Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Long Awaited Abortion Post

Quick Personal Update: I'm on Spring Break!! Hallelujah, 7 entire days of no school! I passed Host Defense 2 with a 76% (I've never been so content with a 76% before!), and then we have only 2.5 weeks of Host Defense 3 before 3 neuro blocks come along, then summer vacation! Fantastic (I was a physiology major with an emphasis in neurobiology, so I'm pretty psyched). Both my wife and son have been quite sick the last week or so, but thank God, my immune system (I don't want to TALK about immune systems anymore!!!) has withstood the onslaught. Having gotten a glorious 8 hours of sleep last night, read Dr. Seuss' "The Foot Book" 5 times to my son who is now passed out on the floor, I write the post that has been on my mind for months. I hope it, at the very least, makes you stop and go, "Hmm." Bon appetit.

I have been against abortion my entire life. My earliest memories of this include standing on the sidewalk of a busy street, probably around age 5, holding an “Abortion Kills Children” sign with my parents, sister and dozens of other people. Of course, I really knew nothing of abortion at the time, and over the years, my thoughts and views have themselves developed, from embryo to fetus to newborn, all the way on up to, perhaps, young adult? I’m sure I have much more to learn and discover, and am never willing to definitively stake that, “Aha! This now, is the ultimate truth.”

I was raised in a home where Right was Right, Wrong was Wrong, and it was as simple as that. I have since discovered that the real world is not quite so cut and dry. I remember trying to explain Anakin Skywalker from the horrible movie Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith to my young brothers. Their analysis of main characters was always “Good guy” or “Yucky bad guy.” For much of the movie, Anakin fit neither category, and I tried to explain this to my brothers by describing him as a “Yucky good guy.” Perhaps I’ll do a post someday on good and evil. But I digress.

I now consider myself a pragmatic optimist. I hope and strive for the best, but I’m also realistic. Thus, I (as a medical professional, for example) realize that, while everyone should brush his teeth, exercise regularly and eat healthfully, many (myself included) do not. While everyone should only have sex within the marriage relationship, many (myself included) have not. While everyone should realize that an abortion procedure ends a life, it’s also true that the situation is more complex than that.

I have long been frustrated with public perception of “The Pro-Lifers.” Equated with “The Republicans” and “The Religious Right”, the pro-life argument, I feel, is often dismissed out of hand. My goal here is to attempt to make you stop and think, and to at least reconsider why your views are they way they are. Is it because of your upbringing? Public image? The bedfellows of one view or the other? If you currently support abortion, I either want to convert you, or make you at least think about it enough to have solid reasons for your position. If you are reading this as someone who is against abortion already, my challenge for you is also to consider your reasoning. Be against abortion for a reason, not just because your parents are, or your political party is.

So now, with our automatic dismissal defenses turned down as low as we can get them, let’s consider what abortion is. I will not be graphic, as my goal is not to shock you over to “my side”, but to persuade you with reason. Let’s start with the relatively simple question of when does life begin. Well, quite simply, the scientific answer (I speak as a medical student) is that a new life begins at conception. With fusion of sperm and egg nuclei comes a new organism of the species Homo sapiens, whose complement of DNA is different than his father’s, or even than that of his mother whose body he is growing inside of. This is a simple question with a simple answer, but we are left with the more difficult question of, “What does that mean?

What I’ve learned after years of talking with people about induced abortion is that hardly anyone agrees on a “Do Not Cross” cutoff for when abortion “becomes” murder. When do we make the cutoff, then?

Some very reasonable people would suggest the cutoff of viability. That is to say, when the developing child is at an age where, if he was born, doctors would be able to keep him alive, then he should be protected. One of my problems with this position is that this landmark continues to shift. Fifty years ago, the point was about 30 weeks gestation. Thirty years ago, it was about 25 weeks, and it currently is around 20-21 weeks. Is it true that 50 years ago, fetuses were not humans worthy of protection until 30 weeks, but today they are now worthy of protection at 20 weeks? I hope you see the point I’m trying to make. Even still, if we had made the cutoff even 21 weeks, 1.4% of abortions in 2005 would not have occurred. Statistics obtained from the CDC, unless otherwise noted.

In embryology class, we learned that once the “fetal stage” of development begins, all the internal organs have formed, the developing child has the appearance of a tiny human, and from that point on, development consists largely of getting bigger and making the already formed organs mature. When is this point? 9 weeks gestation. Could we make this the cutoff? I believe we reasonably could. If we did, 38% of abortions in 2005 would not have occurred. If we make a beating heart the requirement, we’re talking 5 weeks gestation, and the elimination of more than 70% of abortions.

Personally, I’m not at all comfortable with all these random definitions of when life begins. I’m most comfortable just sticking to the plain science. Life begins at conception. But hey, if we can get everyone to agree to 9 weeks, when all the internal organs have established themselves, and cut out 38% of abortions, I’m all up for that. I’ll take what I can get. Really stop and think about these issues.

Now, that’s about as far as a lot of “Pro-Lifers” would go. Abortion is bad, it takes a life, end of story. Well, unfortunately, that’s NOT the end of the story, for millions of women. In 2005, 50% of women who had abortions were 24 or younger. I speak as a man who was 20 and whose fiancee was 19 years old when we (unintentionally) got pregnant: it’s not easy, even when high school is over, even when the guy is around, even when you have a support system. My heart truly bleeds for women in this situation.

This is where people from opposite ends of the spectrum can truly come together and make a difference! I’ve certainly not given up hope of one day changing the abortion laws, but I’m a realist, and I’m going to do what works. In my opinion, if I want abortions to stop, the realistic thing to do is prevention and support.

I might get a lot of heat from fellow Christians for this, but it’s what I believe, so here goes. I support full disclosure sex education. There comes a point where you have to accept that things are the way they are. Lots of people have sex who aren’t married. “Even” I, who didn’t have so much as a girlfriend until senior year in college, read every Joshua Harris book, was a Bible study leader in my campus Christian organization, had sex before I was married. It happens. Does that mean that parents shouldn’t tell their children not to? Absolutely not. I plan to tell my son how I did not wait, and then to encourage him to do so. However, I realize that, whether I like it or not, it’s going to be his decision. If he decides to, I want my son to use a condom. I want him to have all the relevant facts. I’m going to tell him that sex is fun, and I’m going to tell him that it can also be heartbreaking, and end up changing his life forever. It sure changed mine, and that’s an understatement, as those of you who know me well can attest. And I’m going to tell him that condoms can often protect against STI’s and pregnancy, but not against broken hearts.

Secondly, support. Churches, organizations, families, individuals ALL need to be there when a women gets pregnant. I’m so sick and tired of our American individualistic society. Gone are our community days. Everyone thinks he has to deal with his own problems by himself. We all need to step up and be there. Don’t be judgmental. There’s a time for everything under the sun, and the last thing she needs right then is a lecture. Fathers, mothers, take her in. Siblings, grandparents, friends, support her. Help her know she’s not in it alone. Encourage the guy to get and stay involved. Help her finish high school. Babysit her other children for her (59% of women who had an abortion in 2005 had at least one other child). THIS is where we ALL can come together and decrease the number of abortions that occur each year, a goal which I truly believe we share.

Let’s stop being so divided. Yes, I know how deep the difference is. But when the lives of so many babies are at stake, when so many women are scared and tired and alone, why can’t we just push past our differences and help them?