Is abortion murder? Is eating a cheeseburger? I approach the first question the same way I approached a question in my syndicated advice column from a meat-eating woman whose vegetarian boyfriend was becoming increasingly abusive about her choice of entree. In her words, “When we eat out, and I mention that my food smells wonderful, he launches into a tirade about how I’ve made an animal suffer a horrendous death because of my eating habits.” Mmm…genteel! (Why are the “be kind to animals” types so often such jerks to other humans?)
Personally, my preferred habitat for a cow is on a bun on my plate. That said, I buy free-range meat, and believe animals should be raised and killed humanely. I also believe animals are lesser creatures than humans, and do not deserve the same rights, as rights come with responsibilities. We don’t, for example, hold a hyena responsible for eating a gazelle — we can’t.
I apply the same thinking to the abortion issue. While a clump of cells or even a large gathering of them that resembles a baby can become a person, they don’t constitute a full-fledged human being deserving of rights.
It’s possible you think differently. Well, as I wrote to the carnivore with the bunny-hugger boyfriend, “Your boyfriend’s entitled to his beliefs, and you’re entitled to yours.”
Don’t bother accusing me of “moral relativism.” I’ll admit to it freely, and you should, too — because there’s no definitive answer on whether it’s right or wrong to eat meat or on when a fertilized egg becomes a person. There’s only my opinion and your opinion, and the opinions that shaped them.
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As an atheist who lives an evidence- and reason-based life, I turn to science for guidance. Michael S. Gazzaniga, a cognitive neuroscientist who served on President Bush’s Council On Bioethics, explains that a potential person is not a person. In The Ethical Brain, he gives an analogy comparing embryos created for stem cell research to a Home Depot. “You don’t walk into a Home Depot and see thirty houses. You see materials…to create a house.” Likewise, “a fertilized embryo is not a human,” and to give it such status is “patently absurd. When a Home Depot burns down, the headline in the paper is not ’30 Houses Burn Down.’ It is ‘Home Depot Burned Down.’”
What does religion say about abortion? Well, which religion? Different religions, and even different factions within religions, have different doctrines. According to Susan Weidman Schneider, author of Jewish and Female, Jews believe the fetus becomes a person when the head emerges from the womb. Additionally, Schneider notes, in Judaism, “the life of the fetus does not take precedence over the life of the woman,” which is “the opposite of the Catholic belief that the fetus is alive and must be delivered even if the mother’s life is forfeited.” So, Catholics are not really pro-life, but pro-one-life-over-another?
Reform Jews support aborting when amniocentesis is positive for the deadly genetic disease Tay Sachs. Orthodox Judaism generally prohibit it — even though a baby will be brought into the world only to endure a few years of terrible suffering, and then death. The same goes for another inherited disorder, Gaucher disease. In an LA Times article taking a dim view of abortion, staff writer Karen Kaplan breezily deems this disease “treatable” — which it is…for a price, with biweekly enzyme infusions that cost $100,000 to $400,000 a year.
And you wonder why your health insurance costs so much? (I’m guessing Gaucher-positive-testing parents who choose to gamble and bring kids into the world aren’t all among the private jet/multimillionaire set.) It’s great to have principles, but I’m reminded of a Spanish proverb the therapist Nathaniel Branden once quoted to me: “Take what you need, but pay for it.”
That’s essentially the advice I gave one of the angry sprout-munchers who wrote to chastise me for eating meat. He mentioned his wish to start some great big nature preserve for all the dinner animals out there; apparently, to have the cows roam free, frolicking in the tall grasses (do cows frolic?) until they fall over and die a natural death. What was stopping him? Money. Not surprisingly, he was willing to huff and puff in support of his beliefs, but not-so-willing to pony up cold, hard cash.
That’s the approach I suggest for the anti-abortion crowd. Don’t want women to have abortions? Pay them to have the babies. Pay for the care of the babies after they’re born — and don’t forget the college educations.
And keep funding programs to show people why your point of view is right and mine is wrong. I celebrate your right to speak your point of view. I am, however, completely opposed to your attempts to force your point of view on me.
Once again, the solution here parallels the only fair resolution to the meat is/isn’t murder argument: Go ahead and have your Tofurky, but without cramming it down my throat, too.
Amy Alkon’s syndicated advice column, “The Advice Goddess,” runs in over 100 papers across the US and Canada. She blogs daily at AdviceGoddess.com