Abortion and Respect for Life

Perhaps you saw the ad for tissues where an apparent Buddhist monk goes about his day “doing good” by rescuing flies from spiders and the like. Suffering from a cold, he is about to use a tissue, but he is brought up short when he sees “Kills germs” on the box. Our good monk has come up against a universal dilemma—rather late in his development as a Buddhist, I might add, but then, it’s just an amusing advert.

What everyone learns is that it is impossible to be 100% “good”. Saving the fly starves the spider. In a classic thought experiment, does one who must always tell the truth point out to obviously evil criminals who are chasing a terrified woman which way she went? Respecting life means understanding the larger picture. It doesn’t lend itself to simplifications and catchy slogans.

It is impossible to be 100% “good”.

What radical opponents of abortion want us to believe is that there is no gray, it really is simple. Every fertilized egg is a fully formed human being, and prevention of this fully formed person’s birth is murder.

There are numerous problems with this argument. First among them is that a fertilized egg must attach to the uterine wall to become a pregnancy, and a great many simply do not. Second, even when they do, about half of such attached cells abort naturally. Obviously, no murder is involved with these events, which often go unnoticed in any case. Third, there are times when carrying a pregnancy to term is either medically dangerous, or would create an unacceptably difficult situation. Every woman who faces this dilemma takes it very seriously.

It also wouldn’t hurt for us to remember the recent case of the Irish hospital that refused to perform a life-saving abortion, and thereby murdered both the mother and her unborn child.

Respect for life is a far more important thing
than either saving flies from spiders
or potential babies from evil liberals.

There is another element that is far more important than the simplistic pronouncements of absolutist anti-abortionists, and that element is respect for life. Respect for life is a far more comprehensive and mature understanding than either saving flies from spiders or fertilized eggs from evil liberals. It requires you to understand and accept that you are simply one mortal passing through the life you observe around you, and do the best you can to respect all life as you respect your own while you are here. Absolutism is not the way to respect all life.

Nature’s goal, if we can think of it that way, is to assure the continuation of species. This is accomplished by the provision of far, far more potential adult specimens than the Earth could possibly support. Consider a large oak tree. Over its life, it produces literally millions of acorns. Only a few, or maybe none, become mighty oaks. If they did, the entire earth would soon be covered by oaks, wiping out virtually all other species.

The same can be said for literally every other species, plant or animal, that was 100% successful at reproduction. This includes humans. Women have about a million eggs, of which about 300 ovulate during her lifetime, the rest simply dying. With over seven billion of us already, it’s clear we have been quite successful at continuing our species without 300 additional births for each woman. We’re certainly in no danger of imminent extinction. In fact, we’re in the process of making our own lives untenable because of our numbers and our irresponsible behavior, not because of our failure to reproduce.

Anti-abortion absolutists cannot claim
to respect life while ignoring the
13,000 children who die every day.

There is a severe moral conflict between wanting to protect the unborn, at whatever stage they are, and failing to respect the lives that are already here and needing our help to survive. If you are an absolutist, and insist on saving every fertilized egg and collection of cells, you cannot claim that you respect life if at the same time you ignore the 13,000 children under five who die from starvation or from easily cured conditions every day.

An anti-abortionist must ask herself why so many thousands of living, breathing, desperately loved children are so unimportant that they should be allowed to die while we hold the means to save them, yet we must save every fertilized egg or collection of cells too small to see.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I agree with this viewpoint, and they’ve also done studies that say the higher the birth rate the higher the homicide rate 20 years later (about the time those babies are old enough to murder others). So, you can’t have everything. By lowering birth rates, we lower homicide rates 20 years later (they have good studies of these results in South America). It’s not about preventing murder, it’s about preventing the age at which it happens. It’s a cruel cruel world. Preventing pregnancy in the first place would be ideal, but not allowing abortions in high birth rate areas might be an act of cruelty to those living 20 years later.


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