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Life Begins at Conception March 15, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Family, Morality, Parenting/Children, Politics, Religion.
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Author’s Note:

This is a work of fiction, set in the Spring of 2007. Many of the views expressed in this story are my own, but the situation is contrived from the personal experiences of my friends, and not my own life. It should be viewed as a starting point for discussion.

I am devastated.

This morning, we were having a baby. My wife and I had dreamed of this for years, but lately, it seemed to be just that… a dream. As a result, when the off-the-shelf test reported a positive, we didn’t believe it, and bought two more kits to retest, just to be certain.

Even then, it wasn’t until the trip to the doctor that we allowed our hopes to rise. “Congratulations! It looks like you’re going to have a baby!”

We looked at each other, dumbfounded. We were so overwhelmed with joy and excitement that we didn’t hear anything else the OB/GYN was saying. I can now remember him saying something about, “It’s still early,” and “we’re not out of the woods yet,” but the sound of his voice was muffled. As if my wife and I were isolated in an envelope of silence, where the only sound we could hear clearly, was the faint heartbeat, echoing in our minds from the ultrasound we had just witnessed.

Now, less than a week later, the silence is deafening, but somehow the policeman’s questions about our miscarriage seem as muffled as the doctor’s words were a few days ago.

Practice, practice, practice
At first, we tried to make light of not being able to get pregnant. I’d respond to questions with “Well we know what causes it now. We thought sharing a toilet was enough!” or “You know what they say, ‘practice, practice, practice.'”

For awhile, that was enough. Over time though, it became a sore point between us. Was it me? Was it her? We both blamed each other for our apparent infertility.

Over time, we realized how futile it was to look for someone to blame, and we alternated comforting each other through the cycles of despair. It seemed no sooner did we recover from another emotional valley, that another of our friends would announce “We’re having a baby!!!”

We smiled politely, and feigned excitement, but deep down, it was another dagger into our souls.

And so we endured, and listened, and scoured the Internet for information. We saw fertility specialists. We read books about various positions, timing, and techniques. We joked to each other that we were becoming “sexperts.” Unfortunately, the emotional drain of trying to get pregnant seemed to steal the joy away from our sex life.

Determined that it was me, I tried to eliminate stress from my life. I gave up coffee, started wearing boxers, changed my sleeping position, and knew my wife’s monthly cycle almost as well as she did. I knew the optimum temperature for a man’s genitals to ensure sperm production (low to mid 90’s F), foods that increased (or decreased) sperm count, and researched every homeopathic remedy known to man (or woman).

My wife went through similar efforts, but you would have to ask her for the details. Eight years into our marriage (after waiting four years to try to start a family, at the advice of my brother), we were childless, or “barren” as the Old Testament refers to it.

Barren. Yes, that was a good word to describe how I felt. As empty of life as a desert. Nothing but miles and miles (or years and years) of hopeless, lifeless, emptiness.

Barren.

Roe v Wade
If we thought it was difficult to stomach the joy and happiness of our friends getting pregnant and giving birth, we had no idea what was in store. Just after our eighth anniversary, our next-door neighbor Denise confided to my wife that she had become pregnant, but had decided to have an abortion.

My wife came home crying, and it took several hours for her to recover enough to be able to explain to me what Denise had said. When she told me, my response was just as extreme, but turned to anger instead of grief and sadness.

“Abortion? ABORTION? How in the hell could she even consider that?” I was livid.

Denise and Tom knew how long we had been trying to get pregnant. They knew how precious life was to us. I mean, we’re not fanatical enough to put “Pro Life” signs up in the yard or stickers on the bumper of the car, but there was never a question to us about how we felt.

“Life begins at conception.”

When I first heard those words, I knew it was as simple as that, and it became my mantra whenever the subject of abortion came up. You have sex, the sperm fertilizes the egg, and boom… you’ve just started life. Why is this complicated? Why does the word “choice” even enter into the discussion.

What in the world were Denise and Tom thinking?

In late 2006, when Chief Justice Roberts announced the decision to overturn Roe v Wade, we were ecstatic. It was too late to affect Denise and Tom’s decision, but hopefully, this would keep others from making such a horrible decision. Adding to my personal joy was this tidbit from Justice Scalia:

With each passing day, science has been able to look deeper into the history of our universe, and also of our bodies. We are now at a place where we can know, with scientific certainty, the moment at which life begins, and science tells us that it begins at conception. Accordingly, to exclude an unborn child from the same protections afforded to one that is born prematurely, becomes a matter of location, an arbitrary assessment by any measure. Life begins at conception, and the law should reflect this.

To say that I was shocked and overjoyed is an understatement. The Supreme Court had, with only minor dissent from the resident liberal whackos, overwhelmingly spoken in support of a belief that I had held for years and years. Finally, a matter of my faith had become law. A matter of law had become a matter of joy.

