Personhood vs. Parenthood

I heard the other day about an amendment on the Colorado ballot that would define Personhood as beginning at the moment of conception.  This is clearly a pro-life effort, working to determine a concrete definition of when life begins, which would eventually lead to outlawing abortion by defining abortion as the murder of an unborn child.

I’m not willing to go so far as to use the word murder, but at the same time, I’m not willing to say that a fetus isn’t a living being either.  And really, what this all comes down to is parsing words in a battle over rights.  The rights of the unborn child vs. the rights of the unwilling mother.  To parse words and say “in cases of rape or incest it’s OK, but not otherwise” is disingenuous.  If it’s the taking of a life, it’s the taking of a life, no matter how that life came to be.  It’s not the baby’s fault that it was conceived due to rape or incest.

My thought on this matter is, yes, it is a life.  It is a potential life, because if it were allowed to continue on, it would result in a baby.  And babies are people.  But sometimes the rights of the mother and the rights of the child are at odds with each other, and a decision has to be made, as to whether the mother’s rights or the child’s rights take priority.  The mother, being the sentient being, has the rights, until the baby is born.  The baby’s rights are secondary to hers.  Is it pretty?  No.  It’s an ugly reality.  The mother has the right to determine whether she will or will not give birth to a child, period.  Because we cannot take the child out of her, and give it that opportunity to survive elsewhere, her rights supersede those of the child.

Does this suck?  Indeed, it does.  But at some level, I wish we could all get beyond the legal arguing over when life begins or doesn’t begin, and move on to making abortion as rare as we possibly can.  We can do that by supporting women when they become pregnant.  We can give them health care and child care, so that an unplanned baby doesn’t signal a death sentence to their dreams.  We can do this by providing free contraception to anyone who wants it.  It’s cheaper than providing abortions, and it’s a lot cheaper than providing health care for a pregnancy and a child.  We can do this by providing age appropriate sex education to children and teenagers.  Give them the information that they need, so that they can decide for themselves what chances they’re willing to take.

Making abortion illegal will not stop them from occurring.  Women had abortions before they were legalized, and desperate women will take desperate measures.  Abortion needs to be available and legal to anyone who needs one.  We cannot go back to the days of illegal and unsafe abortions.  But if both sides on this issue would stop parsing words and fighting about the moment when life begins, and spend their money, efforts, and time on preventing as many unwanted pregnancies as we can, perhaps we can truly make it rare.

14 thoughts on “Personhood vs. Parenthood

  1. I’ve long said that abortion will always be around, it’s just a matter if we keep it safe and legal…

    I love, love, love this line: “I wish we could all get beyond the legal arguing over when life begins or doesn’t begin, and move on to making abortion as rare as we possibly can.”


    (Look forward to the meme!)

  2. I agree with some of what you are saying and I disagree with some of it.

    If life does begin at the moment of conception, as I believe it does, the argument that we should make it as rare as possible is like saying we should make murder as rare as possible. Yes, we should, but we should outlaw it all together.

  3. I consider life to be at conception and abortion is not something I would choose for me. I also feel that the government should not have a say in what a woman chooses to do with her body. I think we need to instead spend money on good organizations like Planned Parenthood who still give information, free contraception and sterilization to those who cannot afford it. Murder, rape and poor judgment are unfortunately always going to be a part of our society. I wish it weren’t, but that is the fact. Making criminals out of women in unfortunate circumstances is not the answer.

  4. Always a touchy subject. I personally feel that killing is wrong. I cannot expect a woman to raise the child of a rapist, or from an incest situation. These “fairly rare” cases aside, I have long felt that abortion is used as a tool of convenience. Like all other facets of our society, we similarly come up short on personal responsibility here. As harsh as it sounds, people made their own beds, and they need to lie in them. Killing another human being is not acceptable behavior because two individuals exercised poor judgment/are not ready/are not married/are too young/etc, etc, etc.

  5. Great post! Much of what you said reminds me of when Bill Clinton said: “We need to make abortions, safe, legal, and rare.”

  6. I think the question of when life begins is an important one worth considering, but the debate over it typically does little more than help antacid sales.

    Both sides seem to agree that, regardless of whether life begins at conception or a later stage, it is at least a ‘potential life’. And if it is at the very least a potential life, an abortion is a serious choice.

    With Jessica, I like what you said: “I wish we could all get beyond the legal arguing over when life begins or doesn’t begin, and move on to making abortion as rare as we possibly can.”

  7. Wow… I am surprised to see that issue here.

    I voted on it, as I live in Denver.

    It’s a tricky amendment, that one… the wording is the tricky part. People were all over the map on this. Some said that giving rights to a fetus (including land rights, legal rights, property rights… etc.) was ridiculous.
    Others said that from the moment of conception, the life inside the womb must have rights.

    I think this will continue to come up in ballots for many, many years to come. And, I hope that it becomes rare, and then obsolete.

    Will we ever all be on the same page?

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

  8. I was glad when Barack Obama said in debate, “No one is ever PRO-abortion.” How true! It’s a terrible, terrifying, and tragic decision for everyone concerned. As J. said, the abortion issue contains many ugly realities and as Autumn’s Mom said, many sad truths that will always be present in our society. But to allow legislation to criminalize women for this wrenching choice is not among the answers to the questions it provokes.

  9. The fact that an embryo or fetus is alive and human does not make it a person with the right to life. Every cell in our body is both human and alive, yet we don’t worry about giving blood for testing or scraping off a few skin cells in a fall. A fertilized egg is distinctive because, in addition to being alive and human, it might develop into a born baby given the right conditions. What supporters of Amendment 48 cannot show, however, is that a potential baby has the moral status of an actual baby. The difference between them is enormous.

    An embryo or fetus is wholly dependent on the woman for its basic life-functions. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as an extension of her body, contained within and dependent on her for its survival. It is only a potential person, not an actual person. That situation changes radically at birth. The newborn baby exists as a distinct organism, separate from his mother. Although still very needy, he lives his own life. He is a person — and individual. His life must be protected as a matter of right.

    Consequently, when a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy she does not violate the rights of any person. Instead, she is exercising her own rights over her own body — likely in pursuit of her own health, well-being, and happiness. Amendment 48 would destroy those rights in Colorado.

    For more, see:

  10. Not only was that a great post J……I really liked Miss Diana Hsieh’s comment. That’s one hell of an argument.
    That’s a tough one for me. I’ll always consider a fetus as a human being worthy of protection in my heart no matter the argument.

  11. This is such a well written and thoughtful post. It made me think. Your point about the potential for life is very interesting. I wonder, how can conception be considered life or personage if those cells on their own could not sustain life? Women should be able to make decisions about their own bodies according to their own beliefs. Thanks for posting about the heated topic.


  12. It’s such a difficult subject and rightly so. I’m broadly in agreement with you. I’d say that rights can only begin when biologically independent life is possible. But that standpoint opens up yet another can of worms. Certainly, I’d never vote for a party who intended to outlaw abortion – that choice, that control over one’s body as a woman should surely be an inalienable right up to the point that the baby can exist and thrive outside the womb.

  13. I am just worried about all those back rooms and do it yourself abortions, that have GRAVE effects on the girls/women. Better to keep it legal.

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