Being a man often means I must accept the fact that men have (arrogantly) made all kinds of decisions affecting women. Many of which were designed and intended as a means of control. Generally speaking, they were designed and intended to forbid women from exercising equal rights and privileges men enjoy because of a deeply flawed sense of paternalism. This decisional oddity is reflective of the culture at the time. I accept this as an historic reality – a reality that was ripe for change.
We live in an age where the situation appears to be improving, but unfortunately isn’t equal. The dynamics of the abortion debate are often difficult and messy because we make it so. It is even difficult for both sides of the discussion to use the same language when talking about their positions. Unfortunately, the law and decisions surrounding the issues often further complicates the matter.
Separate and apart from the respective sides of the discussion, the sub-debate on abortion is whether men should have any say in the matter because it’s not their body.
The history surrounding the issue of abortion has been dominated by the voices of men in the United States until the Supreme Court determined that it is the woman’s right to choose. That is settled law and regardless of political movements to change the law, it is highly doubtful such attempts would survive constitutional scrutiny, at least in the United States.
At the same time and putting aside principles of constitutional law, if a couple is considered as one in the eyes of God (using a religious view) and the government (the legal view which is reflective of the religious view), shouldn’t a decision about a life created by two people within that union be a matter of qualified agreement to some degree during the pregnancy? After all, the law recognizes rights of fit biological parents once the child is born.
I’m going to say something which may seem controversial, only because of the ongoing societal debate. Life begins at conception. That should be an accepted scientific fact. Life even exists prior to the sperm fertilizing the egg, but upon conception, mitosis follows and the process of the human embryo begins. If it is left alone and assuming no other factors, natural or otherwise interrupt it, that embryo will turn into a human fetus and be born a baby.
All of those words describe a part of the process and development of human life. However, it is all still human life – a separate life and distinct from its mother, regardless of whether it could survive on its own.
The argument that it isn’t a life unless it can survive on its own is a rather dangerous and slippery slope. If you put a baby on a hill and left it alone, it will likely die because it cannot survive in its own. Is a life any less alive in utero than outside the womb, if neither could survive on their own?
Here’s something that may shock you; the fact that it is a life is not the end of the discussion for me. So, you understand this isn’t some kind of academic debate. Allow me to discuss my personal experiences involving my ex-wife that occurred within our eleven-year marriage.
Early on, my wife and I became pregnant. Of course, she was the one carrying but the life inside her was ours. That isn’t some antiquated notion of paternalism or latent misogyny. She didn’t become pregnant by way of a visit from an archangel. Having said that, it turned out that my swimmers were way too eager and fertilized the egg in her fallopian tube, resulting in an ectopic pregnancy.
The doctors told us that there was no chance that the fetus would develop or be born, and that if we did not abort, my wife could go into shock and die.
No brainer, right?
After two shots of methotrexate, the HGC (Human Growth Hormone) levels in my wife’s system remained elevated, posing a danger to my wife. It had to be surgically removed. What entailed was a traumatic experience. My wife bore the brunt of the pregnancy and the burden it brought – complications, medication and surgical procedures. I was essentially a supportive and passive bystander who paced a waiting room and did what I could to attend to her needs.
About a year later, we found out that we were pregnant again with our son. He is now 9 years-old. Success, from conception to delivery. There wasn’t a decision to be made about whether he would be born. He was a life with whom we interacted before he was born. Legally speaking, she could have terminated him and there would be nothing I could have done to stop her.
About a year later, we were pregnant again. When we went for the ultrasound, we were thrilled when we found out that she was carrying twin girls. We saw them on the monitor and heard their heartbeats. They were no less alive than our son.
Later, the doctor needed to talk with us because there was a potentially serious complication. The girls were monoamniotic monozygotic twins. That’s a complicated way of saying that they were identical twins, and instead of two occupying separate amniotic sacs inside my wife’s womb, they were developing in one sac together.
This is a dangerous situation because of the risks of cord strangulation. The doctor explained the risks – explaining that we (she) could choose to terminate the pregnancy. We discussed the matter, agreeing that our twins deserved a chance at life.
We didn’t debate what these two lives were or whether my wife had a right to choose or whose bodies they were growing in. We wanted to afford our daughters their fair chance to live. Their fate was initially in our hands, but no more than the fate of our infant son. In our son’s case, his birth means that he is protected by the law as a free human life and we, as his fit parents are both legally responsible for him.
June 3rd, 2011 and twenty-six weeks into the pregnancy, a routine ultrasound revealed that our twins had died. I’ll never forget that day. I was working in NYC and received a call from my wife with the devastating news. Right away, I grabbed my things with no desire to talk to anyone, leaving the most brutal email I have ever composed and sent to my supervisor; “My twins died. I left to be with my wife.” The train ride home was a blur, and not once had I debated whether those girls were a “life”. We had lost our daughters. We didn’t lose feti.
The umbilical cords were irretrievably tangled around their necks. The potential danger became a horrible reality. One died and then the other. On June 5th, 2011 they were officially “born” – if that’s the right word. I will spare you the gruesome details. But what I saw that day, I will never forget.
