Life is Not Everywhere

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Equating abortion with murder is wrong

ON JULY 16TH, at a hearing in which a 20-year-old woman sought to abort her 25-week-old foetus, the Supreme Court denied permission and the judges also made comments, according to the news website The Print, ‘suggesting that aborting a foetus amounted to murder’. The report said: ‘A bench comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and Sanjay Kisan Kaul told the woman’s advocate, Sneha Mukherjee, that the unborn child should have been represented in court instead of the mother. “You should make the mother hear her child’s heartbeat,” Justice Joseph said… He also said that the woman would “regret killing the baby” if she “reconciles with the husband”.’

Only extraordinary circumstances make the abortion of a foetus beyond 20 weeks legal, and this case clearly doesn’t qualify. The woman was estranged from her husband and wanted to pursue an independent life, unsaddled by motherhood. But equating abortion with murder adds something of a new colour to the issue. India has never been touchy on abortion for a number of reasons. The state has encouraged family planning because of overpopulation, and abortion is a necessary component of this. Also, culturally, we don’t carry the baggage of Abrahamic religions in which God is thought to be the giver of life and so has the sole right to take it away. The 20-week limit itself is negotiable if the health of the mother or an abnormality in the child is a factor.

Abortion is not murder because there is no independent life being taken. What is being discarded is a part of the woman’s own body. To deny her an abortion is to deny her her right over herself. It sounds reasonable to value a potential life, but that is only when you consider it in isolation. When pitted against the mother’s own interests and choice, it only has value if you bring in a religious component of sacredness, which is just a point of view. The idea that life begins at conception is also just an opinion. There is no way to conclusively prove it one way or the other.

A US writer named Patrick Tomlinson had an interesting thought experiment for those who consider conception equal to life. He made up a scenario where there were two choices to pick for anyone, whether pro- or anti-abortion. He had tweeted: ‘You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help… In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labelled “1000 Viable Human Embryos”. The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C”. “C” means you all die.’ Every single human being on earth would pick the five-year-old, even if you were to replace those embryos with a thousand foetuses.