Abortion: considering the rights of the unborn

The Peak, Simon Fraser University's Student Newspaper since 1965, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 1S6, e-mail: epeak@mail.peak.sfu.ca (external - login to view), phone: (604) 291-3597 fax: (604) 291-3786
Volume 89, Issue 11 March 20, 1995 Feature

Abortion: considering the rights of the unborn

By Celeste-tina Hernandez-Binnema

Ana Rosa Rodriguez, of New York State, was born with only one arm. This was not the result of a genetic defect but rather, her arm was removed in the uterus by Dr. Abu Hayat, an experienced abortionist who was trying to kill her. The doctor attempted to perform an abortion late in the pregnancy by using the D & E method but something went �wrong� and Ana Rosa was born alive even though her arm had been cut off and she was bleeding profusely. The baby would still have been disposed of, but Ana Rosa�s mother changed her mind when she saw the baby. Ana Rosa is now a bright and affectionate three year old. She is but one example of many �accidents� that have occurred in the name of �safe, legal abortions.�
So much media attention in recent years has focused on the pro-choice or anti-life movement (the labels changing with your viewpoint of course). The emphasis has been on the rights of women and their need for protection from the religious radicals. I would be willing to bet that few students on campus have given much thought to the other group of people involved in this issue: the unborn babies.
Pro-choice people dislike discussions about this group of people, saying that it only adds an emotional charge to what is, in reality, a simple medical procedure. However, I would like to present the dispassionate, medical facts about �fetuses,� and the procedures used to cause �fetal demise.� It is not my intention to upset anyone who has had an abortion or is considering one. However, these facts do need to be known if one is to grasp all the issues surrounding abortion.
According to medical science, the beginning of human life occurs at the moment the mother�s egg cell is fertilized by one of the father�s sperm cells. The single cell that is formed at t or all of these criteria then life must be present. The fetus respondS to pain, makes respiratory efforts, moves spontaneously, and has electroencephalographic activity. Clearly the fetus is alive.
An eight week old fetus was removed from a woman�s uterus during surgery because of medical complications. The embryonic sac was still intact when the baby was removed and the baby remained very much alive. Paul Rockwell, MD held up the sac and this is what he saw. �Within the sac was a tiny human male swimming extremely vigorously in the amniotic fluid while attached to the wall by the umbilical cord. This tiny human was perfectly developed, with long, tapering fingers, feet, and toes.�
Why is this information important to the abortion debate? It is too easy to think of abortion as the removal of some unwanted tissue rather than the killing of a life. If someone wants to have an abortion, that person should be aware of what exactly she is doing. Pro-choice people often speak of �an informed decision between a woman and her physician.� The above information should be part of that informed decision.
Another part of the informed decision should be information about the �medical procedure.� Many medical conditions can be treated in a variety of methods. Breast cancer is such a condition. The patient�s physician will spend a great deal of time explaining to the patient the different procedures so that the patient can be informed about what she will do. What about the abortion procedure? Shouldn�t a woman be fully informed about what will take place within her own body?
The abortion procedure is not a neat, high tech operation. There are a variety of methods used but they all involve breaking the fetus up into smaller bits and then removing the parts from the uterus.
Suction Aspiration is the most common method used for early pregnancies. The abortionist inserts a hollow plastic tube into the dilated uterus. The tube is connected to a suction apparatus and the suction tears the fetus� body into pieces. Often the head is too large to remove without further dilation, so a special instrument is inserted that cracks the skull, like a nut cracker, and then the remains are removed.
After 12 weeks, the fetus� bones become too strong for the suction method to be effective, so the dilation and evacuation method (D & E) is used. This involves grabbing an extremity of the fetus with a plier-like instrument and with a twisting motion, tearing it from the body. The spine must be snapped and the skull crushed in order to remove them.
The later the abortion, the more difficult it becomes.
After 16 weeks, a saline injection is sometimes used. This involves removing some of the fluid from the embryonic sac and replacing it with a strong salt solution. The baby is slowly poisoned and kicks and jerks violently inside the womb until death occurs.
A relatively new method has been developed for late, second trimester abortions. Dr. Martin Haskell has perfected the technique and has named it the �D & X abortion.� This method involves dilating the cervix almost completely over the course of two days. An ultrasound is then used to locate the arms and legs of the unborn infant. Forceps are used to grasp one leg and then the other and bring them into the birth canal. The remainder of the body is delivered but the head remains inside the uterus. Next, scissors are placed at the base of the skull and the head is pierced. The scissors are forced open, enlarging the wound. The scissors are then removed and a suction catheter is inserted into the wound to vacuum out the brain tissue. Now that the fetus is dead it can be delivered. Of course, it might be easier to just pull the fetus right out first, but in that case the infant might be capable of living outside of the womb, and killing it then would be murder, which would be technically illegal.
The only comfort we can take from learning the grisly facts about this technique is that, according to Statistics Canada, very few babies are aborted in this country after 20 weeks gestation. Yet, it is chilling to know that such a procedure is entirely legal in Canada.
