When Does Life Begin?

I ran across something on Twitter I’d never even heard of before, let alone seen in the wild. Maybe that means I need to get out more. On the other hand, if this is representative of what I’ll find, I’m not sure I want to (click to see on Twitter):


As you can see, this is someone I follow on Twitter. Someone I usually find myself in agreement with. It was a compelling enough tweet to follow the linked article. The headline read: “14-Year-Old Girl Arrested For Secretly Giving Birth In Bathroom, Killing Son And Throwing Him Away,” and, with a headline like that, the details of the story are every bit as ugly as you expect (from a news report at the time):

The girl, who is a ninth- grader at Kathleen High School, told detectives she went into the bathroom, placed a towel in her mouth and turned on the water to hide any noise she might make during delivery.

At one point, labor pains were so intense she took a pair of scissors to “pry the baby out,” she told detectives. She eventually delivered a 9.5-pound, 20.4-inch baby boy alive.

Goodson told detectives she could feel the baby’s pulse. She then put her hands around the infant’s neck and squeezed for about a minute until he wasn’t moving or breathing, Judd said.

Is this a horrible tragedy for everyone involved (girl, baby, girl’s parent’s and siblings, community)? Unquestionably. Do I feel sympathy for this girl? Heck, yes. Goodson clearly deserves mental help. Does she deserve a medal for being brave enough to bring this baby all the way to term (hiding it from everyone in the process) and then strangling it with her bare hands, but *NOT* bring brave enough to tell her mother or a teacher or counselor or clergy person or other trusted adult months earlier that she was pregnant?

Um, no. Just NOTelling someone she was pregnant: that would have been the truly brave – and difficult – thing to do.

I am staunchly pro choice chiefly because I believe bodily autonomy is paramount: women have (or should have) the right not to be forced to incubate and bear children. No person, fetus, child or adult, has the right to use another’s body in any way without the other person’s consent. It’s why courts don’t compel organ donations even if it would save a life, if the donor doesn’t want to donate. And yes,  the same reasoning forms one of the foundational arguments of the right of women to abortion. Had Goodson told someone or called Planned Parenthood months earlier after she knew she was pregnant but when there was still time to have a safe and legal abortion, she would not now be facing jail time.

But seeing the above type of sentiment makes me want to sincerely ask the people who display such sympathy for the young pregnant girl that they call for awarding her a medal for her actions, while simultaneously not mentioning anything at all (sympathy or otherwise) about the living, breathing life snuffed out intentionally the following question: at what age (of the child) should a woman’s right to choose to end its life without judicial consequence stop? Does one have to still have the child’s umbilical cord attached to one’s own body (as Goodson apparently did) in order to kill a child without facing a manslaughter charge? Or can a woman kill her infant if (s)he is a day old? How about a week old? A month? How about Casey Anthony’s kid’s age?

I am not attempting to get intentionally hyperbolic about this with that last statement, and of course I think everyone agrees Casey Anthony’s two year-old was clearly murder…but I include it because calling for a bravery medal for a child who strangled her own baby to death is so far beyond what I thought were the boundaries of the abortion question that I honestly can’t venture a guess how someone who’d suggest such a thing would answer the question: “when does life begin?” Every country on earth has laws against taking life. The circumstances and punishments vary dramatically, but if the answer to when life begins” isn’t “birth”…then I cannot imagine what other answer someone might give to that question. Unfortunately, I needn’t have waited:

photo of tweet from GeohareeNewborns. That’s not a scientific definition that I’m aware of, so it may be subject to interpretation and therefore misunderstanding or disagreement, but many manufacturers of baby clothes have sizes that go: newborn, 3-6 months, 6-12 months, etc. That yardstick would add on the first three months of a baby’s life to a woman’s right to (I guess retroactive) abortion outlined in the tweet above. If you go by weight, “newborn” is often classified as 5-9lbs by the onesie manufacturers. Heck, by that scale, Goodson’s baby, at 9.5 lbs at birth, already wouldn’t have qualified.

Abortion should be legal, unstigmatized and included as part of basic health plan coverage, including government-provided health care, just as the above tweet says. No woman who wants or needs an abortion should be forced to go without. But calling newborns “not human” until such time as that comes to pass is simply not acceptable. It calls to mind some of the worst of human behavior – which, strangely enough, almost always seems to be in service of a cause, not merely about passion or greed.

Our culture allows a fair degree of flexibility in dealing with even such a serious crime as murder if the perpetrator is demonstrably mentally disturbed (“not guilty by reason of insanity”). Or at least, we used to – and I think we still should. But sentencing someone to a facility instead of hard time is something that happens after the killer has undergone a trial at which their mental issues have been fully determined. No consequence whatsoever – not even a trial – for ending another’s life just isn’t an option. And cheering the intentional killing of someone as an event worthy of a medal of bravery is simply flat-out abhorrent. There’s just no other way to say it.