As a medical doctor, I have a pretty good idea of when life begins. As a man of faith, I’m equally convinced that human life — emphasis on “human” — begins at conception.
Despite my long-held pro-life view, I find the new Texas law a threat to human decency. It bans all abortions after a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected, as early as six weeks and long before many women even know they’re pregnant. Dubbed in some quarters the “riches for snitches” law, it pits American against American, giving bounty hunters $10,000 for ratting on anyone who helps make an abortion happen. Even a woman’s Uber driver could be charged.
Hours after the bill became law Sept. 1, it made abortion impossible for virtually every woman in Texas who could not afford to leave the state for the procedure.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to slow down the law until legal issues could be settled, despite popular consensus that the law is unconstitutional. No one stopped to address the ethical and medical problems raised not just by the new law, but also by abortion itself.
As a doctor and a scientist, I believe we can and must have an honest debate now. Molecular science teaches that life involves the ongoing decompression of a unique file included in the DNA of each individual, established at fertilization. Any other definition is arbitrary, unsupported by scientific evidence. The zygote is a cell containing all the basic characteristics of a human.
Abortion, at any stage, takes a human life. The question is whether an abortion can be justified on the grounds that the new life is carried by the body of the pregnant person.
The strongest anti-abortion is the absolute: Homicide is never justifiable except when another human life is at risk. The real problem — which in my opinion may never be solved — is what “at risk” means. Does it involve a medical condition that may kill the mother, or any other condition that may interfere with her welfare?
That a woman may be pressured to end a pregnancy is a second argument against abortion. As a doctor and also as a friend, I’ve met women who not only regretted the decision, but also kept grieving and felt that their whole life had been tainted. Of course, a legal question remains: When does society have a right to prevent a person from hurting himself or herself?
The most common pro-choice argument holds that a woman should be in charge of her own body. Even if this argument carries legal weight, the cavalier attitude toward life disturbs me. As a physician, I feel that doctors should not kill. How could you trust a fetal-maternal medicine specialist to protect the life of your unborn baby when that same doctor has no qualms about destroying someone else’s “unwanted” fetal life form?
Preventing what were once called “back-alley abortions” is also a pro-choice argument. Those who make this argument assume, reasonably, that women will undergo abortions regardless. But would this line of thought also call for legalizing drugs and prostitution to protect people from death via overdose or AIDS? Another thorny question.
I find a third pro-choice argument in Scripture, of all places. In at least three passages of the Old Testament (in Genesis, Exodus and Numbers) the life of a fetus is considered less than the value of a full person. As such it is considered disposable. However, abortion also violates the commandment “thou shalt not kill.”
I would love to see a world in which every child is wanted and no pregnant woman despairs because she lacks resources to nurture her offspring. I pray for the day abortion becomes unnecessary. But until we all work together to create such a world, measures such as the Texas law should be recognized as, at best, a misguided farce. I look forward to the legal challenges that will result in this repugnant law being struck down.
Lodovico Balducci is an author and retired medical doctor living in Tampa. He was a professor of oncology and medicine at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and was director of the Division of Geriatric Oncology at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.