“How can you compare abortion to genocide?” asks the top of a pamphlet that was handed out by anti-abortion group the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform. These pamphlets were given to students last week at Borchuck Plaza during the group’s demonstration.
The question is framed perfectly. They do not ask, “Can you compare abortion to genocide?” because that would invite a choice into the matter. Instead, they are requesting that you find the ways in which the two are alike by beginning with the assumption that they are comparable.
To support its argument that abortion is immoral (and should be illegal), the pamphlet uses quotations from Rabbi Yehuda Levin and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Both quotations suggest that these people are anti-abortion, but let’s take a closer look.
It is undeniable that Rabbi Yehuda Levin is pro-life, anti-abortion. However, this isn’t the most well-known opinion from the rabbi. Instead, he is more famous for his comments on an earthquake in Virginia in 2011. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rabbi Levin stated that the cause of the earthquake was homosexuality.
Meanwhile, the quotation from Elizabeth Cady Stanton reads: “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”
Except, there’s no evidence that Stanton ever said these words. While some pro-life groups would paint Stanton as an anti-abortionist, an article in TIME argues that Stanton did not state a strong position on abortion because her true goal was to create a future in which women never faced the question of abortion.
The TIME article offers this quote from a newspaper reporter that heard Stanton speak: “Mrs. Stanton hoped that the majority of the audience did not understand her to speak in favor of infanticide. She only spoke of it as a fact. There was as much of it as ever, and would be until every woman was the sovereign of her own person.”
This stance is not even close to the sentiment that pro-life groups wish Stanton had avowed.
The pamphlet also states, “Medical textbooks tell us that, from the moment of fertilization, the preborn human is a whole, distinct, and living human being with a genetic identity different from his or her parents.”
This statement is almost identical to another claim made by pro-life groups: “science tells us life begins at conception.” Any attempt to research this statement online only leads to websites and articles that are funded or written by pro-life groups.
Slate.com and Wired.com offer a more balanced viewpoint. “Life” is an abstract concept. What does it mean to be alive? That’s not a question for a scientist; that’s a question for a philosopher. For a rundown of some of the best arguments about personhood, I recommend the Crash Course Philosophy video on the subject.
Going back to the quotation from the pamphlet, what does “moment of fertilization” mean? And what implications does this have?
The University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center’s website states that fertilization is the “union between the sperm and egg.” If this is the moment at which a human is created, then any human that makes it past this point should be under the full protection of the law and should have religious rites (such as a funeral).
However, this might become tricky for a couple of reasons.
First off, emergency contraceptive, such as Plan B (also known as the morning-after pill), functions by preventing the fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus. This means that groups like the one that visited Borchuck Plaza consider Plan B to be the abortion pill.
Plan B is critical to those who have had a contraceptive failure (such as a condom breaking) or who did not use contraceptives. Medscape.com states that emergency contraceptives are part of standard care for victims of sexual assault or rape.
Per the group’s website, they do not believe that victims of rape should have access to abortions. Since this group would view Plan B and emergency contraceptives as being the abortion pill, these groups would not believe that victims should have access to these medications either.
The group’s view that life begins at fertilization also means that they would host a lot more funerals. The University of California Medical Center’s website also states, “In nature, 50 percent of all fertilized eggs are lost before a woman’s missed menses.”
Considering many women only become aware that they are pregnant after they have missed their period, this means that they could have lost a “person” in their life without even knowing it.
As young students, we do a lot to avoid pregnancy. But to those who desperately want a child, telling them that they have a baby on the way prior to implantation (with full knowledge that it only has a 50-50 chance of survival) is cruel. Pregnancy tests such as First Response’s Early Result Pregnancy Test that tell a woman she is pregnant before her missed period perpetuate this cruelty.
However, we can change so much if we change the point at which we confer personhood. I’m not here to propose what that point should be, but I do strongly believe that fertilization is not it.
I’m also not here to prescribe a way of viewing abortion. I’m here to say the same thing I’ve been saying in this paper all year: examine the information and arguments that are presented, think critically, do your own research.