Sherif Girgis '08's attempt to clarify the abortion debate only highlights the many differences in first principles between the two sides.
First, it is important to point out that abortion has nothing to do with embryonic stem cell research. Girgis unfortunately conflates the two issues here in developing his argument for the moral status of the embryo. Nevertheless, all embryonic stem cell lines used for research can be obtained from excess embryos created for in vitro fertilization (IVF), and abortion is usually performed after the blastocyst stage, at which point the embryonic tissue is no longer totipotent.
Sherif rightly states that the human embryo is a member of the species homo sapiens. But he fails to argue why species membership is of any moral import whatsoever. As our friends in the Princeton Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) remind us, there are nonhuman animals that have a greater conception of self and community, and certainly a greater ability to feel pain and pleasure, than the human embryo and fetus. The logical extension of Girgis' argument is that it would be completely unjustified to remove life-sustaining medical treatment from an anencephalic infant — an infant lacking a brain and therefore any possibility of consciousness — because it has human DNA. For anyone who recognizes the moral importance of cognitive abilities and the absurdity of affording a specific molecule of DNA some moral worth, this argument falls flat.
Despite what one thinks about the ethics of abortion while sitting in class with professors Peter Singer or Robert George, the real relationship between legal abortion and reproductive health is clear. Girgis asserts without evidence that legal abortion does not improve women's reproductive health. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO), however, shows that while the legal status of abortion has no impact on the incidence of abortion, women are far more likely to be injured and killed when they receive abortions in illegal conditions. Further, in many cases, for example when a pregnant woman is diagnosed with cancer, an abortion is necessary to preserve the woman's life or health, including her ability to have children in the future. These cases make clear that legal abortion aids women's reproductive health. Yet laws promoted by "pro-life" groups, such as the recently passed federal ban on late-term abortions, often do not include an exception for a woman's health. Girgis calls for honesty, but those who argue against legal abortion should be honest and admit that they are not truly concerned about women's health.
Finally, the Guttmacher/WHO report also shows that increased education and access to contraception reduces abortion rates. In light of these findings, we would like to invite Princeton Pro-Life to take meaningful steps toward their goal of eliminating abortion and join us as we advocate greater contraception availability on campus and around the world. Sara Viola '08 and Jeris Stueland Yruma GS write on behalf of Princeton Pro-Choice Vox and can be reached at email@example.com.
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