Rights and life

By Ande Jacobson

Several months ago as Dobbs was heating up, a dear, pro-life friend asked me if I considered a fetus a life. My knee jerk reaction was absolutely not. I kept thinking about my answer, and after a good night’s sleep realized that my friend had asked the wrong question. She didn’t really want to know if I considered a fetus a life. Of course it’s living tissue. What my friend was really asking was whether I believed that a fetus was a person. There my answer is still unequivocally, no. Clinically, it really shouldn’t be considered a person until it is born, or as Roe v. Wade decided almost 50 years ago, at least until the point when it is viable outside of its host/mother’s body. Before that point, options to terminate a pregnancy if so desired should remain legal, safe, and available to all.

In a clinical sense, a fetus could be considered an appendage of its host. In some religious traditions it is viewed in this way until it is not only viable outside the body, it takes its first breath after birth, and the umbilical cord is cut. That is when such a tradition considers someone a person. As such, the mother’s physical and emotional health are always considered before the fetus. Even though some other religious traditions consider it a person as early as conception, prior to viability, a fetus is not yet a person or even a truly independent life in a clinical sense. Beyond that, pregnancy is a dangerous medical condition rife with potential complications. Informed consent should then dictate that a person be able to choose whether to complete a pregnancy and assume the risks that entails, or terminate it, no matter their reasons.

The hypocrisy of overturning Roe v. Wade is astounding. In the U.S., a living person cannot be forced to donate blood or other lifesaving tissues no matter how many lives such a donation might save. Even a corpse, if they’ve made their wishes known through an advance directive prior to death, has that right. Yet, Justice Alito’s draft, if it holds, would allow states to fully revoke women’s reproductive rights if they so choose. If that comes to pass, the country would be even more divided than it is now, and access to having any choice about terminating an unwanted pregnancy would be determined by a person’s state of residence.

The burden of such an eventuality would fall disproportionately on the poor. People with sufficient financial resources would be able to travel to obtain care should they need it if that care becomes unavailable in their state. Those without means would be stuck.

Quality of life needs to matter, yet for those forced to endure an unwanted pregnancy, their quality of life could be completely destroyed. They may not be able to care for another child. They may not be able to handle the physical and emotional demands of a pregnancy. For the poor, they may not be able to handle the costs of either a pregnancy or another child, and it is nothing short of cruel to inflict this on anyone. Pregnancy should only be something that a person undertakes willingly, not by force.

I am adamantly pro-choice and hold that the only person in a position to determine whether to take any pregnancy to term is the pregnant person, no matter their reasons for their decision to either continue or terminate their pregnancy. Roe v. Wade upheld that view. The current Alito draft threatens to eliminate federal protections for a pregnant person’s right to choose giving a fetus or a corpse more rights than a living, breathing person with a uterus.

The problem is that this reversal is so foundational that it goes well beyond abortion. It’s about removing personal rights and destroying people’s right to privacy. The right to reproductive choice is supported by the majority of Americans. Roe v. Wade has stood for almost 50 years based on the fundamental personal protections the Constitution guarantees everyone. If this reversal stands, no right is guaranteed.

Update (13 May 2022):

Beyond the choice to eliminate an unwanted pregnancy, very real consequences of abortion bans will cost hundreds of thousands of women their lives as discussed in this New Yorker article. A crucial component of women’s healthcare would disappear in large swaths of the country, and doctors would be unable to provide critical care.

‘To determine that ob-gyn training is not complete without abortion training is not simply an ideological stance, and ob-gyns have no end of anecdotes to support this. “I was on call years ago with a resident who had opted out of any abortion training—she had not done any D. & E.s,” Zite said. “On one of her nights on call, a pregnant patient came in after a motor-vehicle accident with a fractured pelvis and a uterus full of blood. She was between sixteen and eighteen weeks pregnant, and there was still a heartbeat.” In consultation with the orthopedic surgeon on call, Zite determined that she had to empty the patient’s uterus to save her life. Zite asked the resident to return to the labor-and-delivery ward while she performed the D. & E. “She said, ‘No, I’m coming with you. In two months, I’m going to be by myself somewhere. What if something like this happens?’ ” Zite felt that it was too late in the residency for her colleague to attain any lasting skills. “Still,” she said, “I was grateful that she had had this realization.” Zite asked her to tell other residents why they needed abortion-care training.’

In states where complete bans existed, women in this situation would die unnecessarily along with their fetuses.


The Elephant in the Courtroom, by Lawrence Wright
The next frontier for the antiabortion movement: A nationwide ban
How Alito’s Draft Opinion on Abortion Rights Would Change America
Choice is important
What the “Life of the Mother” Might Mean in a Post-Roe America

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