Now, as I stare at the policeman sitting across from me in my own living room, I’m having second thoughts.

A Matter of Faith, a Matter of Law
Actually, it makes perfectly good sense. Given the proposition that life begins at conception, the baby, in utero, the child deserves to be protected like any other child.

Going after expectant mothers abusing drugs was obvious. Would any sane person allow a mother to give illegal drugs to a newborn? Of course not! Well, clearly this is what a crack mother was doing to the child developing in her womb, so score another victory for “life begins at conception.”

A slightly more complex issue related to health and nutrition, and questions about whether or not a soon-to-be-mother could be held liable for not eating the right foods, getting exercise, and so on. For us, this was never a question, but as I thought about my nephew’s girlfriend, pregnant in the middle of her senior year in high school, I saw some of the complexities being hammered out by legislators at both the state and the national level.

For me, it came home when Indiana passed the now infamous “Suspicious Early Termination” law, requiring the state to investigate any pregnancy that ended abruptly. The law was written so broadly and hastily that it pulled in the intended “back alley” and “do it yourself” abortions, but also miscarriages, and even stillbirths. By state law, any “early termination” of a pregnancy that was in any way suspicious, must be reported.

Doctors, fearing legal ramifications of not reporting a possible self-abortion, ended up reporting virtually all miscarriages, in the misguided hope that law enforcement would be so overwhelmed by the sheer number of cases, that they would never get around to investigating them, and would give up.

The doctors didn’t count on federal funding, passed along to ensure that the states enforced “life begins at conception” to the letter. There was no wiggle room for a rogue state to allow the now-illegal abortions to slip through, or a liberal doctor to subvert the system. Ultimately, the vague laws and unexpected enforcement lead to this being labeled a “Miscarriage of Justice” by one of the local papers.

The phrase seemed funny when I first read it. But now, sitting with a detective appointed to investigate our “suspicious early termination,” I can’t seem to find the humor.

Barren. Yes, once again we’re barren, but now we’re something else.

Accused.

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Comments»

1. sillylauralonglegs - March 17, 2006

This is a very intriguing, thought-provoking story. I am speaking from the perspective of someone who was once pro-choice but is now pro-life. I also suffered through infertility during my 14 years of marriage.

I really think you need to submit this story to someone–anyone–for publication as a short story. More people should hear this perspective on a controversial law.

Keep writing!

2. Rod E. Smith, MSMFT - May 10, 2006

Fabulous — Rod Smith

3. Scott Pruett - May 20, 2006

So, are you suggesting that we ought not press the idea that life begins at conception, even if true, because of the legal complexities that may follow? Shall we ease up on murder and burglary because innocent people may sometimes get caught in the legal machinery? Your point, assuming I understand it, seems only to demand the conclusion that we ought to take care in how we apply an anti-abortion moral position.

4. timthefoolman - May 20, 2006

Scott,

“Life begins at conception” is what I believe. I am, however, unwilling to legislate it. The legal complexities are part of the equation (determining that a miscarriage/abortion has even happened, determining if it violates doctor/patient confidentiality to communicate a suspicious miscarriage to the police, the fact that a “morning after remedy” has existed for roughly 5 centuries, etc.), but for me, the larger issue is the effect on the innocent parents who have miscarried.

On this note, I must state that your comment offends me beyond measure. Several people within my family, and several close friends have suffered through the pain of a miscarriage. I believe any woman who has miscarried and is reading this would be even more offended and outraged by the insensitivity of your comment than I am.

Hopefully, you’ve never experienced this pain. If you had, even indirectly, I would hope that far more compassion would be found in your comment. What I hear, instead, is someone more concerned with pursuing those who have already suffered by aborting a child (and I have several friends who have suffered through this trauma too), and finding a way to make them pay. From where I sit, a couple who have chosen to abort a life have already suffered, and will suffer further without any legal intervention.

Yes, I think we ought to take care in how we apply an anti-abortion position. Should we educate and inform? Absolutely!

I am unwilling to be so completely blinded by the desire for “justice at any cost” to not care who gets smacked in the process. Yes, I draw a very different line on abortion than murder or burglary. Is it taking a life having an abortion? No question. Is investigating a miscarriage/abortion the same as investigating a murder or a burglary?

Tim

P.S. If I have misread what you wrote, I apologize.

5. Scott Pruett - May 22, 2006

Tim,

It was not my intention to offend. I took you at your word that you meant to invite discussion with this story. It seemed to me that you were advancing the pro-life view in a strong and thoughtful way, but then called it all into question with a bit of speculation that hinted to me that your real position might be, in practice, inconsistent with the “life begins at conception” philosophy.

