News & Politics

But Is It Human?


When I was little, my dad told me about Spartan infanticide: How a new baby was brought to the father, who then either accepted/recognized him/her or directed that the child be killed.

I wasn’t that little, and this was by the way of being a joke on the fact that I was premature, very small and would never have survived.  While old enough to understand the joke, I thought it was a barbaric and despicable system, putting the life of a newborn in the hands of a flawed individual who might just not feel really cordial that day, or kill the child for monetary and convenience reasons.

I was very glad we no longer lived in such a barbarous age.

For a while now, I’ve suspected I was wrong.  Governor Northam’s speech was only the glaringly obvious slap in the face to prove that indeed and in fact, we do very much live in a world like Sparta’s.  Only these days it’s not the father who gets to decide, but the mother.

You see, lacking a solid point at which we declare that life in the womb is/isn’t human, we have defaulted by degrees to “It’s human if it’s wanted.” Specifically, if it’s wanted by the mother.

Unfortunately, this opens the door to atrocity.

It’s not even a slippery slope, just a working out of the conclusion.  If you’re not wanted once you’re born, why should you be accorded any more “humanity” than you were if unwanted in the womb?  Why should there be a limit to when you stop being wanted?

Should the mother have the right to kill her children when they disappoint her?  Should she be able to have her daughter killed at 14 because she had a C? To have her son killed at 16 because he turns out to be gay?

If not, why not? When does humanity stop being conditional on “Mommy wants you?”  At majority?  So, until eighteen you are the mother’s property and subject to the death penalty if you stop being wanted?

For a glimpse of what this would bring peruse your “pets” section of your local Craigslist and see how many expensive pets are “seeking a new home.”  They were once very much wanted, sought out and paid for.  But two years later, the new boyfriend is “allergic.”  Work “doesn’t allow us time” and so on and so forth.

“Was wanted by mother” is a lousy way of determining humanity.

But we have no other. Abortion at any and all points of pregnancy — for reasons not nearly so dire as “life of the mother” or “incest and rape” — has left the door wide open to: when is an individual human a human, with that famed “right to life” that is enshrined in our founding documents?

Yes, I know, when abortion was legalized we were told that the aborted were “a clump of cells” or “a tube.”

This was never particularly convincing to me — except in the sense that I thought whatever it was wouldn’t feel much pain/be aware of its own death — because there was never any doubt that human women have yet to give birth to kittens, so whatever the “product of conception” was, it was a human in-potentia.

For this reason, though I was “for abortion” in the sense I wasn’t against it, I was also always sure I wouldn’t be able to actually do it.

But we’ve gotten far better technology for determining what’s in the womb now. Even 28 years ago, we had “pictures” of elder son at 8 weeks gestation that… well, we called him “shrimp” until the next ultrasound, but even at that time it was pretty plain that it wasn’t just “a clump of cells.”

As stated above, I am not in any way pro-abortion, but I would understand the tacit legality of abortion in the first trimester.  Mostly because it’s almost impossible to police and stop it.

But this should be with the understanding that what you are aborting is a human being and a distinct individual from you.  He or she has a different DNA and will likely grow into a separate person if left alone (no, the fact that about half and maybe more of conceptions spontaneously abort doesn’t mean all abortion is okay. This is like saying that because some percentage of people over 70 die every year, they can just be killed without any moral qualms.)  “My body my choice” is not a position on what is human or on human life. It’s an inane bumper sticker.  Mostly because the embryo is self-obviously not the mother’s body. Sure, he’s in the mother’s body, but though I can imagine rather bizarre situations (beyond rape, which is also bizarre, but in another way) in which this happens without the mother’s consent, in 99.9999% of the cases, the time to make a choice about your body is when you choose to do something that might create a different and separate human being.  After that, you have abdicated that power, because it is not your body we are speaking of.

Yes, I do in fact understand that there are situations so wretched that for a woman to carry a child to term will endanger her life.

Again, legal in the first 10 to 12 weeks, with the understanding that it’s a grave decision and kills a potential human, different from the mother, seems the best option.  That should also take care of rape and incest.  If it took you three months to decide whether to abort the product of such circumstances, then prioritize the life of the child who is, at any rate, innocent of either.

As for the life of the mother, that should always be the decision of the mother. (I should know on this, as I was several times offered abortion while suffering pre-eclampsia during my first pregnancy. I chose to carry. But that’s a highly personal decision, and an actual legitimate place for “Mother’s decision” since it’s her own life she’s risking.)

No weasel words. No “mental health.”  Sure people will still get around it. People do. But it will be much rarer. And it will, by nature, stop the crazy slip and slide of what is human and the idea that “You’re human if your mother wants you.”

Even in the cases when abortion is needed or at least allowable, there should always and every time the clear understanding there are two human lives in the balance: the baby and the mother’s, and that one’s life must be weighed against what problems it would cause to the other: the risk of life, or severe illness or even merely convenience.

To fail to recognize that a different human, with different and unique DNA, is present from the moment of conception leads to confusion or unprovable fantasizing about when one becomes human.

Until and unless a litter of kittens exits a woman’s womb, what women conceive are HUMANS. And different humans from the mother.

Different individuals. With individual rights. Not playthings, not property, not display objects or prized possessions, to be “wanted” and showed off while they serve the parent’s purpose: humans.

If we lose this battle of definition we leave the door open to other people not being considered human because they hurt the “mental health” of others.

My generation is caught in a crunch between aging parents and launching children into the world. In the last year I have spent more time lending emotional support to friends who are the sole or partial caretakers for parents with dementia or disability than I care to mention.  Let me assure you that my friends’ mental health is indeed adversely affected.  Does this mean it’s time to kill the no-longer-wanted parent?

Or what about a spouse who was in a bad car crash, is going to take years to fully recover and might never be able to hold a job again? Should the other spouse be able to kill him/her because of mental health issues?

These aren’t far-fetched thoughts.  Unless we decide what is human and what being an individual with a right to life means, and decide it on a more solid basis than “because Mother wants you” we’re essentially removing the stops that keep us from genocide.

We should respect humans as humans because we are human.

Once we open the door to granting conditional humanity for any reason, we are rendering ourselves open to also be considered non-human for any reason, as society shifts and the needs of government change.

At the end of that lie death camps and bodies piled like cordwood.

It’s time to turn back while we can.