Abortion: Right or Alternative?

Verónica Vega

Young Cubans. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — In a recent post, fellow Havana Times blogger Dariela Aquique comments on the thorny issue of abortion.

The first mistake I see there is the way in which the issue is tackled. The piece focuses more on the right to abort than on the responsibility of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy, which ought to be the guiding premise – it is the natural order in which things take place and it addresses a long tradition of irresponsible practices.

Informing the public about contraceptive options isn’t the only important step we need to take. For decades, the media have been bombarding us with images that incite sex, sexual relations are portrayed as emotionally delirious acts (or mere physical pleasure) and there is no suggestion such actions involve other, potential consequences.

Such portrayals of sex may suit the dramatic requirements of a movie, may be an efficacious way of getting the most out of a sex symbol or hooking an audience, and, without a doubt, it bumps up ticket sales, but, as a message (be it subliminal or not), it is both counterproductive and false. To top things off, in male chauvinistic societies such as ours, men are exempted from the responsibility of contraception.

A pregnancy takes place in the woman’s body, and it is the woman who endures the biological changes this entails, the physical risks of an abortion or labor and almost the entire burden of childbirth if she decides to see the birth through. She therefore ought to have the immediate choice between an abortion and giving birth.

This option or alternative does not necessarily constitute a right. It describes the freedom to act in a certain way, just as one may decide to kill or let live a person that is causing us harm and isn’t growing inside our bodies.

Since people are entirely responsible for that germ of life they deposit (deliberately or unwittingly), they too have rights over its development or mutilation.

Now, the fact this being whose fate is thus decided is totally helpless deprives any law that authorizes abortion of its justness.

My Own Experience

I had an unwanted pregnancy when I was 28. This unexpected event was inconvenient for several reasons: my partner was about to leave the country (alone) and didn’t want kids (I didn’t either), I didn’t have a steady income and didn’t even have my own place to live. Most importantly, the sense of autonomy that informed my right to life made me see this pregnancy as a huge obstacle in my way, and I opted for an abortion.

I’ve always been very sensitive to the processes that take place in my body and I immediately realized something new was going on inside me: I was hyper-sensitive to smells, flavors and sensations. My breasts were swollen, I felt nauseous and, most noticeably, I felt a silent presence slowly take root inside me, gain ground in my body and my mind.

The doctor was of the opinion I wasn’t pregnant, but I was sure I was, so I insisted on a second examination (which confirmed the pregnancy, almost eight weeks into it).

The abortion consisted in ripping out the tissues that were taking root in my womb and it was a very painful procedure, but the worst was having to deal with that part of me that had become attached to that bit of my existence. That thousands of young people resort to this to get out of a tight situation and speak of it as though they were having one of their teeth out only demonstrates that they lead superficial lives.

The information about what is taking place in our bodies is processed in the brain. The developing embryo shares blood, substances and life impulses with us.

After the abortion, I bled for weeks, felt tired and suffered asthma attacks. The thing I remember most, however, is how sad I felt. In the amalgam of feelings and sensations that make up the female psyche, the identity of the budding child can become very confusing. That said, it is a fact that a being is taking shape inside us, feeding from what we eat and taking in our reactions and thoughts.

This experience led me to decide I would never go through anything similar. In the relationships I had later, I made a point of saying I didn’t want kids for the time being but that, if I became pregnant by accident, an abortion would not be an alternative.

Religion and Other Perspectives

I insist that any discussion about abortion must start from the unquestionable fact that the being whose right to life is under debate is there because two people, a man and a woman, conceived it through a voluntary act. It is not a tumor. To ignore the laws of life is as fatal as ignoring traffic laws. That women face risks during an abortion (even death if it is done at an advanced stage of the pregnancy) is proof that we are fighting against the forces of nature.

This should be enough to make us focus on the reasons behind the pregnancy, to take up a more responsible sexuality and avoid such potential and serious problems as post-abortion infections or worse complications: infertility, traumas, venereal diseases, unwanted children, children who grow up in dysfunctional families, in short, unhappiness at all levels.

I make a point of stressing this because the above could well be the cost of that initial, amorous rapture that can blind us to the fact that, unlike in bad movies, life is much more complex.

There are no prospects of a more educative television or cinema, for the interests of multi-million-dollar companies are at stake there. But not even the medical sciences seem to be able to take up the issue impartially. That it is possible to put an end to an unwanted pregnancy with a suction device or a scalpel doesn’t mean the procedure is legal from the point of view of nature.

Materialism has conditioned our view of existence to such an extent that we have become unaware of profound, invisible laws. Religion has perpetuated rites and dogmas, stagnating our living knowledge of thing. Catholicism proclaims itself against abortion and even contraceptives, but it doesn’t see that repressing sexual desire has led to improvised abortions, deaths, child rape, the murder of newborns, and so on and so forth. The story of that struggle for chastity in a mind that isn’t ready for it, that does not want it, can be told by the walls of convents and monasteries.

Mysticism suggests that repression leads to neurosis and spiritual regression. It is not a question of forcing anything. Human beings explore the kingdom of illusion through the physical and cognitive senses and develop, through their own will, the highest faculties of the intellect.

Tedium sets in once curiosity has been satisfied, an anxiety-filled search involving practices that take years to master, for it is a question of shifting our attention from the external to the internal, until consciousness reaches subtle dimensions and becomes attached to them, of its own will, as it did to physical pleasure at one point. This is when the encounter San Juan de la Cruz incomparably describes: “Oh, night that guided, oh, a night kinder than the dawn, oh, night that bound lovers together…”

It is said childbirth is a rare privilege, a journey that traverses all forms of life: unconscious, semi-conscious, conscious and even self-conscious. As such, interrupting a pregnancy destroys a soul that is ready to become incarnate, after a complicated adjustment of the network of karmic relations. It is a step back in one’s personal evolution and additional bad karma for those who prevent the birth from happening.

