If someone walked up to a woman who is pregnant and slugged her purposely in the womb and killed the baby, should the perpetrator be tried for murder? Most of us would say yes. But if that’s the case, why is it that the very same lady could walk into any abortion facility in the country and kill the baby with impunity?
I’ve often wondered about that. Why is a fetus considered a human being if a woman wants it? But if the woman does NOT want the fetus, it is not considered human. In America today, it is a curious reality that a woman’s wish has the power to determine what is human and what is not human.
Now that may seem ridiculous and totally unprecedented, but there are other cases in which a person’s will determines the classification of a thing. For instance, if I leave a sofa outside by the street because I don’t want it anymore and am hoping the trash collectors or someone else will take it off my hands, the sofa could be classified as trash, junk or garbage. However, if I put the sofa near the street temporarily because I am moving and I don’t have room for it in the truck, it would be considered personal property. The person who takes it could only be punished for taking it if I still wanted the property. Certainly, we can’t punish a trash collector for doing his or her job. But we could punish a thief. What’s the difference? Intention. Specifically, my intention as the owner of that piece of property.
If I can turn something into trash just by my will–by wanting or not wanting it–is it too much of a stretch to think of the mother’s will as being able to make something human or not? That probably depends on your world view. If humans are just accidents and animals, you might look at it the same way you would the food industry. A person may want a chicken for a variety of reasons. The will does change its classification from, say, pet to commodity. However, if we are above the animals with “certain inalienable rights” that we inherited from our Creator, then no amount of wishing can change our classification.
There are many kinds of killing, but not all are murder and at the heart of the distinction lies intention or will. What one wills often does make a difference in the classification of a killing. Homicide, first degree, second degree, vehicular homicide, involuntary manslaughter…All of these classifications have to do with degrees of intention. A person in war who fires upon and kills an enemy combatant cannot rightly be called a murderer. Did the death of that other person occur? Yes. The difference is why the solider did it. Self defense or just following orders, in this case.
Still, in none of these situations does the will change the victim into anything less than human. For example, a person who is killed by a drunk driver–who didn’t set out to murder anyone but probably just wanted to get home or somewhere else–is still a person. The enemy combatant, while an enemy, was still a human being. The will changes the classification of the event but never the classification of the victim. A person killed, whether through intent or negligence, is still a person. Just as a chicken used for food or as a pet is still a chicken.
Now let’s look at abortion. We have different terms for killing a fetus based on intention. Abortion and feticide. It is called abortion, not murder, because the mother is killing the fetus for certain reasons, such as to save the baby from a cruel and difficult life of poverty, to give the mother a better chance at success if she doesn’t have a baby to tend to, to save family from embarrassment, etc. In other words, their intention or motive is not murder out of hate for the child. It is something else entirely. I assume that no mother has ever walked into an abortion facility thinking, “I hate this thing inside of me. I just want to kill it!” Maybe some have, but I assume the majority of women who have abortions do so for other, even laudable, reasons.
So, it’s easy to understand how the reasons behind the killing can change the classification of the act. It is called abortion not murder. However, it is also easy to see that the reasons behind the killing cannot change the classification of the fetus. That brings me to the second word we use for killing a fetus: feticide, aka Fetal Homicide.
Currently, 38 states have laws that punish the killing of a fetus in acts of violence against pregnant women. According to the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a fetus is a “child in uterus.”
In the case of abortion, the fetus is not a child. In the case of feticide, it is a “child in uterus.”
Can we have it both ways? I understand that the UVVA and other fetal homicide laws have been promulgated largely by pro-lifers in an attempt to establish the fetus as a human and protect the fetus with the same rights. In some cases, the law has had unintended consequences: women who have lost their babies due to failed suicide attempts or drug use have been charged with the crime of feticide.
I am torn on the issue. On one hand, logic tells me that we must conclude the fetus is human. That idea is beyond the scope of this essay, but I believe Roe V. Wade copped out on this issue, passed the buck on this one, and feticide laws are an attempt to stop this buck passing. On the other hand, I realize that if I were a woman, I’d probably want the right to choose whether to go through with an unwanted pregnancy.
Still, on neither hand can I recognize that women have magical powers, that just by their wishes they determine what’s human, or not.
I can accept that a woman’s wish changes the classification of the event. If the mother doesn’t want the baby and chooses to terminate the pregnancy, it is abortion. However, there is still the loss of a human life, and nothing can change that no matter how much we may wish it weren’t so.