Everyone agrees that adult human beings have the right to life. Some people would say that the fertilized cell resulting from conception does not have the right to life. Therefore the right to life occurs sometime later between conception and birth. For others, the exact point a fetus reaches a right to life cannot be determined. Thus, society should assume it does have the right to life.
Allow me to sidestep the right-to-life or right-to-choice decision.
Personhood Ballot Initiatives would give legal rights to newly fertilized microscopic embryos (i.e., when life begins). Thus, for the moment, let’s presume abortion becomes illegal. Should the fetus have a “right” to life, how should we punish expectant mothers who are presumed to drink, eat, and participate in life events that may directly impact the health and safety of the fetus? For instance, when you’re expecting, what you eat and drink influences your child’s health, possibly forever. Some everyday foods and beverages take on new meaning, as some presents a danger to a developing child.
What if an expectant mother suffers heat stroke during a hot afternoon? Should she miscarry, would she be required to prove her miscarriage was natural or face felony charges? For Christine Taylor, an Iowa mother of two girls and pregnant with her third child, a feticide law enacted in that state because of anti-choice efforts has wreaked havoc on her life. Being distraught and distracted, she tripped and fell down the stairs. Ms. Taylor found herself arrested and sent to jail for admitting uncertainty about her pregnancy and fear about raising three children on her own.
What if you’re a pregnant teen in the rural south? Rural Americans live with the burden of poor health than those living in suburban or urban communities. There are fewer primary care physicians and emergency room doctors. Treatment options are often nonexistent and exacerbated by a lack of transportation. And using health care can be difficult, where tight-knit communities can amplify concerns about moral standing and confidentiality. Should society punish a mother for not ensuring their child receives the benefit of adequate healthcare? Should she be punished for simply not traveling long distances to a quality health facility? In the “personhood initiative” era, all of this basically means “… sucks to be you.”
So how do we police potential mothers and the rights of a fetus? How do we police every expectant mother fairly, equally? Who’s going to be the judge? Will a Buddhist or atheist be allowed to judge? Can a deeply conservative judicial system fairly and morally judge all?
Another thought? Do we punish those million or so women who had an abortion each year? As of 2008, there were 2.8 million people in jail. So what’s another 1 million more a year, right? For all the fighting over abortion, criminalizing women is not the solution; never has been. But then again, if abortion is equated to murder, should not the offender be adjudicated?
So when a national religious or political leader claims a woman should be criminally punished for having an abortion, questions must be asked and answers must be given. Does second hand smoke harm an unborn child? If so, do we punish the mother for harming the child or punish both the mother and smoker? Here’s another; the automobile is great for personal freedom, but exhaust fumes are toxic. Should a car owner be punished for assault if their vehicle passes a pregnant woman? If “personhood initiative” backers really want to be fair, should we not ban air fresheners, ammonia, bleach, antifreeze, drain cleaners, laundry detergent and oven cleaners? Do we jail company executives who make, local stores that stock and sell and friends, family and neighbors who use such products? If a pregnant US citizen travels overseas and experiences a miscarriage in another country, how do we investigate and apply proper jurisprudence? Or do we simply perform extradition back to the country where the crime occurred? Can abortion doctors be tried for crimes against humanity?
So what’s the solution? The solution does not easily fit the into the black and white world of pro-life or pro-choice. Real solutions never do.