I do not write all of this just to be gory. My point is that abortion is a violent act against a human life. Ultrasound recordings of abortions clearly show that the fetus responds to the threat of abortion in typically human ways. The heartbeat accelerates, and the level of movement increases greatly as the fetus tries in vain to stay away from whatever foreign object has been introduced into its space. There is no way an analogy can be drawn between an abortion and the removal of some tissue from the body, such as the removal of an appendix or a malignant tumour. The tumour or appendix is not a unique life form with its own genetic blueprint, brainwaves, and heartbeat.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson was a leader in the movement to liberalize abortion laws in the late 1960�s and early 70�s. A prominent obstetrician-gynecologist in New York City, he was as well the only doctor among the handful of activists who founded and ran the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), which lobbied successfully for the removal of abortion restriction in New York and elsewhere. He performed or presided over 60,000 abortions. But as the study of fetuses (known as fetology), became more advanced, he became less comfortable with abortion, even though he states that he is neither pro-choice nor pro-life. He wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine that was published on November 28, 1974 in which he wrote the following words:
Some time ago - after a tenure of a year and a half - I resigned as director of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health. The center had performed 60,000 abortions with no maternal deaths - an outstanding record of which we are proud. However I am deeply troubled by my own increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.
There is no longer any serious doubt in my mind that human life exists within the womb from the very onset of pregnancy.
Although many people try to pretend that this is not true, society as a whole still considers it is. Recently a woman in Florida was charged with manslaughter. She had taken a gun and pointed it across her own pregnant abdomen and pulled the trigger. She said she could not afford an abortion. The infant in her uterus actually survived the shooting but died three days later from kidney failure. If she had enough money for an abortion, the death of this same infant would have been completely legal. In Illinois a pregnant woman who takes an illegal drug can be prosecuted for �delivering a controlled substance to a minor.� Here in B.C., signs must now be posted in places where alcohol is served to remind mothers about the dangers to the baby of drinking while pregnant. Clearly, society is concerned about the life within the womb.
Too often the debate that rages around abortion is polarized between the feminists and the religious. An objective look at the issue makes it far from clear that feminists should always support abortion or that religious people are the only ones that oppose it. Until the late 1960�s many feminists were against abortion. Susan B. Anthony was a radical feminist, standing for women at a time when they were not even allowed to vote. She referred to abortion as �child murder� and viewed it as a means of exploiting both women and children. Anthony�s newspaper, The Revolution, made this claim: �When a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is a sign that, by education or circumstances, she has been greatly wronged.� Another leading feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, said this about abortion: �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 wish.�
Some active feminists still vigorously oppose abortion. Feminists for Life of America (FFL) supported the Equal Rights Amendment and has laboured for other feminist goals, but is adamantly pro-life. One FFL member, Mary Ann Schaefer, has labeled the attempt to marry feminism to abortion as �terrorist feminism.� In her words, it forces the feminist to be �willing to kill for the cause you believe in". How can women achieve equality without control of their reproductive lives? Feminists for Life responds:
�How can women ever lose second-class status as long as they are seen as requiring surgery in order to avoid it? The premise of the question is the premise of male domination throughout the millennia - that it was nature which made men superior and women inferior. Medical technology is offered as a solution to achieve equality; but the premise is wrong... It�s an insult to women to say women must change their biology in order to fit into society.�
Rosemary Bottcher, an analytical chemist and environmentalist, wrote an essay titled, �Feminism: Bewitched by Abortion.� Bottcher thinks women are much different than the way the feminist movement portrays them. If women can�t handle the stress and pressure of pregnancy, Bottcher wonders how they could ever handle the stress and pressures of presidency. Here is the crux of her argument:
�A man is expected to be mature when he fathers a child; he is expected to endure inconvenience and hardship, if necessary, to provide the means to bring a child up and go through college, even if this requires taking an extra job or working late at night. He is expected to do this because he is supposedly mature.
But the woman, according to feminists, is so selfish, immature, irrational and hysterical that she cannot stand the fact of nine months of inconvenience in order to bring life to another person or to bring happiness, perhaps, to some other family who might adopt that child.�
It is also not just religious people who are against abortion. Bernard Nathanson, the doctor mentioned above, is an atheist, yet he has become a leading critic of the liberal abortion laws. The issue that matters regarding the legality or morality of abortion has little to do with feminism or religion. Abortion is a convenient way out for women and for men when an unwanted pregnancy occurs.
