The Abortion Quandary
The spectacularly enlightening exhibit “Bodies,” which has been shown around the world and is currently on display in Las Vegas, features dissected and preserved human beings and their various body systems. Amid all the exposed muscles and nerves, intestines and livers, bones and brains, is a section devoted to complete embryos and fetuses in various states of development. There’s a warning sign alerting potentially queasy visitors that they may want to skip this particular gallery and exit through a side door. Dead babies, it seems, are far more troublesome than dead adults.
Seeing these unborn organisms, which range from tadpole-like blobs to fully-formed little people, reminds one of why the abortion debate is conducted so passionately. Life — or the lack thereof — appears to be at stake. The “Bodies” exhibition takes care to include fact-laden signs that both camps in the abortion wars will find comforting. The anti-abortion forces learn that a fetus possesses all its organs after nine weeks, with the liver being the first to fully form. The pro-abortionists learn that the fetus doesn’t use its lungs until it emerges from the birth canal and gets its first butt slap. And the arguments continue.
President Bush and most other avowed “pro-life” politicians insist that they are against abortion except in the case of rape or incest. Even some of the most Catholic countries in the world allow this exception. If you accept that human life begins at conception, even if, as “Bodies” reminds us, for the first 30 minutes of life every “person” is a single-cell organism akin to a simple bacteria, then allowing rape and incest exceptions suggest one of two things. Either you are asserting that there actually are legitimate circumstances under which it is permissible to kill children, or you are saying that the thing growing inside a woman’s uterus is only a child if it was conceived voluntarily.
This last bit is tricky, since one could imagine perverse circumstances in which a pregnancy from incest was, in fact, conceived voluntary and only after the fact was deemed unwanted — which is how most women who abort their fetuses feel about what grows inside them.
If abortion must be legal in cases of involuntary conception, then so-called “right-to-lifers” are tacitly acknowledging that the object being excised from the womb isn’t a child — and therefore the entire premise of their argument is undermined.
“Bodies” reminds us that abortion is a morally complex act that may, in fact, involve killing — or “murdering” in the politically useful parlance. Like capital punishment, there may be times that society (and particularly pregnant members of society) is able to balance the needs of the individual against the needs of the greater good. However you feel about abortion, seeing this exhibit will help you understand that there’s nothing simple or absolute about abortion. It’s a question as complex and inscrutable as the human body.