In the past month I’ve had the privilege of presenting a case for the pro-life position in formal debates organized by campus pro-life clubs at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Ottawa. On both occasions, I was grateful to my opponent for engaging in dialogue about abortion, an issue that many champion but few are willing to defend in such a public way. The views of those who presented a pro-choice argument, therefore, merit our attention and reflection—something I have decided to do in several articles to determine which case is more compelling.
On March 5th, Dr. Fraser Fellows, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology as well as medical doctor who delivers babies and performs abortions in London, Ontario, made the case for legal abortion. “Based on what our societies define as a person…” Dr. Fellows stated, “there is no ambivalence about the status of a pregnancy. The fetus is not a person…Therefore, as condoned by our societies, abortion is a human right.”
That, in summary, was the crux of my opponent’s argument. Since the law of Canada does not recognize a human embryo or fetus as a legal person possessing rights, and the majority of Canadians supposedly support a woman’s right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy or not, the pre-born has been declared a persona non grata.
“Alas,” Dr. Fellows lamented, “we are debating something that has no status in our societies!”
The irony of this statement and use of the above-mentioned Latin term is inescapable. A persona non grata, after all, literally refers to “an unwelcome person,” one who is culturally or diplomatically shunned and therefore figuratively non-existent. But does that mean he or she has actually ceased to exist? And does the fact that a society declares certain people as undesirables imply they may be treated however we see fit?
In my opening statement, I made the scientific case that the pre-born are human beings from the moment they come into existence, which is fertilization, and provided evidence to show that abortion directly and intentionally ends their lives. This is a human right’s violation, I concluded, since human beings have human rights. Human rights begin where the human being begins, unless we arbitrarily discriminate.
The burden of proof was heavily on the Doctor’s side to establish why the pre-born—human beings like you and me—may be denied the right to life. He attempted with a definition of which the origin wasn’t mentioned: “The word person, human being, child and individual shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.”
It is important to note that, though consistent with Canadian law, Dr. Fellows merely stated that but not why birth should be where we draw the line, nor did he explain why a woman’s right to bodily autonomy should trump a child’s right to life. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t really believe those claims himself.
During cross examination, I mentioned being 23 weeks and 3 days pregnant that day and asked up to exactly how many weeks and days Dr. Fellows performs abortions. “The standard in Canada…is 23 weeks and 6 days,” he answered, which, it turned out, is also his own limit. This means I could have walked into his clinic and obtained a dilation and evacuation abortion that week so I asked what such a procedure would look like. “Exactly as you said,” Dr. Fellows responded. To make sure the audience understood, I began to describe the procedure. “The cervix would first be dilated, the speculum inserted…” but the Doctor soon interjected. “Exactly, and the pregnancy is removed.”
My question about what that entails remained unanswered, so I continued. “You would use the forceps to take pieces of the baby, crush them, and pull them out until the entire fetus…” Again Dr. Fellows finished my sentence: “Until the whole pregnancy is out.”
I couldn’t help but wonder why Dr. Fellows refused to take us through the steps of the abortions he performs, even when pressed for it multiple times. If abortion is something most Canadians agree on and merely involves the removal of a pregnancy, why the unwillingness to describe it?
Interestingly, the terminology used during the debate showed an inconsistency in the Doctor’s own thinking. At times, he referred to the pre-born as an “abortus,” defining this as “a pregnancy that is going to be aborted” or already has terminated for spontaneous or therapeutic reasons. At other times, it was a pregnancy, fetus, or during Q&A, the pre-born were once referred to as developing human beings.
One can simply dismiss this as semantics, but I believe it conveys an important message. In order for Dr. Fellows to defend the fact that abortion ends the lives of real human beings, he has to think of them in subhuman terms—abortuses who lack legal status and may therefore be decapitated, dismembered, and disemboweled in clinics like the one he works at.
The logical extension of the case made that evening would be for Dr. Fellows to do and defend abortions during all nine months, for any or no reason whatsoever. Yet, he draws the line at 23 weeks and 6 days and later revealed to refuse doing sex-selection abortions. But if that’s what women want and the pre-born have no rights, how can he withhold access to and condemn some abortions? Could it be that even a late-term abortionist is uncomfortable with the practical implications of his theoretical defense?
Although we presented completely contrasting views during the debate, my opponent and I do have something in common. While our understanding of what it means vastly differs, we both seek to end what we perceive to be injustice. Moved by the suffering of fellow human beings he has encountered in his lifetime, Dr. Fellows is convinced that abortion is a necessary evil in a world that often cares little about the well-being of women and children. He has bought into the rhetoric that dehumanizes the most vulnerable in society and now proposes a solution that may intend to end suffering but instead eliminates sufferers, causing great bloodshed.
On the evening of March 5th, I proposed a different solution to often very difficult situations, one that recognizes the humanity of all members of our species and respects every human’s rights from the moment we come into existence. That’s not an easy fix for all social ills—I agree that a holistic approach is needed to address all the reasons that drive women to abortion—but as long as we deny basic science and philosophy, little children will continue to be butchered behind hospital and clinic doors. As long as we try to attain equality at the expense of others, human right’s violations will continue to take place. So instead, let’s rise to the challenge and, while working together to better the world, first ensure that all members of our kind have the right to life.
Because human rights are for all human beings.