Those who oppose voluntary termination of pregnancies usually call their movement “right to life.” But if asked how they define life itself, the answers are quite diverse. Does life begin with the fusion of two cells at the time of fertilization? At the time of a fully developed baby’s arrival? Or any time outside of these two events? Skirting the issue in the Roe v Wade (1973) case, the US Supreme Court ruled with the opinion “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” Instead the court chose an arbitrary point at which time the fetus is deemed viable, i.e.,capable of living outside the uterus, which was a stage believed then to occur at approximately the end of the 24th week of pregnancy.

Since no governmental departments can define “life” or when it begins, theological, ethical, and speculative beliefs have been presented in a haphazard manner to fill the void, often relying on religious tenets: Some anti-abortion activists contend that “life” can be established by such criteria that include, among others, ultrasound images of spines and hearts, and fetal motions. Clearly, these various efforts offered as evidence of “life,” fail to prove what courts or scientists cannot. If one agrees with many right-to-life advocates that all life begins at conception, abortion at any stage would constitute murder, meaning that all abortions would be criminal, an idea supported by only a small minority.


Although “life” cannot be defined by the governmental judiciary, religious beliefs also fail in this endeavor; moreover, any attempts to apply religion to this debate not only violates the first amendment’s separation between church and state. Moreover, the various religions cannot even agree as to when “life” begins. Many religious fundamentalists believe that life begins at initial conception, and, by contrast, Jewish law teaches that life begins at birth, specifically when the infant’s head emerges into view; moreover, the newborn infant is not even considered fully possessed of a status equal to an adult human until it has survived thirty days following birth. These conflicting religions attitudes underline how such beliefs have befuddled governmental policies. For instance, in my state of Indiana, and emulated in severeal other states, the legislature, following religious principles, passed a bill mandating to disposal of fetal remains by burial or cremation, which also includes instances of abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths. This law also prohibits women or health-care facilities from donating fetal tissue for medical research. Such actions demonstrate how religious beliefs are violating church-state separation found in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In effect, these groups are stating that “my religious beliefs must be adhered to, in preference to your religious beliefs.”


The U.S. Constitution provides no guidance about terminations of pregnancies, nor does it explore the meaning of “life,” or when it begins. It does, however, through the fourth amendment, establish the right of privacy, to wit, The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. “

This means essentially that the government cannot impinge on private matters such as whether or not pregnancies are terminated. Such decisions are strictly private and are left to be determined by individuals’ own religious, ethical or philosophical beliefs—with one possible exception, that being after a developing fetus is capable of surviving outside the womb. But even this latter case is arbitrary and subject to overriding considerations such as danger to mothers’ health, fetal abnormalities, and others, all of which should be subject to the input from medical professionals without direct governmental involvement.

This non-intervention governmental policy should extend to all the states in a uniform fashion which would level the playing field for all women, no matter where they lived or their financial condition. In order for this policy to be applied uniformly to the entire nation, congressional action would be necessary—a difficult, but not impossible task.

Such legislation is far overdue, for had it been applied in the past, it would have rendered Supreme Court action (Roe v Wade) unnecessary. In addition, this policy could serve to avoid many emotionally charged future confrontations.


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