The death of US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg led to a frenzy of political, legal and medical speculation. President Trump immediately made clear his intention to replace her with a judge sympathetic to his political beliefs, which is what all presidents do and is entirely constitutional. The Democrats are outraged. The matter has grave implications for the American political and legal system. It widens the awful divide in America on many issues, especially abortion.

The death of Ginsburg and the choice of her replacement has awakened ancient debate about the political role of judges. We are sometimes told judges don’t make law, but of course they do. The Common Law is nothing but a collection of precedents by judges’ decisions that become the law of the land. Should American Supreme Court judges just interpret the Constitution or should they decide policy? The Republicans believe the former; the Democrats are leaning towards the latter, and believe Ginsburg was on their side and fear her replacement will not be.

Ginsburg passed judgments on abortion, and it is this that most excites America and causes the greatest hostility between its two partisan camps. Abortion is an extraordinarily difficult matter, and needs rational, scientific assessment, which it almost never gets. I shall give it now.

I am an atheist. I believe that there is nothing but the physical world, that there is no soul and that our earthly bodies are all we have. Religious people believe otherwise but I think the state should approach the matter considering the body alone. Evolution has put morality into my brain, which tells me it is usually wrong to take human life. How do you define human life? A religious person might say it becomes human when the soul descends into it. I can’t say that.

Moment of conception

I have no alternative but to define a human life as an independent living entity controlled by human DNA. That entity comes into existence at the moment of conception. The first cell of the new being in the womb is a full human being. To kill it is to take a human life. It is essential that everyone realises that and admits it.

Surely this is very unfair on women? Of course. Nature is not fair; it is cruelly unjust and nowhere more than in the matter of making a baby. The man’s part is a brief, easy act, causing him probably the greatest pleasure of his life. The woman’s part is nine months of burden followed by what is probably the greatest agony of her life. Moreover, childbirth is dangerous for women; humans have by far the most difficult births in the animal kingdom (because human babies have large heads).

Abortion means killing a human being. But there are many occasions when it is legal to kill a human being, such as in war or in self-defence when your own life is threatened. Doctors regularly kill people by taking old, terminally ill patients off life-support machines to help younger patients with a good chance of recovery. I want to be allowed to kill myself if I am suffering crippling disability. Similarly we should be allowed to kill the unborn baby under certain circumstances, such as rape or danger to the health of the mother or the baby. The unborn baby is always a human being but it goes through different stages of development and consciousness, and you could decide that, at the early stage of development, the unborn baby has fewer rights. The only legal questions should be to decide under what circumstances and at what stage of development abortion should be allowed. That would be a matter for doctors and scientists.

Direct questions

Supporters of both extremes in the debate refuse logic. Both refuse to answer direct questions and instead shout and get hysterical. Examples of such questions:

To a religious ‘Pro-life’ believer who says all life is sacred: ‘If a 12-year-old girl were raped by her father and became pregnant after one day, would you not allow a doctor to flush out the foetus (unborn baby)?’

To a ‘Pro-Choice’ fanatic: ‘Do you think a woman should be allowed to have an abortion at the moment labour (dilation) begins?’ This was exactly the law proposed by Democrat Delegate Kathy Tran in Virginia last year. At that stage the baby cannot be pulled out in one piece and has to be chopped up in the womb with a pair of long, sharp pliers, ripping out legs, arms and other parts, crushing the baby’s skull and sucking out the brains. (I suppose you could also do a Caesarian section, take out the baby intact and then kill her.)

Both questions will be answered by screams. ‘Anti-Christ!’ ‘You want to deny a woman’s right to control her own body!’ (Actually the unborn baby is not part of the mother’s body even if she is inside it. She is a different living entity.)

Science, sympathy and sense are needed on abortion now. Let’s hope they come when America calms down.

[Picture: Nikos Apelaths from Pixabay]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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  1. A powerful lucid point that needs to be debated. Abortion is killing, full stop. Killing has to be allowed in certain circumstances. There is no doubt that life is initiated at conception so the pro-abortion supporters must at least be honest and admit that it is a life that is being destroyed and not trivialise the action. Pro-lifers in turn need to accept that killing is sometimes necessary. Abortion should not be discussed in the same breath as contraception/birth control.

  2. Andrew normally rights sense, but the emotional issue of abortion seems to have destroyed his objectivity.

    To ignore the background to the Republicans’ packing of the Supreme Court is the intellectual and moral equivalent of ignoring the Nat’s packing of the Senate in order to disenfranchise Coloured voters. Like the so-called pro-life sickos (who believe All Lives Matter — until the child is born) the Nats believed as deeply in their cause as the ANC does defending against corruption or the US religious fundamentalists do theirs; none of which makes them correct.

