While delivering Meals on Wheels to seniors in Souris, PEI on Oct. 22, 2017 I was listening – as I often do – to Michael Enright’s program The Sunday Edition on the CBC. He was interviewing Rebecca Bratten Weiss about the New Pro Life movement of which she is a co-founder. There was much in the interview and in the write-up of the interview on the CBC website that I found of interest and that I could to relate to.
In previous blogs I have repeated my belief in the uniqueness and immeasurable value of each human being and my own feeling that what we learn in science generally and in what I have learned in Physics in particular reinforces this concept that we are, individually and collectively, a very special part of the Universe; special enough to have revealed to us the knowledge that we are loved beyond all reason by this totality of our existence which we have come to label as God.
Phrases like “Child of the Universe”, “Children of God”, “heirs to the kingdom” barely do justice to the ideas and emotions one is trying to express in talking about this belief. To quote St. Augustine from his Confessions,
“What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you?”
(p. 5, Oxford World’s Classics; Book 1, iv (4))
The issue of abortion, and many other issues raised by the pro-life movement, naturally engender high emotions, controversy and much political conflict. This is not surprising since such issues hit at the core of our own daily lives and deal with life and death matters.
That is why I listened with interest – when I could catch it in between my deliveries – to this interview and why I decided to follow up with at least a look at the New Pro-Life Movement and to include a discussion on it in a blog, with a view to linking the ideas with the theme of my blog – that we are indeed special children of the universe.
Weiss writes a blog of her own called “Suspended in her jar”, which I had a look at and again find ideas that I can connect with. More to the point though, even if I did not agree some of her ideas or opinions, I find it refreshing that there is an option to talk about emotional issues like abortion in a background of patience, empathy and willingness to take meaningful actions.
By meaningful actions I mean actions that are going to actually be effective rather than pointless or even counter productive.
The New Pro-Life Movement has a presence on medium.com where they publish loads of opinions https://medium.com/@newprolifemovement
The essential thrust of the new pro-life movement, from reading Weiss and the content on the medium.com blog is that the most effective way to deal with abortion – and with other issues that are related to or included in the notion of “pro-life” – is to make political and societal changes that promote or encourage people to make life giving, life saving decisions rather than just condemning those who choose abortion or euthanasia .
I can see the logic and the practicality of this approach because the pro-life movement has encountered a real dilemma: using the laws to force women to have a baby is simply not an alternative that most sensitive thinking people are prepared to push. The courts in Canada have long ago decided that anti-abortion laws, as they were written, were unacceptable in their infringement of the rights of women.
To quote from the online Canadian Encyclopedia
“Wrote chief Justice Brian Dickson: ‘Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of her security of the person.'”
On the other hand, aborting a fetus is, in my opinion, an act of killing a human being. This is not just a religious belief – it is based on scientific facts. The DNA of the human fetus is that of a human – not a monkey or a reptile or any other evolutionary, developmental stage of human-ness. Furthermore, medical science acknowledges that development of the human fetus as a human begin at conception, hence the restrictions promoted on drinking alcohol and other health precautions advocated for the development of a healthy baby, from the time of conception onward.
Also, continuing with information from the online “canadian encyclopedia”, it states there that the Supreme Court did not say that,
“…there was an inherent right to abortion under the Charter. Rather, it said the system regulating access to abortions – particularly the hospital review committees that were meant to approve abortion requests – had so many barriers and operated so poorly that it [the law] was ‘manifestly unfair’.”
Furthermore, on this point of right to abortion, it has been pointed out by PEI Supreme Court Justice Gerard Mitchell in a 2014 letter to The Guardian, a Charlottetown , PEI newspaper,that,
“…in actual fact all seven judges of the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged that the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the unborn!”
(emphasis is that of Mitchell, cited in a letter of Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland protesting Canada’s foreign policy with respect to abortion rights)
No other law was introduced to replace the law overturned by the Court. Surely there is a need to develop the political will in this country to have laws passed that recognize that human rights need to be extended to all human beings before the arbitrary point of live birth. To deny that the developing child in the womb is not entitled to life, protection and a genuine care for its interests, as some proponents of abortion contend, is as antediluvian as insisting that the world began 5000 years ago. The fact that the law does not recognize the rights of the fetus just means that the law must be brought in accord with this reality.
