A few weeks ago, I listened quietly as a demonstrater outside Garret Hall compared abortions to the Holocaust. As I weaved my way past the throng of students, I heard him say, “Just think about it. Adolf Hitler didn’t view Jews as humans. Planned Parenthood doesn’t view babies as humans. It’s the same thing.”
Crass statements like these frustrate me. As I looked around, I could tell they frustrated a significant portion of my peers. Behind me, another demonstrator taunted the audience saying, “I hear crickets! You know he’s making a good point.” Though, I think the silence was more an indication of our shock rather than our inability to argue against his position. But I want to take the time now to rationalize the upset caused by such pro-life arguments.
On several occasions, I have heard pro-life advocates accuse pro-choicers of allowing emotions to usurp facts, of placing teary-eyed rhetoric over reality. However, support for women’s access to legal abortions does not reflect ignorance of facts, but rather indicates an appreciation for the complexity of the issue itself. In fact, by reducing the conversation to a discussion over whether the fetus is a life or not, pro-lifers are disregarding the nuances and particularities of the abortion debate.
This reductionism appears in two horns of the pro-life argument. First, that a fetus is a human life, and thus terminating it equates to murdering a born human being. Second, that a fetus is an independent person, and thus the mother has no jurisdiction over its life.
I acknowledge that a fetus is a human life. When a sperm fertilizes an egg, a single-cell embryonic zygote forms with a set of 46 chromosomes. With this unique genome, it is distinctly human and individual. With the premise that these unborn fetuses are human lives, pro-lifers conclude that they must be afforded the same rights and protections as any citizen. But the acknowledgement of a fetus as a human life does not nullify the case for abortion.
For one, the fetus is not conscious and never has been. It is not a sentient being. It is neither aware of its own life nor the termination of it. But this fact alone is not sufficient to justify abortion. It functions alongside the second distinctive feature of the issue — the fetus lives in the uterus of its mother and depends on her body to stay alive. These two important facts, together, make abortion a unique case concerning life, and overlooking this uniqueness casts aside relevant details.
The “my body, my choice” argument highlights this second distinctive feature. In response, some pro-lifers argue that while you certainly have control over your body, you do not have jurisdiction over what is within your body. However, the first clause of this statement contradicts the second. No woman can have control over her body if she cannot control whether or not life inhabits it. To control one’s body entails protection from the forces, internal and external, which cause it harm. Right to life does not equate to the right to impede on someone else’s life. This is a lofty principle — not meant to be enforced in other issues beyond abortion. A precedent set for abortion must be seen as unique to the abortion issue because of the two distinctive features described above — because in this particular case, the life to which we are referring is an insentient being, living within the confines of another body.
Pro-life reductionism leads to a poisonous attachment to principles. If life begins at conception, then using Plan B is the equivalent of murder. If abortion is murder, then we are living admist an ongoing genocide. The women who receive abortion services must be evil as the doctors who perform them. Some anti-abortion advocates would agree with these conclusions, but I also know of those who don’t.
In fact, in response to then-candidate Donald Trump’s comments in 2016 suggesting that women be punished for recieving abortion services, Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, responded stating, “no pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion.” This is the same organization which refers to abortion as the “greatest human rights violation of our time.” It is here we recognize that there has been some sort of logical gap in our thinking — that perhaps a fetus is a life, but the circumstances of its life are very different from the ordinary.
Sadly, reductionism has become a political strategy, guised under the facade of straight-forwardness and a strict adherence to the facts but is really just a watered-down version of reality. It serves to unfairly simplify a complex political issue into a provocative headline or a graphic image of a bloody, mangled body. Reductionism is not realism — it is the undermining of reality.
To the man who compared abortions to the Holocaust — I understand that it is politically convenient to make such references, to insert images of gas chambers and emaciated bodies piled into mass graves. But to incite the Holocaust is to project one of history’s most evil atrocities onto a political issue that has obvious distinctions. On an issue as fundamental as bodily autonomy, we deserve better.
Esther Eriksson von Allmen is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.