The Abortion Debate: Seeking a Compassionate Conservative View?

Last week, there was an uproar in the American state of Texas related to a law which banned abortion providers from carrying out terminations after foetal cardiac activity is detected. The United States Supreme Court voted 5–4 for non-intervention, thus allowing the law to take effect. Among the more controversial aspects of this law is that anyone who contributes towards an abortion (including driving a pregnant lady to an abortion clinic) is liable to be sued and sued NOT by the state but by citizens (see note 1).

Abortion rights supporters demonstrating in Edinburg, Texas. ‘This law, like the wider anti-abortion drive, hurts women’s freedom, their health and even their lives.’ Photograph: Joel Martinez/AP

For an issue with so much fire, to say that the SCOTUS decision has only added fuel would be a huge understatement. Liberals have declared the situation in Texas to be draconian, even proof of ‘white supremacy’ which polices women’s bodies. Conservatives, especially those in Texas, see the outcome as a victory for the unborn.

So is this a disaster for women’s healthcare and autonomy, or is it a win for innocent unborn lives?

Is that a human being in the womb?

Call me old fashioned, but I’m one of those people who believe that life begins at conception.

Genetically speaking, a fertilized human ovum is 100% human. All genetic information is present from this point onwards, including the sex of the child. Reminder from Bio 101: A female ovum has 23 chromosomes, and a male sperm has twenty-three chromosomes, but a normal adult human being has forty-six chromosomes. At the moment of conception, when the male sperm and female ovum unite, a new, tiny, forty-six-chromosome human being is already made.

And over the next nine months this human being grows.

Within the first month of pregnancy, the child’s head, arms and legs begin to appear. After 3 weeks, her heart muscles pulsate (no heartbeat yet, though). In the second month, brain waves can be detected. Nose, eyes, ears and toes appear. Her skeleton and unique fingerprints develop. And, as everyone’s read the news from Texas now knows, her heart starts beating. In the third month the tiny human being can swallow, swim and squint. She can even suck her thumb and feel organic pain. By the fourth month, her weight has increased about six times and she can hear her mother’s voice.

Note that most abortion laws in the United States permit the termination of pregnancies from the moment of fertilization up to foetal viability (which is to say up to four months or so). This essentially means that it is legally permitted to end the existence of this human being who, as per above, has a heartbeat, fingerprints and can hear her mother’s voice.

Whatever your point of view, I hope you can see why many people see this as nothing short of murder.

Mums matter too

Having said that, like any liberal, I firmly believe that the health and safety of women must be prioritized. One must not preach about the value or life of the unborn whilst subjecting their mums (or pre-mums’, it’s complicated) to danger. In this sense, I resonate with the liberal warning about illegal abortions down in unhygienic and even dangerous venues.

It’s also ironic that Malaysia, not unlike Texas, reports slightly more than a hundred abandoned babies (in garbage dumps, drains, etc.) a year. Such a tragic state of affairs could support both the case for legalised abortion or a curbing of sexual activities which produces unwanted babies in the first place.

In this context, another conservative belief worth mentioning is this thing called the sanctity of marriage and how sex is something that should only happen within its’ boundaries. These boundaries of marriage also form the best way to conceive, deliver and raise a child. My ‘antiquated’ view (by liberal standards) is that a majority of unwanted pregnancies are a result of sexual practices which occur outside of marriage.

Ergo, if we want to reduce the number of abortions (almost by definition the termination of an undesired pregnancy), we must curb pre-marital sex.

Of course, one might ask: Why even bother to reduce the number of abortions? What’s wrong with terminating a pregnancy in the first place? To which my pre-historic reply (already elaborated above) would be that life begins at conception (and thus abortion at any time after conception equates to terminating a human life).

Shaming never helps

Nevertheless, I see no value in shaming or marginalising unwed mothers or pregnant teenagers. Like it or not, the issue of abortion cannot be separated from a breakdown in family and sexual relationships in society. Our communities are broken and need healing. Many young people are seeking relief from traumatizing familial or peer relations and turning to free sex, thus resulting in more unwanted pregnancies, are a symptom of societal dis-eases — there is surely no doubt that more compassion and forgiveness (as opposed to judgment and condemnation) are needed in such areas.

This would also entail, just like how it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes one to ensure this child doesn’t go around trading sexual partners like they were badminton partners. One thing the ‘village’ can also do is promote deeper sex education to prevent such cases from happening and proffer stronger family support should cases fall through (and they inevitably will).

It should also do no harm for traditional religious folks to pay more attention to engage more good-heartedly with those in the liberal school, and to have more gracious dialogues with those who don’t share conservative perspectives. Instead of judging and cursing anyone who disagrees, maybe the two sides can work at a third alternative moving forward. It should hurt no one to mutually seek for points of agreement along the spectrum.

In this sense, the Texas law — as much as it serves the conservative case superficially — also undermines it because it’s the furthest thing from being a sympathetic ear and helpful hands to people facing sexual problems.

Compassion, listening and goodwill are among the least sort after elements in political controversies like abortion. It’s my hope that this article helps to reinsert these elements into the discussion.

Note 1: Malaysian law — just like Texan law — allows abortion only in circumstances whereby a woman’s life or health (in all aspects) is threatened. Our laws do not allow for abortions in the case of rape, incest or foetal problems which do not immediately threaten the life of the child.