The characterization of the political debate on abortion in Matt Barnum’s column (“Abortion Comes to Life” 4/18/08) inaccurately depicted technical aspects of the abortion procedure, as well as omitting the real paradigm of abortion itself.
There are four kinds of induced pregnancy termination available in the United States. The first is emergency contraception, which acts by preventing a zygote from implanting in the uterine lining. Because there is no change in a woman’s body prior to implantation that might indicate a pregnancy, this method of birth control really is a blind, preemptive measure.
Abortion of a confirmed pregnancy can be induced by medication up to nine weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period, procedurally by vacuum aspiration up to 16 weeks, and by the dilation and evacuation method up to 24 weeks (preceding the age of viability).
Neither the outlawed, partial-birth abortion nor D and E are comparable to killing a fetus at the moment of birth, because aspiration is nothing like childbirth resulting from labor and delivery.
Finally, contrary to Barnum’s assertion that in partial-birth abortion, “the baby is aborted with all but his head out of the woman’s body,” fully 96–97 percent of deliveries emerge head first.
When life begins—unique, human life—is a question easily confounded by twinning and chimerism following fertilization. However, whether life begins at conception is hardly the point. For women and men mourning a miscarriage or considering an abortion, the overarching question is not whether life has begun but whether they want to have a child. There could be no comfort in knowing that an early miscarriage was not a loss of life, per se. Nor should taking emergency contraception require counting the days to ascertain whether homicide were being performed.
Instead, choosing an abortion is a matter of determining an impossibility—the impossibility of having a child, to say nothing of raising one, or the impossibility of going through with a pregnancy. (Even when adoption is a personally acceptable option, a pregnancy or the awareness of one can severely interrupt a life, a plan, a relationship, or a family.) And without advocating a particular campaign, I want to acknowledge that this is exactly what Hillary Clinton was talking about when she said, “I believe that the potential for life begins at conception...but for me, it is also not only about a potential life; it is about the other lives involved.”
Class of 2009