    Nearly a year before the end of Barack Obama’s term, he and the Democrats wished to appoint a decent, ethical and competent judge to the Supreme Court whose views the radical right disagreed with. The Republicans abused their majority in the Senate to block this on the grounds that a president should not appoint a judge in his last year of office. Some of the Republican senators who shouted the loudest are now pushing to do exactly that in order to pack the Supreme Court with reactionary judges. (Unlike SA, US SC judges are in office until they die).

    This continues the Trump-Republican programme of appointing divisive judges, one with serious rape charges against him and of firing prosecutors who investigate cronies.

    Apart from skin colour, the morals of the ANC and current Republican party are identical.

    As it happens, I am opposed to abortion — and believe all medical interventions should be used with caution — but hope that the sick and obscene “Immorality Act” has taught South Africans that the state has no business in people’s private lives.

  3. So what is the scientific and / or logical position on abortion? Science might say life starts at conception, but as you point out people differ on what stage of development deserve full rights…Abortion is a good example of how science and reason only go so far in resolving moral disputes.

    I am with conservative philosopher John Gray which sees religion as a way of life. Liberal humanism is simply a substitute for a secular religion. Gray in his seven types of atheism see this specific strain (liberal humanism) with its faith in man, progress and rationalism as one of the 5 out of 7 atheisms that doesn’t escape religion.

    Highly recommend checking out Straw Dogs and Seven Types of Atheism even the Youtube videos / interviews…

  4. Women who say they have the right to decide about what happens to their own bodies, seem to forget that they also have the responsibility to not become pregnant when they are not ready for a baby. Abortion is a decision that they make on behalf of the new life, not in the first place for their own bodies as theirs will be rid of the child in nine month’s time.

    • The “responsibility” not to get pregnant – and indeed of raising a child – lies equally with a man and a woman. I’m tired of hearing people blaming the woman as if we self impregnate and then decide we want an abortion. And many women who become pregnant for whatever reason and are denied an abortion are not necessarily “rid” of the child in nine months’ time. Many are left to raise the child single handed and are once again blamed when they don’t do it right. I’m not excusing women who neglect and abuse their children but sometimes an abortion is a better option than a child born into misery.

  5. “The woman’s part is nine months of burden followed by what is probably the greatest agony of her life.”
    Being pregnant was not a burden for me, and the births of my children not the greatest physical agony.

    I do believe that there are certainly times when abortion can be considered. But babies are the result of sex which means most woman had a choice even before conception. That is pro-choice. To abort a baby as a means of contraception/ birth control, is immoral.

  6. Question?
    How can it be justice to kill the innocent for the crime of the guilty?
    As a Christian I’m told that the “sins of the father” do not accrue to the son and vice versa.
    Therefore the unborn child should not be killed, even if his/her father is a rapist.
    There should be consequences, true.
    But if the state refuses the death penalty for murder, on what basis does it enable the individual woman to murder the innocent for rape?

  7. Exactly. Well stated James, and these are the questions that are never properly answered in opinion pieces like this.
    Instead, the writer uses fringe arguments to make a terribly weak point.
    How many people know that more African American babies were aborted than were born in New York last year? The stats for other races are equally gruesome. Its a massacre.
    Al the mealie mouthed, pseudo scientific and pitiful opinions on this matter collapses in the face of these facts. So much for a world that has abandoned God, believing they can do better. Professing themselves wise, they became fools.

  8. Too many men and women are still having children while not in a position to financially support children. The children then end up on the streets in a life of poverty and extreme hardship. How can anyone say that this is acceptable and an abortion isn’t ethical or moral. The same goes for women who are raped. That woman must live the rest of her life knowing that that child comes from someone who harmed and violated her.
    Abortion for these reasons should be completely legal and acceptable. Those who disagree are only selfishly thinking of themselves.
    Religious indoctrination is already a problem for me and it is difficult enough having to live with and under religious authoritarian beliefs.

  9. Society kills its own, and always has. Like it or not, we have accustomed ourselves. to the widely contradictory reasoning that is usually offered up to ease our consciences.

    Thus, for reasons political or glorious, we train our young to go forth and. do it more and more efficiently in war. Supreme efficiency is rewarded with general acclaim, with scrolls, medals or even statues and added. to the pantheon of. glory.

    Those who exceed basic rules of killing are , after due process by the (mostly) trained experts administering our laws, duly sentenced to death or imprisonment.
    Of all these it is only the unborn who are denied recourse to own choice of life or death.The mothers claim all jurisdiction on all parts of their own bodies.They can dictate death by abortion to the unborn, by some now ( Hi Hillary) even up to ninth month, as they have the same claim as for all body excreta.
    Well, OK, but. then they should. also take responsibilty for disposal, even if this object breathes.
    Tell me how?


    • Good point Jaap – and then it follows that logically any debate around rights to abortion be concurrent with a debate on the ethical dimensions of the death penalty as a form of punishment.



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