I would like to comment on the excellent column by Ruth Marcus that appeared in the August 24th edition of our best local paper, the Albany Times Union, “Refueling abortion debate.” Taking off from the “asinine remarks of Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Aikin”, she points out that while the Republicans are just scrambling to dissociate themselves from Aikin’s remarks (but not his philosophy, with which most of them agree), the Democrats are allowing the discussion to revolve around the rare exceptions to the “no abortion” position in case of rape, incest, or endangerment of pregnant women. Ignored in the current debate, the idea that women have a right to decide what happens to their bodies is left twisting in the wind.
The idea that underlies the Republican position, that an embryo is a person right from fertilization on, does not come from science. Life is a continuum, extending back to common ancestral populations that lived billions of years ago. The human sperm and the ovum are just as human as the embryo resulting from their union. Condoms or coitus interruptus leave myriad sperm to perish without issue, and repeated ovulations cause the loss of hundreds of unfertilized eggs over most of a woman’s life. Maybe this is of no concern to most of us, but I merely point out that it is arbitrary to say that sperm and unfertilized eggs do not have the potential for life. In this regard a newly fertilized embryo is only marginally more qualified. Indeed, from 50 to 75% of these perish spontaneously, often without the woman even knowing a pregnancy is under way. Obviously, the attempt to define all embryos as people derives from religion or philosophy, not science. The assignment of personhood is something that we humans do, and, perhaps not divinely, but I hope wisely, we all draw a line somewhere. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court set a reasonable standard based on the idea that an embryo has the protection of the law when, in principle, it could survive with normal care outside the uterus. (Note that we already have law that protects embryos from abortion under these circumstances).
Now we understand that Romney has changed his mind about this issue and that he does not actually agree with the abortion plank in his own party’s platform. Leaving aside the fact that the proposed constitutional amendment has zero chance of being adopted, Romney says that there could be an exception to the proposed Republican rule in cases of rape. The implication is that in this case Romney does not think the embryo is deserving of protection, despite its complete non-involvement in the events leading to its existence. His position contradicts the principle in the Republican plank.
Romney, President Obama and the Democratic Party recognize therefore that there are grounds for drawing distinctions between different pregnancies. But the Republican Party does not. And guess who would be deciding policy if Romney wins? Possibly the Republican Party! After all, Romney, as we saw with his position on health care, changes his mind whenever it is convenient … for him.