By Olivia Gans and Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D.
The underlying premise to the many arguments that fall within this category - - that "a woman has a right to control her own body" - - is that it would be unfair to the mother to "force" her to carry her unborn child to term. Therefore, it should be her decision alone to decide whether her unborn child lives or dies.
The argument unfolds in roughly this fashion. It would be "unjust" to require the mother to carry her baby to term because it would require her to quit school, abandon her career, suffer for the rest of her life never knowing where her child was if she placed the child for adoption, or face the stigma of "unwed" motherhood, or an endless number of other scenarios.
Beyond this basic contention, proponents further claim that the mother has the "right" to privacy, the "right" to choose, and the "right" to equal protection, all of which require a "right" to abortion.
The right to privacy, continues the argument, protects the woman's ability to make personal decisions in private, without the imposition of "Big Brother."
This mode of argument culminates with the conclusion that it is this "freedom of choice" that enables a woman to compete equally with a man.
What is astonishing about this reasoning is the assumption behind each of these "injustices" - - that the only way a pregnant woman can accomplish anything is for her to kill her baby. What is even more incomprehensible is that some women accept this specious reasoning and actually fight to keep the ability to legally kill their unborn child as a claimed "right"!
What is the rhetorical ploy at work here? Abortion supporters compare unfavorably the life of one human being (the unborn child) with the "right" to live without the temporary condition of nine months of pregnancy. The result is that the temporary condition and its inconveniences trumps the child's very right to exist.
When you reach this point, remind your listeners that this way of reasoning threatens everyone's right to life. Determining who shall live and who shall die has become completely arbitrary.
Let's look more closely at the argument that "a woman has the right to control her own body."
Certainly she has the right to control the use of her arm by choosing to swing her arm. However, that right stops when her arm approaches the tip of my nose.
She may even have the right to scream at the top of her lungs that she hates the movie Titanic, but she doesn't have the right to scream "fire" in the crowded theater. Reason and historic experience teaches us that unless we protect the rights of others, our own rights soon diminish as well.
Note also that, as is so often the case, abortion supporters have simply defined the unborn out of existence. Or, more specifically, they contend nobody can know "when human life begins."
An essential part of your response to this family of argument is to remind your audience that it is not a mere opinion that two bodies are involved in this decision but a scientific fact. It is important to understand that a surprising number of people have convinced themselves that the unborn child is not a separate human being, meaning the entire focus is on the mother.
Shorn of its individual existence, the child is reduced to a "problem" to be eliminated. What is your counter?
Remind your audience that the unborn child is the smallest, least seen among us, and thus, is the most vulnerable. Buttress your appeal to our common humanity with some of the elementary points of embryology. This little human being has a beating heart as early as 18 days, with tiny little fingers and toes.
All her genetic definition of who she is for now and always - - the color of her eyes, her hair, how tall she will grow to be - - was present at the moment of fertilization. Therefore, in every abortion a helpless someone dies.
Answering this argument also allows the pro-lifer to bring attention to the least understood facet of the abortion debate: that most women feel trapped into their abortions. This is a great opportunity to point out that women usually make their decision with little or no accurate information about their pregnancy or knowledge that assistance is available for them from the over 3,000 pro-life mother-helping centers around the country.
We must help people to grasp that women aren't really in control of anything if they do not have the right to know the whole truth before they have an abortion. Point out that anyone who supports "choice" surely should support an informed choice in this context as well.
Yet, attempts to pass protective legislation insuring that women are given information about risks and alternatives to abortion and scientifically accurate information about the developing unborn child are routinely opposed and challenged by abortion advocates. Only a handful of states have recognized the right of women to be fully informed. There is a real insult to women's intelligence in that fact.
As women we believe that perhaps the greatest crime committed against women by the legalization of abortion is the ugly idea that our ability to bear children is a punishment or a failure on our part. That notion has sent a message to three generations of women that they must - - at all costs - - reject their own children if they are going to avert failure.
Women have to stop apologizing for the fact that they bear children. Gently but firmly emphasize that, ironically, as long as women give into the expectation that they ought to kill their children in order to get further in this world (that is, compete equally with men), they really are "second-class" citizens.
A major element in much of the rhetoric that is used within this particular category of arguments is the tragic notion that the unborn child is an enemy of her mother. Mother and child are pitted against each other.
We must help our questioners to realize that mother and child are not antagonists but equals who must both be protected by law.
The only reasonable perspective is that every human being's life must be protected from the moment of fertilization until natural death. It cannot be subject to the arbitrary whims of others, or soon each of us will find ourselves or our loved ones being defined out of existence.
Finally, the constant rallying cry attendant to this "women must control their own bodies" argument is the clever but evasive rejoinder, "Who decides?" You can point out that the more appropriate question is, "Who dies?"
Since every abortion does in fact stop a beating heart it is absolutely essential that a just government pass laws to respect the right to life. Slogans like "Keep your laws off my ovaries" are simply a distraction from the power of the truth about the unborn's life. Our elected officials are bound on our behalf to ensure that protection is provided every human being.
Ultimately the only way to actually protect the mother's rights will be by enforcing laws that secure her child's right to life.
*This article originally appeared in February 11, 1998 NRL News
Printed with permission from National Right to Life (www.nrlc.org ).