CHOICE vs. LIFE
Both sides of the abortion battle are fighting for human rights. Pro-Choice people struggle to defend a woman’s right to control her body. Pro-Life people crusade to protect the life of the child within. It is this apparent clash of rights that has led to explosive confrontations and vicious opposition. The question, though, should not be whose rights shall be sacrificed to whom, but how can we protect the rights of everyone simultaneously. The conflict stems less from evil intentions on one side or the other than from the tragically flawed outlook that abortion is the same thing as pregnancy termination. It is not.
WHAT EACH SIDE WANTS
In order to reconcile these two warring factions, it is necessary to ask what each side truly wants. Pro-Choice advocates seek the unconditional right of a woman to end her pregnancy. The method to achieve this has always been abortion, or the intentionally fatal removal of the fetus. Pro-Life advocates assert that a “preborn” is a human being with full rights to life. To protect this life has traditionally required full-term delivery of the infant. Therefore, supporting reproductive choice required the death of fetuses, and protecting the lives of fetuses required forcing motherhood on women.
Is this terrible choice necessary? Must a woman choose to kill or be enslaved?
I believe that there is a radical new possibility: pregnancy termination without fetal death; freedom of choice for women and protection for the fragile lives they carry. A fusion of both rights.
I believe that abortion is a moral dilemma that has a technological solution. To see what such a solution might be, though, requires that Pro-Choice and Pro-Life proponents both allow the scales to drop from their eyes in order to view the question from a new angle. A perspective inversion, as it were (that is, after all, the title of these articles).
What if a means existed to remove a fetus from one woman and place it—still alive—into the uterus of another? Such a technique already exists on a primitive scale (it is called non-surgical ovum transfer). What if that fetus could be placed in an artificial womb or high-tech incubator? Or frozen cryogenically for later thawing and implantation? Would this not satisfy both the truly Pro-Life and the truly Pro-Choice? For such a solution to be satisfactory requires that members of both movements identify their true desires.
PRO-LIFE OR ANTI-FREEDOM?
The Pro-Life position comprises two sub-groups: a minority who merely desire that fetuses not be harmed whether or not a woman wants to give birth to it, and a (usually religiously-rooted) majority who demand the additional power to force the woman to see her pregnancy all the way through despite her objections. I believe that every woman has an absolute right to terminate her pregnancy at any point. Human rights are equal and reciprocal, though, and carry with them responsibilities. If a parent has no right to enslave her children—to force them to feed and protect her—then a child (or a self-appointed “spokesman” for a fetus) has no right to enslave its mother—to force her to feed and protect that fetus against her will. To demand forced motherhood — when there is an alternative — is indeed to demand slavery.
PRO-CHOICE OR ANTI-LIFE?
Similarly, the Pro-Choice position comprises two distinct sub-groups: a minority who want simply the right to terminate a pregnancy by whatever means are available, and those who demand the additional privilege of destroying the fetus. I suggest that a fetus—being genetically different from the mother—is a distinct human being, separate from the woman even though temporarily trapped inside her. The chorionic membrane is a barrier it builds between it and its mother and should be respected as a threshold no one has the right to breach with deadly intent. To demand a fetus’s death — when there is an alternative — is indeed to demand murder.
WHEN RIGHTS COLLIDE
I agree with the Pro-Choice camp that pregnancy is similar to trespassing. It is a woman’s right to determine if and when a fetus—whether originally “invited in” or not—has overstayed its welcome. She has the total right to “evict” the trespasser. Where I break with the majority of Pro-Choice people, though, is my belief that no one has the right to kill that trespasser when a non-lethal means of eviction exists.
How can I support both a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy and a fetus’s right to life? Abortion — by definition (“bad birth”) — results in the death of the fetus. Pregnancy termination, though, does not by itself require a death by abortion. Abortion is the sloppy, easy method of pregnancy termination. It is currently the only method of pregnancy termination because nobody has researched alternate, non-lethal methods. The reason for this is grounded both in ignorance and misguided self-interest.
When I was writing a novel about this in 1987 (Solomon’s Knife), I realized that non-technological factors had created a scientific roadblock to research in non-destructive pregnancy termination. Since the prevailing judicial opinion is that a fetus is not human if a woman does not want it, there is no medical impetus to develop pregnancy termination methods that would keep such legally non-human tissue alive.
No one on the Pro-Choice side is going to rock the boat. Since women already have the judicially granted right to an abortion, developing an alternative might, in their eyes, confuse the issue. And though the Pro-Life side recognizes the humanity of the fetus, they are so overwhelmed by the horror of a million and more annual deaths that the only answer they see in the short term is to outlaw any and all pregnancy terminations and ban all research into birth control methods, including non-lethal ones. They can imagine no other alternative to abortion and feel that compelling the mother to continue with her pregnancy by force of law is a small price to pay to protect those incapable of protecting themselves. They are wrong. Killing is killing and slavery is slavery. To label killing “abortion” or slavery “maternal obligation” does not diminish the enormity of either.
What neither side has fully realized is that technology stands on the brink of making the entire abortion controversy moot.
- Electromechanical wombs—human incubators—are in development (Partridge, et al., 2017) that will allow fetuses to be brought to term without forcing motherhood on the unwilling.
- Uterine transplants —There has already been the successful transplant of a uterus from one woman (deceased) into a woman who was born without one (Ortiz, 2016). While this is not the same as a fetal transfer, one can envision this method or the artificial womb above being used to save the life of a very immature fetus in the event of the death or incapacity of the mother, where premature birth would not be an option.
