A Question of Existence

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I looked down at the red stain on my underwear. I had learned about this. I could handle this. But the first conscious through that went through my mind, “Shit, this is as bad as getting pregnant.”

Quite young at the time, I had just had my menarche. Instead of a sense of shock that this had finally happened, I had a sense of dread. I didn’t understand the circumstances at the time, but I had thought that starting your period was your first step towards getting pregnant. I will admit, I was a very innocent child. Being brought up in a first-generation conservative Indian family, I had never received the “birds-and-the-bees” talk. I had never been told about what puberty was, with the exception of elementary school puberty videos. No one spoke of it in our house. When she deemed it was time, my mother brought home bras, handed them to me and said “stay away from boys.”

But as I walked to that nurses office that day, the only thoughts that ran through my head were of being pregnant. That I couldn’t do it. How would I do it? I knew there was a way to stop it, although at the time, the term abortion was unknown to me.

Disclaimer: All of the thoughts expressed in this article, are in no way intended to attack or defend either pro-life or pro-choice sides. There are obviously both sides to this very thin coin. While we can argue about the right to privacy and bodily rights, the rights of life, and everything in between, this article is intended to provide a deeper insight into some of the overlooked issues regarding the abortion debate.

As a eleven-year-old, I was worried about getting pregnant. At the age of eleven, I felt the pressure. I felt the burden of the societal expectations that I was not fulfilling. What about those women who actually had the potential to carry the baby? Can we even imagine the emotional impact of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Can we imagine the dark psychological struggle of power that a woman must deal with? The rebellion against societal expectations is only the tip of the very large iceberg.

It is ironic to think that there are teenagers having unprotected (and protected) sex at this very moment, creating another life, while there are middle-aged infertile women desperately praying for that same life to drop into their arms. In essence, the people that are competent enough to have children can’t have them and the ones that aren’t have too many.

We say that we currently live in a free world. For many, existence in such a free world means having the right to get an abortion. However, this also means that a pro-life fanatic can walk into an abortion clinic and blow it up because it is a “free world”. Thus, the creation of buffer zones, which regulate how close protesters can come to the clinic or to the patients. In the United States and some Canadian localities, it is a legal offense to obstruct access to a clinic or doctor’s office where abortions are performed. But the existence of such buffer zones also tells us something about humanity: the difference of opinion that makes each one of us unique, also has the potential to tear us apart. A wise friend once said “there’s always somebody that wants it… different.” That somebody isn’t a somebody. It is everybody. Everybody wants it different.

In our 21st century modern society, there are still so many obstacles in getting an abortion. In the United States, some states impose a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure, prescribe the distribution of information on fetal development, or require that parents be contacted if their minor daughter requests an abortion. In others, there is a requirement that the woman must obtain the consent of her husband to the abortion. In the United Kingdom, two doctors must first certify that an abortion is medically or socially necessary before it can be performed. Other countries in which abortion is normally illegal, will allow one to be performed only in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the pregnant woman’s life or health. For many women, medical tourism becomes a viable option. The woman travels to another country to terminate her pregnancy. Women without the means to travel resort to providers of illegal abortions or try to do it themselves. And those nations that ban abortion entirely (Chile¹, El Salvador, Malta, and Nicaragua) have rises in maternal death directly and indirectly due to these unsafe abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that bans in states must include exceptions for threats to the woman’s health, physical health, and mental health.

It’s amazing how a question about life can get to technical. There are politicians who sit in a room and argue about what terminology to use for each side pro-choice (anti-life, pro-death, pro-abortion) and pro-life (anti-choice, pro-coercion). They debate about what to call the “thing” (for the lack of a better term) inside the woman’s uterus: a embryo or fetus vs. baby or unborn child. I will admit that terminology does play a small role in the discussion because asking such questions is all about phrasing. Although subtle, dehumanization of subjects is a valid argument. But where did we lose our focus? When did the decision become a meal for political vultures to demolish? When did we let the decision slip out of our hands?

There are some doctors that are entirely against it. Whether due to their religious or ethical beliefs, they think that abortions should not be performed. There is nothing wrong with that. However, there are some doctors that perform abortions against their will. Why you may ask? In an age of over 300 million people in the United States, there are only 17,000 abortion providers. Many of these abortion providers, despite their beliefs, are forced to perform abortions in order to satisfy the demand. In fact, in the United States, the Supreme Court has allowed that in states where a second physician is present, the second physician can save the fetus if it is viable at the time of the abortion. Although this applies to more late-term abortions, it signifies a definite compromise between the two sides.

There are some that simplify the situation entirely. Are we animals? If the answer is yes, then we should be allowed to have abortions. Just as abortion is induced in animals, abortions in humans should be allowed under the context of animal husbandry. Is an abortion considered a medical practice? If the answer is yes, then we should treat it like a medical practice and leave it to the discretion of the individual receiving the treatment. Although the situation can again get sticky with the issues of patients in a coma, patients whose life is threatened, etc.

And then there are sex-selective abortions. Popular in India and China, where the pressure to produce a son dominates family life, many pregnancies have been aborted after pre-natal sex screening. With the burden of dowries in India and the One-Child Policy in China, many parents want a son who can provide for them, carry on the family name, and fulfill their funeral rites. And what of the aborted females? What happens to them? Well, they don’t exist. Which not only throws off the gender ratios but also undermines the concept of motherhood. In Eastern societies, the relationship between a mother and her child is valued supremely. Not that it isn’t in Western societies. However, while Western societies take one day out of the year to honor mothers (Mother’s Day), Eastern societies (with the exception of their current Westernization) do not have such a holiday. Eastern societies instill the concept of respect within children from a young age and children are expected to respect and be appreciative of their mother at all times. With this said, why do the highest rates of female foeticide occur in China and India?

