My Body, My Choice
An anti-abortion exhibit is generating controversy on the campus of one prairie university. The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) is being exhibited on the grounds of the University of Manitoba and complaints have been voiced. Most, I suspect, surround the way in which the GAP juxtaposes images of aborted fetuses with images of those victimized in other contexts (racial or ethnic contexts, for example).
When the Bishops of Alberta excused themselves from the 2011 March for Life, it was because organizers of the anti-abortion rally could not guarantee the absence of images of aborted fetuses: “In our estimation,” Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton wrote, “the public display of large, graphic images of aborted babies offends the dignity of the human beings pictured and so is at odds with our mission to promote and protect that dignity”. That is a challenging statement for some to accept.
The exhibit at the University of Manitoba triggers conversation not only about the ethics of employing such images but also about the efficacy of doing so. It triggers conversation about speech and the limits of speech. The article in which I read of this exhibit includes a picture of a student holding a sign which reads: “My body, my choice”. With this adage, Ms. James triggers conversation about a concern I have; a concern which has yet to have alleviated. My concern surrounds “choice” and why choice encompasses what Ms. James would have it encompass.
The beginnings of human life, as I understand, occur when the genetic material of the sperm and of the egg form in one single-celled zygote. This zygote represents the earliest developmental stage of the embryo and, containing 46 chromosomes of genetic material, acts as a blueprint for the development of an individual (determined, for example, are features such as sex, blood type, eye, ear color [and so on]). That zygote, upon implantation in the uterus, will eventually become a fetus of billions of cells and, at a certain point in the future, will be birthed. Terminated at any stage (12 weeks, 16 weeks, 20 weeks …) and a developing human being is being terminated.
Even those considering a certain imprecision in determining when conception occurs (on account of a sperm’s capacity for survival inside a woman’s body or on account of the time it can take for an implanting to occur in the uterus …) recognize a vocabulary of days and weeks but what of the months and months in which that life will thereafter develop? In Canada, no legal restrictions on abortion exist. I understand choice, in general. I do not understand why it is seen as absolute.
Before I was doing what I am doing now, I worked with students with special needs; with students whose disabilities, in some cases, were the result of choices made by parents while experiencing pregnancy (a would-be mother, for example, choosing to consume alcohol while pregnant or a would-be father smoking in the presence of his pregnant partner). I share the confusion of Archbishop Rowan Williams who observed that “the pregnant woman who smokes or drinks heavily is widely regarded as guilty of infringing the rights of her unborn child; yet at the same time, with no apparent sense of incongruity, there is discussion of the possibility of the liberty of the pregnant woman herself to perform the actions that will terminate a pregnancy.”
One parliamentarian – one I admire – stated that she felt, as someone who “believes in equality”, that students “deserve better” than to be exposed to the violent images exhibited by the Genocide Awareness Project.
Perhaps she is right. However, at present choice encompasses the choice to terminate a pre-born, but developing, human being. That developing human being also deserves better.
- James Nicholas