- Cryogenic techniques already exist to preserve oocytes and embryos (Edgar & Gook, 2012) and it is not pessimistic to expect that the refinement of freezing techniques or the development of nontoxic cryoprotectants may someday allow for the successful freezing and revival of a fetus. This would allow a woman who may be unwilling or unable to be pregnant now to resume her pregnancy later or put it up for adoption by another willing recipient. Many women who rush into abortion regret their decision months or years after the irreversible act. A “fetus bank” would allow women a chance to reconsider, with the option of “birth abeyance” until later in life.
- Fetal Transplant — A woman who does not want to give birth at all could transfer her fetus to the womb of a woman who does, thus solving two reproductive problems at once and saving a life as a bonus.
Abortion prohibition, like any other prohibition, never worked and never will. Women have been, are, and forever will be forced to make hard decisions about pregnancy. If the decision requires the end of a pregnancy, women will seek it regardless of the legal risk or the mortal threat to the fetus. And babies will still die from abortion, legally or illegally. The only solution to this tragic choice is to find a life-preserving, rights-preserving alternative. This is a battle that will not be won in the legislature or the courts. It will not be won by bombing clinics or jailing protestors. This battle can only be won in the realm of medical technology. And I possess enough faith in humanity to believe that women—if given a choice—will freely choose life over death.
Abortion kills the fetus, yet medical technology is reaching the point where a fetus could be removed from a woman who does not want to be pregnant and implanted into a woman who does, or frozen for later implantation, or brought to term in an artificial womb (Hamzelou, 2017). I contend that these are solutions both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life factions need but have not sought.
Ironically, the greatest impediments to the life-saving solution of transoption are those who ought to be most pleased by its possibility. Certain Pro-Life advocates will reveal their true agenda if they denounce transoption as yet another interference in nature’s — or God’s — way. The possibility of saving lives is secondary to these people. They would rather make criminals of women by outlawing abortion than find a way to allow them the choice of non-lethal pregnancy termination.
On the other side are the Pro-Choice advocates who fear that transoption would make abortion less attractive and thus rob them of their privilege of destroying utterly the contents of their wombs. They would rather have millions of women endure the guilt and doubt that accompanies abortion than seek a surgical technique that would end unwanted pregnancies yet still protect what many see as a tiny, defenseless human life.
Once we have separated the two factors of fetal death and pregnancy termination, we see that there are not two groups in contention but, rather, six.
On the Pro-Life side, there are those who would firmly oppose any form of pregnancy termination, even if the fetus’s life would be spared. These people are what I would call the Anti-Choice woman-enslavers. Their opposition to transoption reveals their true colors. There are Pro-Life proponents, however, who are opposed to abortion yet are profoundly troubled by the idea of using laws to restrict a woman’s freedom of choice. These people are nonetheless comfortable with the idea of adoption and might readily accept the concept of prenatal adoption, which is all transoption really is. These people I call Mere Pro-Life and would view transoption as a godsend.
Among the Pro-Choice supporters are those who feel that if a woman does not have the absolute privilege of destroying her fetus, she has no reproductive freedom. To demand a dead fetus, though, when a pregnancy could be otherwise terminated is to demand the right to prenatal infanticide. Once again, their reaction to the concept of transoption reveals a secret agenda. Such people are the Anti-Life advocates of the “right” to bury one’s mistakes. The overwhelming majority of women, though — the ones who actually receive abortions — have always been troubled by the necessity of choosing between their freedom and their baby’s life. For them, the Mere Pro-Choice, transoption offers choice without guilt, freedom without death, and a way to change a pregnancy termination from a life-extinguishing to a life-affirming action.
The most hideous position is what I call Anti-Life/Anti-Choice Fusion. These monsters would force a woman to destroy her unborn child against her wishes. These are the killers who administer government population-control programs in such tyrannies as Nazi Germany and Communist China and North Korea, where State-mandated abortions are one more category of oppression enforced at gunpoint.
Both the Mere Pro-Life and Mere Pro-Choice factions who are troubled by their positions need only to discover the possibility of transoption to move toward the sixth position: the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice Alliance.
There is no contradiction between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice once the irrational advocates of Anti-Choice and Anti-Life are jettisoned. Pro-Life/Pro-Choice is the only position that consistently defends all rights of all parties to a pregnancy, no matter what their age or sex. Reproductive freedom and preborn life are not fatally incompatible but are both part of the spectrum of human rights.
If the parties to the abortion debate wish to seek detente, I would urge an immediate end to any legal and social obstacles to research that might develop pregnancy terminations that preserve fetal viability. I would urge Pro-Choice and Pro-Life activists to lay down their prejudices and work together for a life-affirming, choice-enhancing, and rights-preserving solution. The price in human suffering and death we have paid for the past several decades has been far too high.
Edgar D. H. and Gook, D. A. (2012). A critical appraisal of cryopreservation (slow cooling versus vitrification) of human oocytes and embryos. Human Reproduction Update 18(5), 536–554. doi:10.1093/humupd/dms016
Hamzelou, J. (April 25, 2017). Artificial womb helps premature lamb fetuses grow for 4 weeks. newscientist.com [Web site]. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2128851-artificial-womb-helps-premature-lamb-fetuses-grow-for-4-weeks/
Ortiz, F. (March 8, 2016). First U.S. woman with uterus transplant looks forward to pregnancy. scientificamerican.com [Web site]. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/first-u-s-woman-with-uterus-transplant-looks-forward-to-pregnancy/
Partridge, E. A., et al. (2017). An extra-uterine system to physiologically support the extreme premature lamb. nature.com [Web site]. doi:10.1083/ncomms15112