Forgive me for cutting to the chase. Perhaps I should have first sought to clarify whether you were suggesting that abortion clinics should remain legal in order to avoid the scenario you narrate. Perhaps I have misread you as much as you have misread me (i.e., as an advocate of “justice at any cost”).

6. timthefoolman - May 22, 2006

Ahhhh… yes, I misunderstood. I did want to invite discussion, and in that regard, my reaction was over-the-top, and I apologize for it.

My position truly is “life begins at conception.” Do I struggle with abortion clinics remaining open and operational? Yes. This, for me, is a case where my philosophy and interpretation of scripture collides with practical realities in a truly horrible way.

On the flip side, I struggle with an effort to close them by passing “life begins at conception” legislation that, in the process, also creates the scenario above. Make sense now?

Tim

P.S. Your blog has several thoughtful and insightful links.

7. Scott Pruett - May 22, 2006

Tim,

I am principally a thinker and sometimes allow the debate over principles to trample their tactical advocacy.

It sounds as though your doubt over the application of the LBaC idea goes to the very marrow. I would think that if we really do believe that the fetus is a valuable human person, on the same order as a toddler, then you would at least want to shut down any facilities that are proactively engaged in the termination of these lives. I could employ a number of analogies here, but analogies (even when accurate) can be offensive to some. Not all appreciate the rhetorical force of a good reduction ad absurdum argument.

As to whether we should seek out the individuals who may have found a means to abort, rather than just the providers of abortion, that is a question on which we may find common ground. Perhaps if we press this thing far enough I will discover that when you say life begins at conception, that it will turn out that we mean different things by the term “life.”

8. timthefoolman - May 22, 2006

Let me clarify a bit then. In my mind, someone who is drinking alcohol or smoking is guilty of “child abuse in utero.” Likewise, if someone does something intentional to cause that life to end (clinical abortion, physical abuse or murder of the mother, ingestion of concentrated amounts of estrogen distilled from a mare’s urine, etc.), they have committed murder as certainly as if the killed the child shortly after he/she was born.

History has shown that some parents will take the life of a newborn, in spite of the horror and revulsion that the rest of us feel about the action. Appropriately, law enforcement has used good judgement in handling the investigation of these cases when the very real possibility exists for SIDS, an unfortunate accident, or any number of other causes of death.

The practical reality is that so many factors can cause an unintentional miscarriage, that pinpointing a cause is frequently not possible. At the very least, we should treat this as sensitively as we treat the death of a newborn (even though some would suggest that the emotional trauma to the prospective parents is not as great as for those who have lost a child after it’s been born). How much worse do we make this trauma if we throw the spotlight of suspicion on those who are already (supposedly) suffering?

Clearly, this doesn’t address those who would self-abort, and thereby get away with murder. In this regard, rather than continuing to promote legal abortion, I am inclined to not pursue those who self-abort, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Incomplete justice may be the price we have to pay if we’re going to avoid the pain I’ve alluded to here.

Tim

9. Scott Pruett - May 22, 2006

So it sounds as though we are largely agreed, though you’ve not directly addressed one of my points. Are you opposed to the legalization of abortion clinics?

10. timthefoolman - May 22, 2006

Hmm… thought I brought that out in the last comment, but I apparently didn’t. Currently, they are legal, so there’s nothing to legalize. I am in favor of making abortion illegal, and therefore making abortion clinics illegal.

At that point, the question becomes, on what legal ground do we declare them illegal? If we push it to the LBaC argument, then we start to see the legal issues we’ve been discussing. If we don’t pursue LBaC, then we’re largely where we stand today, with ambiguous definitions of when life begins, and accordingly arbitrary rules about abortion methods that are allowable.

Lastly, it is interesting to note a statistic that Steven Levitt discusses in “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.” He has found a direct correlation between the legalization of abortion and the dramatic drop in the crime rate of the 80’s and 90’s. To quote: “Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.” Whether his conclusion is palatable or not, the research is difficult to refute.

So now, as we look at the prospects of making abortion illegal, is it a moot point that we may, indirectly, be increasing the future crime rate? Is adding more potential criminals (and therefore more victims of murder, statistically speaking) more moral than the murder of those children (and others) before they’re born? In this light, it would appear to be a question of lesser evils.

11. Scott Pruett - May 24, 2006

You said: At that point, the question becomes, on what legal ground do we declare [abortion clinics] illegal?

It seems to me that the justification for pursing a change in the law would be that we think the fetus to be a valuable human person. If this were not so, then I could no more impose my preference against abortion than I could against plastic surgery.

You said: it is interesting to note a statistic that Steven Levitt discusses in “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.” He has found a direct correlation between the legalization of abortion and the dramatic drop in the crime rate of the 80’s and 90’s. To quote: “Legalized abortion led to less unwantedness; unwantedness leads to high crime; legalized abortion, therefore, led to less crime.” Whether his conclusion is palatable or not, the research is difficult to refute.

