Abortion issue is full of blurry lines

22:58, Mar 23 2014

Tuesday marked a year of my having been a Waikato Times columnist. Since I started with a controversial issue (same-sex marriage), I figure it makes sense to celebrate a year by tackling another controversial issue. This time it's abortion.

Admittedly Family First beat me to it with the launch of its campaign, but there's still something I can add. Here's what gets me: the whole pro-choice, pro-life divide seems to have got itself confused. Pro-choice means, quite simply, that some people have the right to make choices while others don't. That right to make a choice, from what I can tell, is based on your age. If you are roughly 20 weeks or older, you have all the rights and privileges shared by the rest of humanity. If you are roughly 20 weeks or younger, you aren't human, so you don't get a right to choice.

What suddenly makes a baby human, then? I haven't found an answer yet that makes sense, which is why I sit on the side of the fence that I do.

Take, for example, the "it's just a bundle of cells" argument. Aren't we all? It's just that you and I are bigger bundles with voices, so we can protest if people want to kill us. The "not really human argument" has been tried before. Go back a few years and you'll find there were plenty of people arguing that slavery was OK because science showed that black people weren't the same species as white people. All we've done is change the category of people who "aren't like us". Instead of black people, we've made it very, very young people.

There's the dependency argument, too: foetuses aren't really another life until they can survive alone outside the womb.

Setting aside the fact that I probably wouldn't be able to survive on my own at 26 (I'd die of loneliness, if nothing else), this argument opens the door for infanticide, killing those with disabilities, and killing the very old. All of these people can't survive on their own - ought we to be able to kill them because of that?


The pro-life argument, on the other hand, boils down to a belief that all people, from the moment they come into existence, have the right to make choices; it is, in other words, the most genuinely pro-choice of all the options. For all people to benefit from this right, they must first be given the right to life. Does that impinge on mum's rights? No. Mum's right to choice came (except in that most appalling and horrific instance of rape) with deciding to have sex. If mum makes that choice and a new life is the result, she moves into the category of dealing with the consequences of her choice.

Now, when there are two human beings with the right to choice to consider, and to my mind, the rights of the most vulnerable ought to be given precedence. In this case, a very little person without a voice takes out first prize in the vulnerability stakes.

Are there difficult and blurry lines with the abortion issue? Yep, you'd better believe there are. I just mentioned rape; there is also mental health to consider, what family a child will be brought into and a host of other factors. But we did away with the death sentence for fear of getting it wrong once. What if we are killing human beings because of what might happen, when they would have been fine?

The sad part is that there are so many other options aside from aborting a child: There is adoption, fostering and even just informal mentoring that can help provide a child with the opportunity to flourish. Of all the choices we have, why do we choose the very one that means the life we were part of creating will never get that same privilege: choice?