The online article goes on to say that, what it terms, “the fetal rights issue” was
“…ultimately decided in the 1989 case Tremblay v. Daigle, in which the Supreme Court found that only a person had constitutional rights, and that such rights began at the time of live birth.”
This last bit of historical info reminds me of the time in our history when women were not considered persons under the law and therefore could not vote, for example. Going a bit farther back we can find slavery justified on essentially the same grounds – that slaves were not considered persons under the law. These examples demonstrate that in matters of where human rights begin and end, the law is often an ass. As stated earlier, from the point of view of science and of medical care intervention the human person in the womb begins at conception. The law has to be able to deal with this reality.
Also mentioned in the same article,
“The Court also decided that the father of the fetus has no proprietary interest in a fetus and may not obtain an injunction to prevent a woman from exercising her right of choice to have an abortion.”
There are a number of bizarre points in this last statement that need to be addressed. I am not a lawyer and it is not my intent to delve into whatever legal intricacies may have been involved in such a case, but the whole evolution of human rights law has progressed on the notion that no person is legally the property of another person. In the case above, the fetus is not the property of the father, but neither is it the property of the mother. The mother’s right to refuse to bear the child is based on her personal rights, and the independent rights of the little person within her should somehow be recognized in law as well. As far as contributing and having significant and vested interest in the child, both parents have contributed about equal amounts of DNA and chromosomes and both should have shared and equivalent responsibility in nurturing and raising the child. Obviously the woman has a greater immediate physical interest and her rights need to be recognized. What is just as obviously lacking in such decisions by the Canadian Supreme Court is any recognition of the rights of the developing child.
This is where changes in the law and if necessary in the constitution are needed. Reconciling the rights of the fetus with the rights of the woman who is carrying the baby is a very difficult conundrum. That is no reason to avoid dealing with the issue. Granting full human rights to women and to slaves also seemed politically impossible to some, but we have learned to adjust, even as we continue to have to adapt to the political and economic realities that such broadening of human rights has brought. For example women still do not have full equality in the workplace or in politics, and racism is still a continuing problem. Accepting and granting the full rights of being human is just the beginning of a longer political and social journey. It is past time to begin that journey with human babies.
What has any of this to do with Physics? Well any thinking person, which should include most physicists, should be concerned about human rights in general and any perceived violations of human rights in particular. This is especially true when the violation of the rights of any of our fellow human beings are sanctioned or even promoted by established and recognized governments as is the case now in Canada.
As well, in an earlier blog on Boltzmann Brains, I referred to the speculations of a number of prominent scientists on the possibility of intelligent entities arising spontaneously or at least more directly from fluctuations in matter and energy – of a complexity like intelligent awareness, self-consciousness coming into being in quite different physical environments than our own. I pointed to the debate that was ongoing as to whether such Boltzmann Brains should be more or less probable to occur than ourselves.
What we can say with assurance with respect to ourselves and our own development of self-awareness, intelligence and many other faculties that come with our brains is that there is a continuing need to nurture and foster the development of the little brains in our midst – whether they are spontaneous, accidental or planned.
While writing this blog it was brought to my attention that there has recently developed controversy on this very issue of human rights with regard to abortion.
Apparently the Canadian government has decided to require all groups applying for the Canada Summer Jobs Program to sign an affirmation supporting individual rights. (CBC Radio, The Current, Monday, January 15, 2018)
A Right to Life group in Toronto was denied funding in 2017 on the basis of this requirement, apparently, but took the government to court and ended up receiving the funding.
In my opinion, proponents of Right to Life can argue that they are respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically because they are arguing for broadening the application of those rights to all human beings – including children in the womb. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in 2018 and beyond, but it shows that the issue is still very much alive and not, as the Canadian government of the day contends, an established part of Canadian values.
As an interesting side issue, apparently supporters of Right to Life in the US have been critical of Justin Trudeau for his stand on abortion and specifically for the restrictions on grants for summer jobs. According to the story, Trudeau even received some “boos” at a recent Trump rally in Florida. (Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press, Mon., Jan.15,2018; thestar.com).
While it is a bit odd to find myself on the same side of the fence as Donald Trump and his supporters on this particular issue, I have to stress that I think there are very strong scientific and historically valid reasons for extending human rights to developing children in the womb – it is not just a battle over individual religious beliefs.