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Quality of life not a valid basis for abortion

It appears Vanessa Layne '93 ["Abortion critic would be more credible if he acted on his beliefs," April 10] has missed the point of James P. Donahue '91's letter ["Society morally responsible for care of unwanted children," April 3] as well as the main point of the right-to-life movement. Donahue was trying to answer the allegation of abortion advocates that pro-lifers do not care about the lives of those who would otherwise be aborted. Rather than list the many organizations and individuals who provide support (financial, education, emotional, etc.) to women in crisis pregnancies and their children, Donahue chose to describe one particularly beautiful example of human solidarity.

It is difficult to understand how Layne managed to read this as abdication of responsibility on the part of Donahue himself. The conviction that we all have responsibility (to differing degrees) for each other's welfare can be lived out in a myriad of ways. Some pro-lifers work in soup kitchens or care for elderly neighbors living alone or take in unwed mothers and their children or dedicate themselves more to educating others. It does not follow from pro-life convictions, as Layne seems to think, that one should drop out of school. On the contrary, Donahue's education will enable him to support a future family and work to create a world in which there will be no such thing as "an unwanted person."

The vision guiding the creation of such a world is also the motivation of the right-to-life movement and the fundamental way in which pro-lifers differ form advocates of abortion. The pro-life ethic is that each human being is intrinsically valuable simply by the virtue of being a human person. This means that no human being can be devalued or dispensed with on the basis of race, gender, intelligence, "productiveness," stage of development, or the judgment of anyone else concerning the "quality" of that human being's life.

This is a high ideal to live by and no one is claiming to have reached its perfection; individuals and societies must constantly struggle to put it into practice. The ideal recognizes not only a right to life but a corresponding responsibility to contribute to the quality of life of those around us according to each one's opportunities and capacity.

It is evident that the "ethic" of those who favor the availability of abortion is fundamentally opposed to this vision of humanity. Abortion advocates are willing to make a trade-off between a human life and one or more other criteria. Some may truly think that human life is dispensable; others may resign themselves to abortion as the most pragmatic solution, giving up on getting human beings to care for each other. It is a vision without responsibility.

When abortion is supported on the contention that the child will not have "quality of life," this is an abdication of responsibility. It is saying that one sees a potential need in the life on another, that the other should not be forced to live without that need fulfilled, and therefore the other should not live at all. Precisely what is missing from this argument is responsibility, the responsibility to help provide for the need in whatever way one can.

If the fundamental right to life does not inhere in the person then there are no "rights" properly so called. There are only privileges granted by those with power. This is what the abortion advocates' argument boils down to: Might is right. That is not the kind of world in which I would like to live.

Ann Brach G->