Breda O’Brien: Ultrasound is the biggest enemy of abortion on demand
It is a moot point as to when a foetus experiences pain, but it is not a moot point as to when someone becomes human
The drive to dehumanise the unborn child is relentless. In a recent column on abortion, Emer O’Toole generated enough straw men to feed all the livestock on the island of Ireland a low-protein diet for a year.
It appears to be very hard for pro-choice activists to understand that those who oppose abortion do not see women who have abortions as “materialistic, greedy little brats stamping their feet for the luxury of reproductive services”.
In fact, we understand very well the kind of pressures that drive women to seek abortion. We just believe that ending a life is never a solution to a crisis.
We believe that there are better and more compassionate responses, ways that involve society changing to meet the needs of women, but which do not end a life in a surgical or medical procedure.
Just once, I would like a pro-choice person to address the real reasons why people oppose abortion.
But please do so in a way that is scientifically accurate. O’Toole believes that “the foetus is insensate and insentient up until the third trimester of pregnancy” and sees “all that ‘killing babbies’ rhetoric for the nonsense that it is”.
The third trimester begins at 28 weeks of pregnancy, or 26 weeks of gestation. Premature babies have survived from 22 weeks gestation.
Ultrasound is the biggest enemy of abortion on demand.
You can talk all you like about insensate and insentient, but when your friends are posting scans on Facebook showing their baby sucking her thumb at 12 weeks gestation, it is a little difficult to maintain the fiction.
For me, the best analogy is the death penalty, which I also oppose. If it is carried out in a way that maximises the pain and humiliation of the victim, such as in an Isis beheading, that adds another layer of horror.
But if it is done in a sanitised way by medical personnel, where the victim feels no pain at all, the death penalty is still wrong, because it involves the taking of human life.
It is a moot point as to when a foetus experiences pain, but it is not a moot point as to when someone becomes human.
That happens when a sperm fuses with an ovum. From that point on, there is a new human life, with unique DNA and a unique life.
Suppose my mother had chosen abortion in the second trimester. Who would have died? I would have. I would never have felt the sun on my face, never learned to walk, never fallen in love, never have given birth myself.
I would have been deprived of all the millions of experiences, good and bad, mundane and glorious, that make up a human life.
It would be marginally better if I did not also experience pain, but it is hardly enough to justify my death.
Women do not choose to take their baby’s life lightly. As Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote, “There is a tremendous sadness and loneliness in the cry ‘A woman’s right to choose.’ No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche.
“She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”
In her research on why women choose abortion, again and again she found it was because someone they loved and trusted, a boyfriend, a husband, a mother, wanted them to have one.
As one woman said: “I felt like everyone would support me if I had the abortion, but if I had the baby I’d be alone.” Is that really what we want? That abortion is just the least bad choice among really horrible choices?
A foetus is hidden, invisible. One of the flaws of human beings is that we often only experience compassion for those with whom we identify.
It took the photo of Aylan Kurdi, a three year old drowned on a beach, before most people felt an emotional connection with the refugee and migrant crisis.
Before we experienced compassion, the suffering was just as real.
It is easy to identify with a woman in crisis. It takes a degree of empathy and imagination to identify with a tiny foetus.
And yet, to be human is to begin life completely helpless and dependent, not just before birth, but long after. Many of us will experience that helplessness again, either through illness or old age.
It does not make us less than human. Interdependence is one of the best aspects of being human.
The word insensate has two meanings. The first meaning is to lack physical sensation, while the second is to lack sympathy or compassion, to be unfeeling.
A true evolution in compassion would happen when we not only feel compassion for the woman in crisis, but also for the tiny human being tumbling and turning in her womb.