Examining the question of whether the fetus is or is not a "person" .

Do the rights of the fetus take precedent over the rights of the woman whose body it inhabits?   Tough answers to tough questions...


is far from realistic or kind  to women who bear the burden of becoming pregnant.  The question that is really  being addressed by the personhood debate is- Do the rights of the fetus/embryo take precedent over the rights of the woman whose body it inhabits?  

 

Many believe, including myself, that the answer to this question is - No.   One important premise behind a woman's right to choose is the basic belief that the rights of the woman who carries the embryo should take precedent over the rights of that embryo/fetus.  This makes sense as the woman would be considered a "person"- a contributing member to her community.  However, the fetus is often considered only a "potential person"-  not yet a contributing member to society with responsibilities, dependents and the ability to engage in higher cognitive thoughts.  Thus many feel as I do, the embryo/fetus should not be granted greater rights over those who are present and contributing members to society.  This does not mean potential life is not sacred or valued, it just means that it is not valued over the one whose body it inhabits.  

 

  Some women may be able to carry the weight of having a child with little consequence, but to some women, childbirth is a burden that is of great risk to them especially if they are not well-supported, and are in poor health.  The risks of childbirth may be too great to some women's physical, emotion, and/or financial health to even consider giving birth.  Do you honestly think that those women should be forced to carry an embryo to term at their own expense under all or any circumstances, with little regard to their own lives, and/or the lives of the children who depend on them?  

 

These are the circumstances that many women who choose abortion face.  Many woman must answer the heart wrenching and difficult question which is... Will carrying another child to term be something I can do without risking my own health and stability that my other children depend on?  Only that woman can answer that.  It is a question she alone has the right to answer and act on.  

 

It is certainly heartbreaking for many women to not be in the position to have the potential life that they carry, but the demands and stresses of life- illness,poverty, addiction, mental disease, and financial destituteness may limit her ability to endure childbirth and/or motherhood.

 

Adoption many say is the answer,  and indeed it is for many women a good answer.  However, for many women it is not a viable choice especially in the face of significant physical or mental illness.  Carrying a child to term is no walk in a field of daisies for many.  Carrying a child to term carries with it great risk to the mom's health, and many times great risk to her ability to work and maintain her current employment.  This is the reality many women especially marginalized women live with.  Adoption is certainly a great option, but not always a possible or a reasonable one depending upon the circumstances.  

 

As a physician researcher in women's health I feel it is imperative that I remind people about the dangers of pregnancy/childbirth for some women. Pregnancy can be a wonderful and miraculous time for some who are in good health and who are well supported; but, for others it is a true health burden.  In this country  we know that maternal mortality is on the rise and it is higher here than in some 3rd world countries.  Furthermore for every one maternal death there is about 50-100 "near misses"  which is not a death but close to it. These near misses are the cause of significant  morbidity and disability for many women.  These dangers are  much greater (3-4 times greater) for Black women, Native American women, and poor women.  

 

I have have heard on numerous occasions from women who seek abortion care that they are here because the last birth they had they almost died, and they are worried that this birth will end their life for good.   While there is chance that another birth won't take their lives, there certainly is a chance that it might.  I know this first hand as a physician for women.   Women choose abortion usually not because they do not value the potential life they can bring into the world, but they have to value their own lives and the lives that depend on them first.

 

 In many ways deciding to have an abortion can be like deciding on whether or not to wage war.  We know that by going to war some innocent lives will be lost, but if we don't go to war, we still risk our own lives, the lives of our families, and our way of life to another country.  When we are faced with significant threats to self we fight, we pray, and we mourn our losses.   Yet at the end of the day most of use would choose to do it again the same way because our lives and our freedoms depend on it.  

 

 We, women have the right to defend our own bodies, our health , and our children's health even if means choosing to have an abortion.  We will always have this right, and our rights take precedent over the rights of the potential life we can bring into this world.  This may be a tough stance, but it is a necessary one, and God is on our side on this one.