Personhood law’s definition of life dubious

Posted on September 9, 2012


Coloradoan, September 9, 2012 by Dick Heyman

There is a nationwide volatile debate about abortion. Right now, abortion is legal early in a pregnancy only. There are many who believe that it should not be allowed based on their personal and religious belief as to when life begins. It’s a bit flippant to simply say, “If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one.”

Instead, I think we need to discuss this rationally.

We need to focus on when life begins — not on some theoretical and never provable discussion of when the soul enters the body. My religious teachers have claimed that the soul enters the body at the beginning of a fetal heartbeat. In the past, this has actually been around the same time as the legal limit for abortions, but this is not the issue. We can’t legislate around the soul any more than we could around the rights of ghosts. Some people don’t believe in souls, but even those who do can’t quantify it or measure it in any way that would fit in our legal system.

So if we are not talking about souls in the debate, we are talking about when life begins for human beings. Medically a doctor usually fills out the birth certificate (also called a Certificate of Live Birth) when the first breath enters the body. Usually with a cry, we declare ourselves as part of the family of humanity out loud. Normally we talk about dying as taking our last breath.

With advances in medicine, we can put premature babies on respirators until they can draw their own breath. Sometimes, we can restart the breath and even the heartbeat of people who have died — but these are not something on which we can base standards or laws, they are obviously exceptions.

The current Republican Party leaders want to define the beginning of life as the moment when the sperm fertilizes the egg. Medically, this is called a zygote. An undetermined percent of them will survive along the fallopian tubes and implant successfully on the lining of the uterus. A percentage of them will mature to a fetus and later become a baby.

I think they are defining life too narrowly.

If a fertilized ovum is life, why not a ripe unfertilized ovum? Before it starts its journey, it’s not yet “born.” When it gets flushed out every month, it dies.

Similarly, the sperm is alive after it is ejected from the male. Unless the uterus is coated with spermicide, it lives inside the uterus. It dies in time.

If the “personhood” laws continue, abortion will be deemed murder, but if you follow the logic, then if a woman has her monthly period when she had a chance to get pregnant, she is a murderer. A man who masturbates will be a murderer.

What I first dismissed as flip: “…if someone doesn’t want an abortion, they shouldn’t have one,” becomes reasonable.

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