Personal belief

Sorry if I seem to be writing a little late in response to Professor Judith Testa’s letter to The Northern Star on Oct. 2. My first letter, I later found out, was too long for publication.

Professor Testa accused Beth Gifford of misrepresenting her personal beliefs about abortion as objective facts, particularly Miss Gifford’s statement that it was “scientifically proven” that life began at conception. Although Professor Testa dismissed this as a matter of personal belief, it should be recognized that this is a simple fact. The cells of the newly-conceived child are unquestionably alive, possessing their own unique DNA, which distinguishes it from both mother and father.

The matter of personal belief, at the root of the abortion debate, is whether or not these growing cells constitute a “person.” We then must ask, does this developing human have individuality (apart from its mother), and does it possess rights as an individual? The pro-choice movement would have to say that the developing child is not a person and that the decision of abortion belongs solely to the mother, as the unborn child is just some sort of extension of her body with merely the potential to become a person. The pro-life movement would insist that the child is a person and that it has human rights that require public protection.

The legal question is perhaps the most scary: Do we have the right to decide who is and who is not a person? In America, we used to say that Africans or Native Americans were not persons. In Germany, the Jews were declared to be non-persons. As we assess history, we denounce such positions as unjust or oppressive. Yet if our society continues to support abortion-on-demand, we will be guilty of having used the same kind of reasoning and committing the same kinds of crimes.

Arguments against abortion are usually countered with an appeal to personal “freedom” or “choice” (choice for the aborter, not the aborted women and men, that is). Testa did this when she declared that pro-life people did not have the right to impose their beliefs on others. That sounds like a strong argument when it first rings in our ears but after a little thought, it just doesn’t stand up. The Bill of Rights and laws such as: Do not murder, do not rape and do not cheat in business, all impede our freedom. Our actions are rightly limited because they violate someone’s well-being. Surely abortion fits into the same category.

We can’t avoid having to deal with the problem just because there are other worries in our nation today. If we wrote off every civil or human-rights problem with that excuse, our society would be in worse times than it is now. Rather than denying someone personhood or disposing of them in the name of “choice,” let’s find alternatives to abortion, rather than be guilty of having supported an evil or having kept silent.

Michael A. Novak