Jul 22, 2011

Ruth Pakaluk debating "Human Rights & Abortion" at Boston College

Ruth Pakaluk opening statement in the Abortion and Human Rights debate held at Boston College in January 1995.

The title of tonight’s debate is ‘Abortion and Human Rights’. I’m going to give my presentation is 3 sections. The first section will be simply an overview of how abortion is actually practiced in the United States, because that is in fact the subject of this debate. The second section will be a discussion of Human Rights - what that phrase means. The third section will be to consider abortion in the light of the concept of Human Rights.

First, what is the practice of abortion in the United States? Is it something that is uncommon, and women resort to only in extreme circumstances or has it become commonplace, everyday.

There are 1.6 Million abortions performed each year in the US, abortions have been taking place at about that level for about 22 years which means there are a total of about 35 Million abortions since the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand. It’s difficult to translate 35 Million abortions into human terms, one way to visualize that is to consider in Massachusetts the abortion rate is 1 out of every 3 pregnancies, so for every three woman who become pregnant, 1 will choose abortion. Since that has been the rate for about the past two decades it means that for every age group, from newborn right up to college sophomores, for each two individuals you see, there was a third individual conceived about the same time but who was aborted.

At what stage in pregnancy are abortions performed? Abortion advocates often focus on a single cell, the fertilized egg. How can we think of a single cell as a human person with rights? And I agree that’s an extremely difficult concept but it has nothing to do with the abortion debate since there is no such thing as the abortion of a single cell. The earliest stage at which an abortion of a pregnancy can be performed is about the fifth week after conception, and if you look at them, each colored brochure that was handed out you can see that even at that stage, the earliest at which abortions are performed, we’re already talking about something of a recognizable human anatomy: head, torso, arms, legs.

The vast majority of abortions are performed between the 7th and 14th weeks. In Massachusetts the median gestational age at which abortions are performed is the ninth week – that means that half of all abortions that are done in this state are after the ninth week. And if you look at this brochure, and what we’re going to see is that most reasonable people are going to agree that what this thing looks like at that stage is a miniature human infant.

Nevertheless when a woman goes into an abortion facility, she is not told that what is in her uterus has a recognizable human appearance. She is not told that her unborn child already has a heartbeat which in most cases would be detectable if you simply placed an electronic stethoscope on her abdomen she would be able to hear her own unborn child’s heartbeat.

Many Americans remain persuaded that abortion is only legal in the first trimester. You don’t have to look very far to find out that that is not true. [holds up Yellow Page] This is a yellow pages from the Boston Phone book, two pages of ads for abortion. The Planned Parenthood ad advertizes abortion up to 18 weeks.

[Lifts up pre-born baby model] This is a life size model of what a developing human looks like, 18 week after conception. This is a free standing abortion facility, not a hospital. You don’t have to give any medical reason, this is just what would be - a woman wants an abortion, a child of this gestational age would simply be destroyed by abortion.

Pre-Term, which is a much larger abortion facility, advertizes abortion up to 22 weeks, what would be a full month further into pregnancy than this [holds 18 week pre-born model up again]. I that that most reasonable people would agree that to call this a cluster of cells, pregnancy tissue or a product of conception – which is routinely the kind of language that is used to describe what is going to be removed from the woman’s uterus – I think most of us can agree that to call this a cluster of cells is not completely descriptive or completely accurate.

Finally one of the reasons, one of the problems that drive so many woman to choose abortion. Abortion advocates frequently speak of victims of rape and incest - but how many of the 1.6 Million abortions each year are actually done because a woman was a victim of rape or incest? Or the other hard case scenarios, her child is diagnosed to be handicapped, or she herself has a serious health problem that is aggravated by pregnancy.

I have here a photocopy of an article that was published in Family Planning Perspectives, which is the research journal of the Guttmacher Institute, which is the research arm of Planned Parenthood. This is a very accurate survey administered to women nationwide, asking them ‘why are you having this abortion?’ I am going to read to you the top 6 ranked reasons the women themselves gave as being the most important reason I am having this abortion, and if you add up these six you account for about 93% of all the abortions done in the United States.
1.“I can’t afford a baby now”
2.“I’m not ready for the responsibility”
3.“I have problems with this relationship”
4.“I want to avoid single parenthood”
5.“I’m not mature enough to have a child”
6.“I already have as many children as I want”

Now, what I think is interesting about these reasons is that these are what we would call socio-economic reasons. These are problems, I will not say that these are not problems, they could be very burdensome serious situations, nevertheless all these problems lend themselves to some solution other than destroying the life of that developing human.

According to this survey if you add up all of the women who are having abortions because they are the victims of rape or incest, because the child was diagnosed as having some handicap, or because she was told by a doctor, a physician that she had a health problem that would be aggravated by remaining pregnant, those abortions account for less than 3% of the 1.6 million abortions performed each year.