The Indian government has passed an official ban upon the practice of sex-selective abortion in 2002. 2002– the same year Queen Elizabeth died, the same year as the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the same year that the second Harry Potter movie came out. The Chinese government passed an official ban upon the practice of sex-selective abortions in 2003.2003- the same year that Apple launched iTunes, the same year that the United States launched war on Iraq and Saddam Hussain was captured, the same year that the Human Genome Project was completed.

The earliest secular laws regulating abortion reflect a concern with class and caste purity and preservation of male prerogatives.

In ancient times, abortion, along with infanticide, had been considered a matter of family planning, gender selection, population control, and the property rights of the patriarch. Rarely were the rights of the prospective mother, much less the prospective child, taken into consideration. Although generally legal, the morality of abortion, birth control and child abandonment (as a form of infanticide) was sometimes discussed. Then, as now, these discussions often concerned the nature of man, the existence of a soul, and the beginning of human personhood.

While the practice of infanticide (as a form of family planning) has largely died out, child abandonment, birth control, and abortion are still very much with us; and their morality and legality continues to be debated. While modern debates about abortion retain some of the language of these older debates, the terminology has often acquired new meanings. Thus, while quickening was once seen as evidence that the spirit of reason had “animated” the fetus, few modern people would consider the fetus to be a “reasonable creature” in any sense of the term.Any discussion of the putative personhood of the fetus will be complicated by the current legal status of children. They are not full persons  at law until they have reached the age of majority and are deemed able to enter into contracts and sue or be sued at law. However, for the past two centuries, they have been treated as persons for the limited purposes of Offence against the person law. Furthermore, as one American judge noted, “if a fetus is a person, it is a person in very special circumstances — it exists entirely within the body of another much larger person and usually cannot be the object of direct action by another person.”

While this judgment discusses the logistical difficulties of treating the fetus as an independent being, it should be noted that the “other person” being talked about is, with the exception of underage unwed mothers, usually a person in the full legal sense of the term.²

There is also the question of medical safety. In the United States, very few states allow for late-term abortions when the women’s life or physical health is at risk. But what about abortions in cases where the fetus is deformed? In cases of rape? Incest? Contraception failure? What of fetal pain? Can the “thing” feel the pain of the abortion? While religious zealots can sit and argue about these issues all day, I’m sure every individual has their own personal views they adhere to. In summary, abortions are safe. The popular Abortion-Breast Cancer Hypothesis is also null and void. There is no link to having an abortion and getting breast cancer. There is also no definite link between allowing abortions and the crime rate. Many think that legalizing abortions will lower the crime rate: there is no definite proof.

And after the abortion? Post-abortion syndrome does not have any medical ground. It has been proven that having an abortion, does not make you any more or less likely to be depressed. With that being said, this proves as a testament to women everywhere. Not only must they attempt to live up to the ideals expected of them by society, they have overcome the mental obstacles to continue with their life. Every woman is different, so it goes to say that each woman deals with her emotions differently.

The reasons women want abortions range. For many, they didn’t recognize that they were pregnant or are at a point in their life where they cannot handle a baby. For others its about pressure: pressure from parents, a partner, a religious individual, a friend. Many late-term abortions (about 8%) occur because the woman was waiting for her relationship to change. The woman is waiting for change (still?).  In a society that flaunts itself for selecting a president whose campaign was CHANGE, we have women waiting for their partners or parents to accept the situation that they are in. Are we will such a close-minded society that we can’t accept individuals in a difficult situation. Granted we can play the name game and blame the individual for putting herself in such a situation, but isn’t it our job, as a loved one, to “have and to hold..in sickness and in health”?³

In a sense, this relates to the issue of having a wet campus at Rice. And as far-fetched as this analogy might seem, hear me out. Currently, Rice University has a wet campus, which means that students are free to drink (even underage students). With the increasing number of midnight ambulance calls, the Rice administration (mostly the Dean of Undergraduates: Dr. Hutchinson) decided that the campus should be put on probation until further notice. Now, everyone knows that college students are going to drink. Rice’s philosophy is that the students shouldn’t have to hide it because that will cause only more problems. By allowing them to do it freely, they will be responsible and appreciate the freedom. Relating to the abortion issue: You know abortions are going to happen. They have been happening since the beginning of time. The question of existence is … one of existence. It has been around since mankind has been around. Thus, the problem that remains is do we want everyone to do it sneakily or legalize it and allow everyone to get the proper care? Perhaps this will increase the likelihood and the number of abortions, just like continuing the alcohol policy as is might increase the number of ambulance calls. But the issue is, are we willing to take the risk? Are we willing to take that risk that things could get worse, despite the fact that the problem will continue regardless? Deal or no deal?

1. The Chilean government had the common sense to begin the free distribution of emergency contraception in 2006. I say common sense because there would be no government without people and if people are dying, it is the government’s job to help them. If nothing else than to continue their own existence, it is the government’s responsibility to save the half of their population that produces offspring.
2. This is an excerpt from Wikipedia. Before you start attacking my bones, this information is largely cited [I just removed the citations for simplicity] and it provides a good basic background.
3. There is no implication that being pregnant or having an abortion indicates being sick or healthy. The reference was included for more of a medical emphasis than anything else.

EDIT: I would recommend taking a look at this article. Definitely reiterates some of the points I’ve made.

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