A key question in the abortion debate
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/07/2022 (327 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As a man, I offer an opinion on abortion only with caution. I understand and respect the views of women on this controversial issue because, after all, it’s inside their bodies that babies grow.
But I hope I can be allowed to contribute to the conversation with an experience that is deeply personal. I will share this disclosure from my past, hoping it will illustrate a crucial aspect of the abortion debate that is often overlooked.
My true story begins with a high-school romance between Debbie and Bill. Their relationship continued after graduation and, when they were 19 years old, they became pregnant. Abortion wasn’t considered, partly because of the Roman Catholic beliefs of the family in which Debbie was raised.
Instead of abortion, they “did the right thing,” as it was called back then, and they got married when they were three months pregnant. Pregnant with me, that is. I was born six months after my parents wed.
My parents went on to have four other children after me (according to a family joke, after their fifth child, Dad prayed: “Thank you, Lord, for these many blessings, but that’s enough now.”)
Our parents’ lasting, loving relationship is occasionally cited as a model of a happy marriage. When we were children, our friends liked to hang out at our house because the vibes were good.
I offer my personal origin story as living proof that human life begins before birth, not after. If my parents had chosen abortion, they would have killed me. That’s a blunt way to describe it, and I’ll try to avoid being gratuitously provocative when writing about this sensitive topic, but I don’t know a more accurate way to describe a procedure that would have ended, in the womb, the life that has brought me to where I am today.
In the many conversations about abortion prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that allowed abortion rights to be rolled back in many states, the focus is largely on the rights and priorities of women.
But there’s another important question that requires urgent consideration: when does human life begin?
The moral and legal impetus for answering this question is that a civilized society will try to save innocent human lives from wilful destruction. So, again, when does life begin?
The question is a hot-button topic that successive Canadian political leaders, up to and including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have taken great pains not to discuss, no doubt partly because taking a stand would alienate many voters.
Still, even though politicians may wish the divisive issue would go away, determining who qualifies as a person is key to deciding who deserves legal protection.
The historic reluctance of Canadian politicians to consider this critical question means that, in Canadian law, there are no legal limits to when an abortion can be performed. None.
The only countries in the world that join Canada in allowing abortion on demand throughout the entirety of pregnancy are South Korea, Vietnam, China and North Korea. With the exception of South Korea, these countries show scant regard for human rights, hardly the company Canada should be proud to keep.
Legally at least, Canadians can have abortions until the moment of birth. Responsible abortion providers in Canada usually draw the line at 23 weeks, but that limit seems to be chosen for the age when the unborn babies could survive outside the womb if they aren’t aborted. That’s different than the age when life begins.
Some say life begins at conception. Some say it’s when a heartbeat is detected. Some say it’s about 14 weeks, when the fetus has both a beating heart and a brain.
The answer to this question matters in many ways. For example, knowing that they are terminating a human life, not just a mass of tissue, could influence the decision of people who choose abortion because prenatal screening shows they are carrying a girl instead of the boy they want, or are carrying a baby with a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome.
Canadians have in recent decades improved considerably our respect for the rights of people who are marginalized and vulnerable in many different ways. Most of us now reject racism, try to be considerate of people who have physical and mental disabilities, and affirm people expressing gender diversity.
It’s now time to have tough conversations about when life begins so we can protect those who are most vulnerable — unborn children.
Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.
Senior copy editor
Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.