Now, Human Rights. Most Americans claim to believe in Human Rights. But what does someone mean, when they use that phrase, ‘Human Rights.” There are many rights: legal rights, legal rights are arrived at when a Legislature debates something, then votes and majority wins, and then passes a law. Legal Rights are changeable, things like the age at which you can drive, the age at which you can drink alcohol, the age at which you can vote. There are Constitutional Rights, these are the rights which our government at its founding has specified that these had to be respected by our government. When we use the phrase “Human Rights’ we mean something more fundamental, than legislative or constitutional rights, we mean something that is prior to any government, any society, any person’s opinion. A Human Right is something that arises merely because you are human, not because you are human and strong, human and wealthy, human and powerful, pleasant, attractive, interesting. No, a human right is a freedom, a liberty you posses merely because you are human. Period.

Now this concept requires that every living human must possess human rights, and a corollary of that would be there cannot be any living individual human who does not possess human rights. If you could find any living human who does not have human rights, you would have proven that human rights in fact do not exist.

Now what does this have to do with abortion? Let me be perfectly clear, we have to ask two questions, they are really quite simple questions, they are not difficult, they are not ambiguous, they are not religious questions, they are not even philosophical questions, they are just factual questions. Consider the thing in the womb of a pregnant woman and ask:
1.Is it living?
Now whenever you take a course in biology you find a preface of the biology text book will usually have a general discussion of what biology is, the study of living things, and there will be some checklist of characteristics of living things, after all a biologist is not going to study minerals or chemicals, or asteroids, galaxies. A biologist will study living things, [inaudible] of whether or not the thing you are studying under a microscope is living or not, inanimate matter. What are the characteristics of all living things? And all things that have these characteristics are living things: they take in nourishment, they grow, and they will show differentiation of function coordinated under a unified whole. Like functions of respiration, ingesting nutrients, excreting wastes. Even a one celled animal has all these different functions going on, but they are coordinated under a unified whole.

Every rational, educated person must acknowledge that the thing in the womb of the pregnant woman is a living thing. It is some kind of living organism. It is not inanimate matter.
The second question is similarly simple and straightforward, and factual. You ask the question:
2.What species does this living thing belong to?
There is no such thing as a living organism that belongs to no species, and there is no such thing as a living organism that starts out as one species and becomes another. That does not exist. Again, every rational, educated person must acknowledge that that living animal in the womb of the pregnant woman belongs to the species of homo sapiens, just like all of us in this room.
It is an individual living member of the human race.
It is not a part of the woman’s body. It is in her body, but it is not a part of her body any more than if she were to swallow a live goldfish in some sort of crazy sorority initiation – that goldfish would be in her body, it would not be part of her body.

If Human Rights truly exist – we don’t just use those words to sound pretty, to dress up an argument – If Human Rights truly exist then that living human in the womb must possess them. And if you think that abortion is acceptable, you do not believe that human rights exist.

Now that’s a pretty analytic approach to this question, but I would like to present you with something that’s a little more pointed. Most abortion advocates are perfectly well aware that a fetus is living and a fetus is human. They don’t focus on this in their public rhetoric, but when pushed they are rational and they are educated people and they know the laws of biology and zoology. But I would like to read a particularly striking example, I could read you many, many examples, I collect these examples, but I don’t have time so I’ll read to you the most revealing. It comes from this book [holds up book], In Necessity and Sorrow – Life and Death in an Abortion Hospital, written by this woman [turns to back of book] Monica Dennis, she was Pro-Choice when she wrote the book, she’s still Pro-Choice. She spent three months in an abortion facility, observing and interviewing, and this is what we see in this collection of her observations and interviews.

I will read to you her eyewitness account of an abortion, which took place 15 weeks after conception, if you look at the brochure you can see on the back panel there’s a photograph of a child spontaneously miscarried at 14 weeks after conception so this is roughly the gestational age we are talking about. So you will understand what is going on I will tell you that the person doing the abortion is named Dr. Holtzman. The nurse who was assisting was Mr. Smith, and the woman having the abortion is under general anesthesia, so she is unconscious, that’s why they are talking as if she’s not there because she cannot hear them.

Dr. Holtzman pulls out something which he slaps on the table. “There it is” he says, “a leg.” I turn to Mr. Smith, “What did he say?”
“He pulled a leg off”, Mr. Smith says. “Right here.”
He points to the instrument table, where there is a perfectly formed, slightly bent leg, about 3 inches long. It consists of a ripped thigh, a knee, a lower leg, a foot and five toes.
“I have the rib cage now” Holtzman says as he slaps down another piece of the fetus. “There, I got the head out now.”
I look at the instrument table where next to the leg, and next to the mess he calls the rib cage but which I cannot recognize, there lies a head. It is the smallest human head I have ever seen. But it is unmistakably part of a human person.

That’s what it is to be Pro-Choice. It is to believe that under some circumstances, some human beings may choose to kill other human beings.

1 comment :

Tom said...

Ruth Pakaluk santa subito!