My wife went through the hell of the delivery. My hell was psychological; to see her going through the painful labor, and then watch my daughters born dead, strangled in an unholy mesh of once life-sustaining umbilical cords.
What you might not know is that after 24 weeks, the hospital does all of the normal things that occur during a birth, except instead of a birth certificate, they issue a death certificate.
If you are at a hospital and see a picture of a purple flower on the door of a delivery room, please say a silent prayer for the poor souls experiencing a quiet and unspeakable journey through a highly personal hell. I often wonder what kind of strange laws created this anomaly of having died, but also never having been born. I suspect it is the result of people not wanting to acknowledge a life in the womb is a life. Once you call it “life”, people who are not invested in that life assume they need to make decisions for the lives of all involved.
To recap and to better understand my opinion; I have participated in pregnancies – the necessary termination of one, the birth of another and the death of our twin girls. My wife didn’t get pregnant alone, nor did she decide alone. It was her right to do so and I fully recognize that, but the decisions were made by us. If I had the ability to be pregnant and/or bear her pain, I would have, but that’s not how biology works. I am a man; she is a woman and no debate will change the process of procreation.
It is interesting how these experiences have molded my perspectives. Having grown up Roman Catholic, I was always taught to be rigidly prolife. It was a matter of religious dogma, not subject to debate. As I matured, life also guided me. As a younger man, I watched my grandmother who had showed me how to love unconditionally, suffer with Alzheimer’s. I could only watch her slow torture at the hands of that horrible disease. Until a stroke ushered her death, but not before paralyzing half of her body and stealing virtually all of her memories.
Later, my father would suffer the same fate, except mercifully be taken by pancreatic cancer. That’s how bad Alzheimer’s is; that cancer was a blessing.
What was the state of their “lives” in the end?
I’m not going to debate the issue of euthanasia or assisted suicide; however, my point is that they were not able to live without extraordinary medical intervention. No one would argue that my family had the right to terminate their lives, only because they were born.
However, in my father’s case, my mother was his healthcare representative. When my father, riddled with Alzheimer’s and cancer, and who also had a heart condition, the doctors recommended a pacemaker be installed. She discussed my father’s options with my brother, sister and me, and wisely decided not to prolong his journey with extraordinary means. She remembered my grandmother, who had a pacemaker installed 20 years prior, and who also went through the entire horrible journey of Alzheimer’s. She spared my father from that fate. My father wouldn’t have wanted to live that way.
Put aside the legal discussion surrounding the abortion issue for a moment because nothing I say will sway a court of competent jurisdiction, or even move the needle of society’s momentum in general to agree with my viewpoint.
That having been said, what if we were to fairly and equitably create a societal standard to guide the rights of those affected by a pregnancy, and instead of a purely liberty based standard, we introduced an element of responsibility?
The first thing introducing responsibility would accomplish is broadcast a message to society in general that unless it is your sperm or egg, go sit in the corner and shut the fuck up. Put your cape and collar away and stop reciting the fiction that it is society’s responsibility to protect that life. If society has a responsibility to protect life, it wouldn’t fail so miserably when that life is born. Just look around and tell me about the banged-up job society is doing with the lives of the born.
If you are advancing a religious agenda, realize this truth; God will decide things that God decides and your good intentions have no tangible merit in the discussion. Once the parish leaves the pews, they must use their God given free will in their lives.
And before you get your markers, poster boards and pink hats out for the pro-choice march you think I’m intending to join – let me put my purple hat on and upset you too. (Trigger warning) If the parents-to-be intend to care for the child once born, both of those parents-to-be should have near equal rights in the decision about that life. I say “near equal” because in fairness, a mother carries the child procreated by the couple and should be the driving force of the decision-making process while that child is within her.
Why not let the natural order of the universe guide the extent to which a mother and father-to-be should decide? Look at it like this, compare the size of the egg to the sperm and that proportion should be the weight of the decision-making input between the mother and father.
Before anyone asks the dumb question: “Well, then shouldn’t a rapist or an abuser be given rights?”
No. Just no. My view point assumes two consenting adults to the act of procreation. Neither a rapist, nor an abuser fall into this category. Likewise, where the mother’s life is in danger, it is her right of self-determination that is paramount.
What I’m talking about is the elective decision to end a pregnancy; whether or not there is a heartbeat. At a certain point in the pregnancy where the life is viable, I would add, the decision of the child should control.
That wasn’t a moment of insanity or a typo. I mean it. If the child has progressed in their journey to the point that medical science has determined it is viable and able to otherwise survive outside the womb, there should be a presumption that the child wants to live. At that point, I think parents should have made their decisions already, and unless there was a compelling reason to end that life, the baby should be given the opportunity to live.
Before everyone on both sides of the debate begin to sharpen their pitchforks and ready their torches to chase me out of the debate, I don’t have the ability to affect your decisions and wouldn’t want to affect them either. If you are pregnant, I would gladly take my own advice; wish you and yours well and sit in the corner, shutting the fuck up.
Go ahead, be offended. You have that right.
Xavier Eastenbrick is a soul on a journey of life, meeting souls along the way. He adds to the richness of the universe and is grateful for each moment.