Should a fetus have rights? Newsweek ponders the impact science is having on the abortion debate
A picture of a child in-utero accompanies the question, “Should a Fetus Have Rights?” on the cover of the June 9 issue of Newsweek. Scientific advancements and high-profile criminal cases have prompted a spate of public ponderings upon the rights of the unborn child by media outlets which, in former times, would not have broached the topic. It would seem that, by all barometers of social climate, attitudes are in flux. But while this willingness to re-examine the question is encouraging, it is not enough.
Measured by the standards of fairness that the pro-life movement has come to expect from mainstream media, the Newsweek feature is a rarity: the common overtones of incredulity are absent and the usual insinuations of fanaticism are all but gone. The pro-life position is presented as valid and tenable, albeit foreign. Correspondingly, this tentative tolerance of common sense is accompanied with a changing stance towards pro-abortion lobbyists. The mere fact that their position is not taken as a given would normally be generous, but it seems that Newsweek is taking this experiment with fair coverage seriously: questions are raised about the pro-abortionists opposition to fetal homicide laws, and, most encouraging, steps are gingerly taken away from partial-birth abortion: “Abortion rights supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to claim credibly that a fetus just a few weeks, or even days, from delivery is not entitled to at least some protections under the law.” While this is hardly a clarion call to end the brutal practice, there is a growing apprehension toward the policy of unrestricted abortion.
After 30 years of polite fictions about “conception’s by-products” and “fetal blobs,” some unease about abortion is to be expected when the world sees a human face on the ultrasound screen. The prenatal pictures showcased in the article should not sit well with a public that has put the question out of sight and out of mind; but now, it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss abortion as safe, legal and moot.
Certainly this story, and others like it (such as a recent expos? in Time magazine on fetal development), do much to redress the dearth of discussion in this area. A new era of technology is bringing the enwombed child into the unseemly paradox of the status quo. As the modern world stumbles awkwardly into an age of pre-natal surgeries and late-term abortions, the subtitle on the cover of Newsweek offers the definitive caveat: “How Science is Changing the Debate” – and yet, a debate remains.
Science is changing the debate only by eliminating that ever-dwindling grey area between the black and white of life and death. As the humanity of the child becomes a truth too blatant for even the most ardent pro-abortion zealot to contest, the fact that the debate is changed and not concluded has a terrible significance: if the unborn child is human, just what does the abortion debate actually debate?
Robert Ruff, in his book Aborting Planned Parenthood, states the situation trenchantly: “Many people naively cling to the belief that abortion would stop if people ? could just be given enough information to understand that a fetus is a baby, and a baby is a person, and that abortion is murder. Sadly, this belief is false.”
Science has not ended the abortion debate: it has merely simplified the terms discussed. No details about fetal development are needed and no doctor’s testimony is required: the human face of the unborn child is a fact that needs no expert corroboration. The time in which the life of the child could be publicly disputed is coming to an end. Now, it is the sanctity of that life that is in question. Perhaps it is this fact that the Newsweek article sees clearly, but fails to acknowledge.
So many politicians now delight in presenting questions about life and its beginnings in seemingly new and florid grayscales, thinking they have deftly avoided the question. So many journalists now strive for the right note of ambivalence, thinking this renders their reporting balanced. Newsweek is no different: “Recent, dramatic breakthroughs in fetal and reproductive medicine only add to the confusion … forcing Americans into more-nuanced stances.”
The attempt to obfuscate what is obvious is a foretaste of future rhetoric. Since medical science offers no more subterfuge, ambivalence and feigned complexity are sought to protect against the hard questions for which the world has no stomach: after all, what confusion is there in a child’s face? And what nuance can clarify murder?