I’ll forever remember holding my friend *Maggie’s hand because her delinquent, drug-addled boyfriend wasn’t there to do it. I held it in the car on the way to the shuttered clinic, in the admitting room while we waited for the clinician and during the ultrasound as the nurse ran the sensor along Maggie’s belly in search of the second heart that beat inside her.
I wish I could’ve been by her side during her second and final appointment the following week, but the nurses told me I wasn’t allowed to be present for the procedure, so I sat once more in the admitting room, watching the incoming patients and the men that accompanied them.
I was only 17-years old, certain at the time abortion was one of those moral “grey areas” about which I had no right to opine. But four years of inner debate and a week of emotionally charged protests, editorials and letters to the editor have convinced me it’s worth an attempt.
Though a fetus’s “personhood” has been publicly debated for years, I think the argument is flawed in that it focuses entirely on the present state of the fetus. The general assumptions both sides make about the sanctity of human life before birth always seem to reach a logical impasse. What exactly defines a “person,” and what gives that person the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
That’s why Don Marquis, professor of philosophy at the University of Kansas, brought something new to the table with his 1989 essay “Why Abortion is Immoral.” His essay was the basis for the “future-like-ours” argument, which disregards the fetus’s present state and instead focuses on its future potential to become a human being with the same “experiences, activities, projects and enjoyments” as our own.
Why do we mourn premature death with the observation that “(s)he died far too young?” Marquis’s argument addresses this fact of life with the theory that death is tragic and killing immoral because “When I die, I am deprived both of what I now value which would have been part of my future personal life, but also what I would have come to value. Therefore, when I die, I am deprived of all of the value of my future.”
By asserting that life’s value lies not only in the present and past but also in the future, Marquis sidesteps the question of a fetus’s “personhood” and suggests that a fetus’s future potential to become a human being extends it the right to life. He does, however, offer exceptions for cases involving rape or incest.
While I’m by no means trying to endorse Marquis’s essay as absolute truth, I often wonder why pro-life supporters resort to grotesque imagery captioned with inflammatory terms such as “genocide” and “murder” to get their point across when there are other more logical, less offensive options. But even now, more than 20 years after its appearance, I have yet to see a single public protest or debate make mention of the “future-like-ours” argument. Curious, considering it’s been a hot topic among academics since the day it was published and no one has satisfactorily disproven it.
Though I’m hesitant to take Marquis’s firm stance on the moral implications of abortion, I think most of us can agree that it’s a tragic choice for any woman to be faced with. It’s even more troubling when one considers that most abortions could be prevented by the universal availability and proper use of birth control. The most recent statistics from the Allen Gutmacher Institute show that 46 percent of women seeking abortions weren’t using birth control during the month of conception. Of those who used birth control, “76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently.”
Rather than suggest we outlaw elective abortion or rail against either the pro-choice or pro-life camps, I’d rather express the hope that we’ll all someday consider abortion a last resort to be sought only after all other resources have been exhausted. Unfortunately, the figures above show that’s presently not the case.
To this day, I regret not trying to talk Maggie through her decision, to see if she had considered all her options — but I was too young to know how. The most I can do now is promise myself that if I should ever have a daughter, I’ll give her the emotional support that Maggie never had. No one should have to face such a critical decision alone.
*Maggie’s name has been changed.
Timothy Rabb is an LSA senior.