The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 19.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Silent Scream- the issues and analogies of abortion debate

Having attended the screening of "Silent Scream" in 10-250 and having found that (through no fault of the organizers) the time was inadequate for a thorough discussion, I wish to comment on what was said at the meeting. I have not yet formed an opinion on the question of whether abortion is "morally wrong" and will confine myself to whether the Constitution should be amended so as to overrule Roe vs. Wade.

The main speaker, Mrs. Elliot, sought to show that a fetus is not merely "a piece of tissue," "part of the mother's body," but a child with the same rights as any other human being and that abortion is therefore murder. (This, I think, is one of the "inflammatory ... words" she made such a point of not using: I am not aware of any law preventing "pro-life" groups from using whatever language they wish.)

Since the former question is frequently debated, I shall merely mention two points before considering the latter. The speaker argued that although one may complain of pain in many parts of the body, no woman could suffer a pain in the fetus. This cannot be accepted as proof that the fetus is not part of the woman's body, since by that argument the brain is not either.

Mrs. Elliot rebutted arguments about viability by comparing a fetus to a man on a dialysis machine, but I reject this analogy. I have read an analogy which seems to me far more accurate and which, in my opinion, shows that even an admission that a fetus is already a human being is not an admission that abortion is murder, as pointed out in the same source.

Suppose that a talented violinist (or what you will) falls ill through failure of the kidneys. Since the value of the analogy lies in its aptness rather than its plausibility, let us suppose that the genius can be saved only by having his blood pumped through another's kidney. When medical records reveal only one man whose blood type and other features are compatible, he is seized by the disciples of the great one and connected in the appropriate manner.

The victim is informed of the importance of the life he is now preserving and assured that the genius' kidneys will certainly recover within nine months. I sketched this analogy at the meeting and stated my own opinion that no law should prevent the man concerned from disconnecting himself and leaving the genius to his fate.

Mrs. Elliot replied, suggesting that I had not understood the analogy of the dialysis machine. In fact I had understood it and distinguished it from the case of a fetus attached to its mother, because the latter is a human being with her own rights, not an inanimate machine.

It became clear that it was the analogy of the violinist that was not properly understood when a member of the audience asked about pregnancy caused by rape, a case which corresponds precisely to the analogy.

The speaker began by saying that, "It's always the hard cases ..." and went on to argue that abortion should not be permitted even when a woman has been raped. If I remember it correctly, the argument was that the woman is then the appointed protector of the life inside her: I am sure that it was not anything which distinguished the case of rape from the analogy. Nor can the deficiency be supplied by complaining about hard cases.

In the first place, too little was said about another class of hard cases, namely those where there are medical problems.

In the second place, pregnancy caused by rape, however rare, is a vital case because a woman can always claim to have been raped. I understand that there is already some difficulty in tracking rapists down and obtaining convictions: any legislation which encourages vast numbers of false accusations will make rape effectively unpunishable.

The speaker rejected the suggestion of a member of the audience that abortion should be legal to make it safe, saying that one could argue for the legalizing of drugs on the same grounds. I am not sure how the argument would go, but since I happen to be in favor of legalizing drugs, I do not find the conclusion particularly repugnant. Moreover, this makes me wonder whether Mrs. Elliot agrees with Dr. Nathanson's argument against abortion that even when legal, it is not perfectly safe.

This brings me to the film itself. However clear the ultrasound picture may be to Dr. Nathanson's expert eye, it is, to me, little more than a blur. He seems to be aware of this problem and tries to compensate by a graphic description of what he sees. In any case, the cruelty of a particular method of abortion is not an argument against abortion, but against that method.

Jorgen Harmse G->