully, has not
and cannot indicate a choice, but the family stands to gain a sizable
inheritance. Shall we allow that family to choose?

How we grapple with the abortion question, whether we respect the
individual's right to choose, reflects on how we will handle all of these
other bio-ethical questions.

I welcome other well-considered solutions to these dilemmas to be printed
here on these pages. Let us have discourse loftier than screaming mobs.
Let us exchange ideas as adults. Let us show our children how to do it