The Rule of Least Harm

A few days ago, I had a very good conversation with friends and strangers on Facebook. We had been debating – politely – whether or not abortion is wrong. I used a rationale I called the Rule of Least Harm: when faced with an uncertain situation, weigh the potential bad outcomes, and choose the one that does the least harm. In the case of a pregnancy, the two potential bad outcomes are harm or, rarely, death to a woman, and the death of a human being. It is clear that a woman’s desire to avoid nine months of discomfort (at whatever level) and the baby’s outright death are in no way equal. When the woman’s life is on the line, the equation changes, but overwhelmingly this is not the case.

This line of reasoning, I just recently learned, is commonly used in ethical vegetarianism as well – in most cases, the argument goes, your desire to eat an animal or wear its skin are outweighed by the animal’s need for its flesh and skin. (I wondered, after reading this, why so many ethical vegetarians are pro-choice; it’s as if they don’t really understand their own arguments. But whatever.)

Pro-choice people have gotten around this obvious argument by treating the baby (or potential human being, if you insist that it’s a fetus) as if it’s not a real human being but only a parasite. I will ignore the ethical-vegetarian counterargument that killing a parasite put there by your through your own choices is even worse than killing a pig for its bacon. Instead, I’ll go to a different point: by arguing that the “parasite” should simply be eliminated, pro-choice advocates are able to pretend that, once a woman has an abortion, it’s as if the baby – I’m sorry, developing human being – had never been.

But “as if” is simply a lie. It WAS there, and you chose to evict it, possibly in a most grotesque manner far less humane than the most primitive of animal slaughter techniques. Women have a real gift for identifying truth. It’s the source of so-called women’s intuition, a real-life built-in bullshit detector. And we know that, even if it is not now, a baby that rested in our wombs at any given point WAS.

I never understood the abortion issue until I had a miscarriage in July 2006. She* was a baby I wanted terribly – the daughter I wanted to cherish with my husband – and when I found I was pregnant I was ecstatic. When I was three months along, my husband was sent to a training program for new Navy technology; he’d be gone a month. Only a few days later, I started spotting and cramping. Within hours, I had lost the baby. It took me weeks to recover physically; I had lost a lot of blood.

I will never recover emotionally. I loved that baby as much as if I’d held her in my arms. Today, when I watch my two daughters born after I lost her, I can “see” the echo of the little girl who could never be playing with them, brushing their hair, singing and playing games. Women who have abortions know, just as I did, that the baby was real – even when they bury the truth, hide it from themselves. They will always regret the baby they never had, and some will regret it mightily.

And so I wrote Biscuit Boy, the tale of a little boy who would never be but who would always be, the child his mother aborted but who would live within her always – just as every baby, born and unborn, does with every mother. No matter how she denies it.

* I am certain someone will point out that at three months, you don’t know what the sex of your baby is. I have five children, and I knew the sex of every single one before the doctor did, and usually knew within a day that I was pregnant. Besides, as I told the gynecologist who foolishly pointed out there was no way to know if it had been a girl, “She can be anything I want now.”

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