I am not insensitive to the plight of the many women who are desperate for an abortion. There are many women whose lives would be completely changed by the introduction of an infant. They face incredible stress from a pregnancy. As a young mother of two, I do know that these problems exist and my heart goes out to all women in this kind of situation.
There are solutions to the problems created by an unwanted pregnancy. There are many childless couples who are eager to adopt a baby but have difficulty finding one to adopt. Every year in North America over two million requests for adoption go unsatisfied. Although it is never easy, if the mother decides to keep the baby, it is becoming less difficult to do so.
Our society is becoming increasingly flexible with regard to the needs of the single parent. Many area high schools offer free daycare for the children of teenage parents, in order to help them earn their high school diploma. The New Beginnings program at Abbotsford Senior Secondary School is but one example. Young mothers can leave class in order to breastfeed or check on their baby. Such a program was unheard of fifteen years ago. Other local agencies which provide help include the Crises Pregnancy Centre, Birthright, and Hope Pregnancy and Adoption Services, to name just a few. I have seen first hand the provision of free prenatal care, free clothing, baby clothes, furnishings, and other help to needy women. Pro-life families give free room and board as well as love and support to women who need it.
There is still a sacrifice required of the mother here, I acknowledge that. But the simple, plain, unchangeable fact is that the fetus is a living human being and that living being does not deserve to die simply because he or she is inconvenient.
The startling fact is that there have been almost 1,600,000 abortions in Canada since 1973. Compare that to the 114,710 Canadians killed in all the wars Canada has been involved in since Confederation. How many of these abortion occurred because the pregnancy would have been inconvenient and how many represent really difficult situations? Studies conducted by Planned Parenthood�s Guttmacher Institute say 16,000 abortions per year are due to rape or incest, which amounts to 1% of all abortions.
Six weeks after conception most mothers are aware that they are pregnant. At this point, fetal brain waves can be detected and recorded. By the eighth week, at a little more than an inch long, the developing life in now called a fetus - Latin for �young one� or �offspring.� Everything is now present that will be found in a fully developed adult. The heart has been beating for more than a month, the stomach produces digestive juices and the kidneys have begun to function. Forty muscle sets begin to operate in conjunction with the nervous system. The fetus� body responds to touch, although the mother will not be able to feel movement until the fourth or fifth month.
The Harvard Criteria for the pronouncement of death assert that if the subject is unresponsive to external stimuli (e.g. pain,) if the deep reflexes are absent, if there are no spontaneous movements or respiratory efforts, if the electroencephalogram reveals no activity of the brain, one may conclude that the subject is dead. If the subject does not meet any young woman call �Roe� in the famous Roe v. Wade case, who elicited sympathy in the court and media because she claimed to be a rape victim. Years later, she admitted she had lied and had not been raped at all.
Pro-choice advocates often divert attention from the vast majority of abortion by focusing on rape because of its inherent (and well-deserved) sympathy factor. Their frequent reference to rape during discussions of the abortion issue leaves the false impression that pregnancy due to rape is common. But even in the rare case where pregnancy occurs due to rape or incest, the violence of abortion is no solution to the violence of rape. One woman says, �When a woman exercises here right to control her own body in total disregard of the body of another human being, it is called abortion. When a man acts out of the same philosophy, it is called rape.�
It is also an extremely rare case when abortion is required to save the mother�s life. While he was United States Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop stated publicly that in his 38 years as a pediatric surgeon, he was never aware of a single situation in which a preborn child�s life had to be taken in order to save the life of the mother. Due to significant medical advances, the danger of pregnancy to the mother has declined considerably since 1967. Even at that time Dr. Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood acknowledged, �Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers form a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life.� Dr. Landrum Shettles says that less than 1% of all abortions are performed to save the mother�s life.
Since there are no laws governing abortion in Canada today I present this information to you as you decide whether abortion is right and moral, or wrong and immoral. I have heard someone say, �I�m personally against abortion, but I�m still pro-choice. It�s a legal alternative and we don�t have the right to keep it from anyone.� But there is no significant difference between people who are in favour of drug-dealing and people who don�t like it personally but believe it should be an option. Someone who is pro-choice about rape might argue that this is not the same as being pro-rape. But what is the difference, since being pro-choice about rape allows and effectively promotes the legitimacy of rape? Some people have the illusion that being personally opposed to abortion while believing others should be free to choose is some kind of compromise between the pro-abortion and pro-life positions. It isn�t. Pro-choice people vote the same as pro-abortion people. Both oppose legal protection for the innocent unborn. Both are willing for children to die by abortion and must take responsibility for the killing of those babies even if they do not participate directly. How much is a human life worth to you?

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