Neither scientists nor parents may believe this, but, the turbulent road paved by materialism, as the visible consequences of an abortion show, is neither an easy nor healthy path.

I believe the most objective thing to do is to try and present sexuality as it is: an act that ought to be strictly voluntary and undertaken with full knowledge of its potential consequences. It is possible to prevent the ecstasy of passion from turning into pangs of pain and tears.

Abortions conducted because of rape or therapeutic reasons are extreme cases that demand specific solutions. They are not the rule and resorting to these does not turn abortion into a right but into an emergency procedure.

3 thoughts on “Abortion: Right or Alternative?

  • I like that you address the abuse to the body and the emotional attachment to the life that is germinating. I figured out the solution as soon as I became sexually active at the age of 19. Lots of good sex without intercourse. It’s really very simple. Intercourse only when we are prepared to and want to have children.

  • Thanks for your well-reasoned argument, ac. I fully concur with you. I fear such rationality is lost, however, on the likes of Veronica…

  • Sorry, but your arguments are inane. There are two different sets of rights here in conflict: the right of the fetus and the rights of the mother and before making a discussion is important to understand what are main issues in this debate.

    In one hand, there is an open debate to identify whether a human fetus should be considered an human and such and in that case, what specific rights apply to them (not all humans beings are entitled to the same rights, for instance children lack many individual rights that are transfered to their legal guardians until they arrive to a reasonable age). The common argument is that the human fetus has a right to life and if it is so, any action resulting in the loss of life should be treated as murder and punished accordingly.

    In the other hand, a human fetus grows in the body of a woman and is dependent of it for its survival, but a human being have full rights over their own body, in fact thats a fundamental human right that is only withdrawn when mentally incapacitated (and even so is merely transfered to the closest relative), so the woman has the ultimate authority to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term in her own body or not. Interfering with this rights lefts a dangerous precedent that threatens all human rights as a whole because because claims over your own body are stronger than other claims (like private property), so if this right is overridden, is even easier easier to do the same to the others rights.

    Those two sets of rights are in direct conflict with each other, because as far as our current technology goes, is not possible to extract an implanted fetus from a woman and move it to a different medium without killing it. So we have two choices here: either the rights of the fetus take precedence and the woman loses rights over her own body and become little less than a portable incubator for the new life or the rights of the woman over her own body takes precedence and the fetus loses their right to life.

    Those are the basic facts of this discussion, lets analyze each choice and their side effects (legal of otherwise).

    Lets start from the case when the life of the fetus takes precedence.

    This option is plagued of issues, the most basic are the definition of “life” and “human being”. There are two main currents of thought regarding this definition, the most radical considers life from the moment of fertilization, while a more progressive approach withholds the definition of human being on viability (aka, good chances of living with external help). There are more options, like starting on implantation instead of fertilization, but those are roughly the bigger sides of the spectrum.

    In either case, the woman is not free to dispose of the fetus since that would be considered murder, so she is effectively forced to carry it in her body until it gets to term. This by itself violates several articles on the declaration of human rights:

    Article 3: Right to life, liberty and security (since she loss control over her body)

    Article 4: No one shall held in slavery or servitude (since you are forcing the woman to be an incubator against her will)

    Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (same as 4)

    Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law (there is no such restrictions to men)

    Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence (obviously)

    Not to mention that that kind of limitation cannot be enforced without suppressing others (like freedom of movement, because there are other ways to interrupt a pregnancy besides abortion so you have to either charge the woman with unintentional manslaughter if something happens or restrict her other freedoms to prevent any potential damages to the new life – for instance, ban her from participate in extreme exports).

    Also, the definition of “human life” at fertilization is rubbish, since there is an 8 day window from fertilization to implantation where the fertilized egg can be expelled at menstruation. If thats is murder, you have to charge everyone who ever had sex roughly a week before the woman menstruation with accessory to murder, since is virtually guaranteed than the fertilized egg is going to be washed out and killed. This is particularly ironic, since the favorite form of contraception in most catholic countries (that frown upon all forms of contraception) is precisely keep track of the woman ovulation to have sex in the “safe” window of time.

    From the other side of the equation the rationale is linked to the concept of “person”. The growing fetus at early stages is merely a bunch of cells with the potential of becoming human, but at early stages of development (the ones where abortion is legal in most places) there is no brain and as as such, no mind, consciousness, personality or whenever you want to call it, so terminating the pregnancy at that stage doesn’t actually kill a person.

    The distinction is both subtle and important, “life” is technically anything capable of metabolic activity and a fetus is not more alive than a lump of cancer cells; both contains the full ADN sequence for a human being and both are alive. The difference between the two groups is not in what they are but in what they have the potential to be.

    Also notice that legal rights (even animal rights!) can only be assigned to persons and by that is meant a sentient being capable of making their own decisions. Thats why is important to have full control on your own senses when creating a legal document if you don’t the document is automatically declared void. Thats the reason you can’t sign legal contracts while intoxicated, for instance.

    My take on this issue is pretty straightforward: a woman has the right to terminate pregnancy at their own volition at any time as long as the procedure happens at the early stages of development of the fetus. Once the fetus is viable or close to viable, pregnancy can only be interrupted if the life of mother is in immediate danger.

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