Whose rights are presumptive?

A fetus is obviously a living thing. It shares all the characteristics of living things – namely, it grows organically, moves on its own, and exchanges energy with its environment. These are things we can observe without analyzing its chemical makeup, but if we did, we would find it is carbon based, like all life on earth, and has DNA with 46 chromosomes, which also marks it as human. So, a fetus is a human life.  Period.

It is also an innocent life, and a life that has no voice. So, unborn children deserve advocates, and those who vigorously advocate for the rights of the unborn deserve respect and a measure of admiration. There are millions of such advocates in the United States today. They call themselves “Pro-Life”, and they think of themselves as modern day abolitionists, treading in the footsteps of our 19th century heroes who brought about the end of slavery.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions has been declining every year since 1981, but in 2014, which is the most recent year for which a complete count is available, approximately 914,000 fetuses still died in abortions. No other cause of death comes close to matching these numbers.  This is 30 times the number of deaths from gun violence. It is a very serious problem.

Like all living things, a fetus is designed to live in a certain environment.  You and I cannot survive long if hurled into the ocean unprepared, or catapulted into outer space, because we are designed to live on land and breathe oxygen into our lungs. Similarly, a fetus cannot live long outside the mother’s womb, because that is the environment in which a fetus is designed to live.

And that’s where the problem lies. What do you do when the rights of the mother conflict with the rights of the unborn child?

A woman of child-bearing age is clearly a human being and, according to the founding principles of this country, she has certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. She is as worthy of these things in the eyes of God as any other human being, and she does not forfeit them if and when she becomes pregnant. Furthermore, slightly more than half of fetuses will be born female, if they are born at all. Nearly all of those girls will grow up to be women of child-bearing age.

A woman of any age has a right of self-defense. She has a right to act in any way necessary to preserve her own life or the life of a loved one when that life is under threat. That includes killing the agent of threat, even if it is another human being. Self-defense is a well-established legal principle, going far back before the founding of this country, and I doubt anybody would seriously disagree.

All abortions are homicide, but not all homicides are criminal, or even morally wrong. Killing in self-defense is homicide, but it is both legally and morally permissible. Other widely accepted forms of homicide include capital punishment and war.

All women have a right of sexual self-defense as well. Every woman has a right to decide who they will have sex with, as well as when, where and how.  I think the vast majority of us agree on that.

In the case of a pregnancy unwanted by the mother, regardless of how that pregnancy occurred, the fetus’ right to life collides with the mother’s right to defend herself sexually, as well as her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How do we balance these rights against each other?

This divide, and the zeal of those who wish to force their particular solution on all the rest of us, has brought us to the desperate political mess our nation finds itself in today. But there is one thing we pretty much all agree on. Abortion is undesirable, and we would all like to live in a world where it never happens. That is an agreement we can build on.

Phil Jones is a local Christian musician who occasionally writes columns. He recently released a new CD under the stage name of Phoenix Jordan.


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