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Anti-abortion argument lacks foundations

In a letter published in The Tech ["Argument that an abortion is murder," May 10], Mr. Roberts expresses disappointment in my letter on abortion ["Silent Scream: the issues and analogies of abortion debate," May 3]. It seems to me that his reaction is largely the result of a series of misunderstandings.

Mr. Roberts seems to think that my reference to medical difficulties was an invitation to treat all possible or conceivable cases; in fact I sought merely to show that Mrs. Elliot was by no means confronted with all the "hard cases" (her phrase, not mine). I am not sure why Mr. Roberts thinks that I am confused about medical difficulties or that I had forgotten the only such case discussed at the screening of "Silent Scream."

Mr. Roberts suggests that if abortion should be legal to make it safer, then so should murder. This might be reasonable if there were the same degree of certainty about the need to prohibit these activities, but there is not.

Mr. Roberts rightly remarked that the correctness of Roe vs. Wade depends on whether abortion is murder, but wrongly stated that I missed this point. In fact I noted that one of Mrs. Elliot's objects was to show that abortion is murder, and devoted a large part of my letter to arguing that it is not. Indeed, Mr. Roberts' reply is largely devoted to my discussion of this question.

He repeated the standard rebuttal of the viability argument, suggesting that if a fetus is not human until it is viable outside its mother then a man on a dialysis machine is not human either. This ignores both the distinction between a woman and a dialysis machine (which was mentioned in my letter), namely that the latter has no rights or feelings, and the fact that my purpose in discussing the analogy of a man forcibly connected to a famous violinist to provide vital functions was to show that abortion should be permitted, even if a fetus does have the same rights as any other human being. I do not see what point Mr. Roberts thinks I have missed here: it seems to me that he has misunderstood the analogy (not mine, incidentally) of the violinist.

Mr. Roberts appears to have three things to say about this analogy: one incidental remark and two objections to the comparison with abortion.

He says of abortion that "Even calling it a `right' does not change the result: death." I do not see what is meant by this remark: the result might be a reason for not calling abortion a right, but if it is a right why should it be denied?

Mr. Roberts pointed out that in the analogy of the violinist, abortion corresponds more to attacking the great man with a sword than to disconnecting oneself from him. This, however, is not an objection to inducing a miscarriage, and to allow this and only this is a pedantry which I am sure the "pro-life" lobbies do not favor.

The other objection is that in the case of abortion the mother "... took upon themselves [herself?] the risk and responsibility of pregnancy and parenthood." This seems to me to assume a degree of forethought and control not ordinarily present in human activities and, as Mr. Roberts admits, is complete nonsense in the case of rape, a case which caused extraordinary misunderstandings.

Far from presupposing (as Mr. Roberts says) that abortion would be allowed in the case of rape, I noted that Mrs. Elliot argued against it even then. Her argument on this point is so unclear to me that I cannot help feeling that the idea is to discuss the more usual case and then state as an afterthought that the conclusion also applies in the case of rape.

A third communication failure is revealed by Mr. Roberts' talk of sentencing a child conceived through rape to death. I do not propose this any more than I would propose sentencing the violinist to death because his supporters used illegal means to preserve his life. The question is whether the victim of rape should be sentenced to a further burden, namely that of carrying and providing for an unwanted child.

Jorgen Harmse G->