The single most divisive issue in the United States pervades every person’s life in every corner of this great land: abortion. This, the greatest of the evils we face today, destroys lives, divides families and friends, drives political polarization, denigrates human worth, and delays any hope for true policy reform in this county. Until we resolve the abortion debate, we live in that limbo between heaven and hell.

Abortion is not a feminist issue; it is a moral one. Abortion is about the value we place on children as whole beings. If we believe that children play an important role in society, that they are worth investing in, then abortion becomes irrelevant.  The tension lies in whether we are dealing with independent humans or merely extensions of women’s bodies. Either way, it is a cruel choice to lay at a woman’s feet.

Interestingly, the pro-choice movement is nothing new. In 1820, Stephen Douglas went head-to-head against the great Abraham Lincoln, advocating for a pro-choice approach to slavery, where, as the United States expanded into new territories, people should choose for themselves whether to allow slavery. This is the Federalist approach to oppression of an entire group of people powerless to defend themselves. Exchange the word slavery for abortion and we have the same argument for pro-choice today. Women should be able to choose for themselves the abortion option, but the group in question, unborn children, is powerless to defend itself.

This Independence Day we are still fighting for freedom. Scholars argue that the debate of 1820 comes down to the definition of tyranny: empowering one group with the choice of another’s freedom. It is the same today with abortion. We are appalled that there ever was a pro-choice debate over slavery. After all, there is no choice if the slave has no say in the matter, since they are a unique, living and whole human being. Here is the crux of the matter: Abortion questions the humanity of unborn children. As in the 1800s, slaves were viewed as inhuman, as an inferior race. Is that not what we call unborn children today? Sub-human? Parasites? Undue burdens?

How then do we define a human? Science helps us answer. At eight weeks, we hear an unborn baby’s heartbeat, but their first heartbeat begins at three weeks, just one day after fertilization of the egg. According to embryological development, the human nervous system and earliest brain neurons are established at six weeks and pain receptors at seven weeks. Documented evidence shows that as early as eight weeks the unborn baby responds to noxious stimuli and invasive procedures with avoidance reactions, stress responses and reflex movements. Badr et al. (2010) showed that the earlier infants are delivered, the stronger their response to pain because the neural mechanisms that inhibit pain sensations do not develop until 34-36 weeks, meaning unborn babies show “hyper-responsiveness” to pain. Finally, modern genetics has shown us that from the moment of conception an unborn baby has unique human DNA. That’s science, not speculation.

In 2016, doctors extricated Margaret from the womb at 16 weeks to remove a tumor from her tailbone and then replaced her. She survived. How can we establish acceptable timetables on abortion when, at every stage of gestation, an unborn child is exhibiting signs of humanity? Who are we to say they are not?

Our criminal justice system places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused party. If the jury is left with reasonable doubt about the accused’s guilt, then it cannot convict, let alone condemn the accused to death. The burden of proof rests with pro-choice proponents; they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that unborn babies are not human. Yet, based on the scientific facts available to us, we are left with significant reasonable doubt. Are we not then under the same obligation to refrain from condemning that child to death?

Ultimately, if we do not recognize children’s worth in the womb, why should we recognize their worth outside the womb? Right now, babies are commodities, not valued members of the community. Until that changes, reforms for high quality early childhood education, parental support, health care, child welfare and gun control will continue to limp along. These simply are not valued enough. Only 9 percent of the current federal budget is spent on children; 45 percent is spent on the adult portion of social security, Medicare and Medicaid. That speaks volumes.

Drs. Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox found that children from any economic status who are taught goal-setting and the “success sequence” of education, then employment and marriage, and lastly children have a 97 percent chance of achieving middle to upper-class status. Empirical evidence shows this is especially effective for boys. Responsible boys become responsible husbands and responsible parents.  

The honest truth? Women are life-givers; abortion is the unnatural choice. Sadly, most often it is male abandonment or persuasion that influences them. That is effectively no choice. In a world where children are loved and valued, their parents are as well. For the sake of the child, we commit to the success of the parent. Imagine: To value children from before conception is to cultivate a culture of love, respect and morality among fellow humans.

Theresa Brown can be reached at tbcontrarian@gmail.com. No question or comment is too scary, difficult or offensive.