Oh, I can think of at least a dozen ways to call this kind of observation, and the assumptions upon which it is based, into question, and it has been contested.

But I don’t even need to go there. I’ll just grant you for the sake of argument that there is/was a relevant reduction in crime rate and that abortion of an “unwanted” class of persons was the direct cause. Here are some thoughts that now occur to me:

I would then want to know the difference in the number murders (or even lesser crimes) in the before & after time period. I’m suspecting that the difference in crime rates would be on the order of thousands, while the increase in abortions is in the hundreds of thousands or millions. If we accept the LBaC premise, then this means there is a horrendous net loss of life. Levitt’s observation doesn’t even begin to touch on this side of the issue.

The idea of using Levitt’s conclusion to justify abortion would be founded on a utilitarian premise that would ignore the means in favor of the ends. It seems to suggest that it is okay to terminate those who are more likely to be a problem for society. It is a sort of profiling, and the philosophy seems as though it would apply to those outside the womb, especially given the premise that LBaC. This means that it might be justified to terminate the lives of certain criminal types with a high rate of recidivisms, or the “unwanted” toddlers in foster care and orphanages, or even to pick out the children of certain races or social classes who might be discovered to be at higher risk than other demographic groups. If these ideas are not troublesome to you, then I must retreat to arguing against the soundness of Levitt’s conclusion; but if they are troubling, then thinking that applying the same tactics to the unborn is categorically different only demonstrates that you believe the unborn to be a categorically different thing.

I would urge you to avoid Steven Levitt’s claims as a basis for shaping your conclusions on the issue of legalized abortion.

12. timthefoolman - May 24, 2006

(Note: Of the four links you provided, they ultimately go back to two true sources, both of which I read and understood. The Economist link was the most worthwhile, because it actually looked into other factors, as noted below. Steve Sailen’s comments are the least useful, as they add little more after quoting James Q. Willson at length, or going back to the study by Foote and Goetz that the Economist examined. Also, there have been credible responses to the Joyce critique, and to Foote and Goetz.)

I find it interesting that The Economist link you provided, while noting a programming error, also suggested that this error may not completely invalidate the conclusion, based upon examining data from Romania after Ceausescu banned abortion. Are there other factors to consider? No doubt. This is a complex issue, and I was simply noting that there are possible factors outside of the purely moral question.

While I’ve not based my views about the morality of abortion on Levitt’s work I will consider the effects before I blindly go about banning abortion, now that it has been widely available.

Furthermore, I have not, as you suggested, justified abortion using the parameters Levitt suggests. I have simply pointed out that there may be very real effects to a group of people, not yet present, if the social effects of legal abortions change dramatically. Blindly returning to the legal landscape of the 60’s may or may not prove beneficial to society on the whole.

I would also call into this discussion the practical reality that someone in a higher social class, by virtue of their resources, will always have abortion available to them (legal or not). As a result, making abortion illegal ends up affecting most directly those of lesser financial means. Furthermore, it is a practical reality that, in unknown numbers, people will continue to have abortions, self-induced or otherwise. We today lament the loss of life to abortion because we can count it. Pre-1973 we didn’t lament it, because the numbers weren’t known.

If it were on the books today, I would most definitely vote against abortion. For me, the pratical realities are such that reversing this case will have repercussions that we simply can’t forsee, and aren’t as simple as we would like to believe.

Jesus didn’t appear to sit around arguing with Rome over the law (unless it happened and was ignored by the Biblical authors). Instead, He taught people how to live. He didn’t do away with the law, but gave us a more perfect model to live by.

I don’t see Jesus standing on the steps of Capitol Hill, preaching to the converted about overturning Roe v. Wade. I see Jesus sitting outside the abortion clinic, consoling the woman who’s just had an abortion, and showing her a better way.

Tim

P.S. On my blogroll are many writers who I don’t always agree with. This is in keeping with my desire to avoid “homogenous thinking” that allows me to justify thinking that may be wrong, simply because I don’t allow discussion that might refute it. Thank you for adding an interesting perspective to the mix!

13. Scott Pruett - May 24, 2006

Tim,

You have argued the most equivocal aspect of what I addressed but did not touch upon the weightier case that I made, which does not depend upon the validity of Levitt’s or anyone else’s cause-effect observations. I will not overstay my welcome on this topic. There is much more that I could say to make my case that taking human lives (i.e., permitting free and open access to abortion) in order to avoid certain social effects is a deeply troubling ethic, but I will not press onward unless you have further interest in unpacking this issue.

Thank you for your blogroll entry. I will return the favor, and I look forward to the possibility of future dialog.


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