The Troubling Reality

May 20, 1994|By CLAUDE LEWIS

Philadelphia -- The California Supreme Court this week held that a person can be convicted of murder for causing the death of a fetus that could have been legally aborted. That decision has serious implications for both pro-choice and pro-life communities.

Frankly, I never understood how any court could take a different position in a society that insists it has a unique reverence for life.

I stand firmly against abortions, for almost any reason. My view was formulated when I witnessed, close up, the results of an abortion. What I saw, I shall never forget. It was clearly a human being, tiny though it was, whose life was extinguished because its birth would have inconvenienced another human being.

Let's not go over all the old arguments about the parasitic relationship between fetus and its host. Nor should we get back to the discussion that it is better to kill a fetus than to bring another unwanted child into the world where it would suffer abuse. What greater abuse can anyone suffer than to be ripped away from its life system and casually tossed aside like so much trash?

I believe that the baby that results from an incestuous relationship is an innocent life and deserves protection, despite the highly charged emotions surrounding such an unhealthy and unhappy union.

The California court's 6-1 decision means that prosecutors will be able to charge a defendant with murder for causing a pregnant woman to miscarry, even if her fetus had been only seven to eight weeks old and incapable of surviving outside the womb.

The court's decision does not measurably affect abortion rights, which are protected by constitutional privacy guarantees, but those on both sides will see, perhaps for the first time, that a court has ruled on the moral issue of when life actually begins.

The ruling also suggests that a young fetus does have rights. Under the decision, prosecutors also may charge a defendant with multiple murder -- a death-penalty offense -- for killing a pregnant woman whose fetus (a Latin word for ''little one'') could not have survived outside her womb.

Writing for the majority of the court, Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas observed: ''The third-party killing of a fetus with malice aforethought is murder . . . as long as the state can show that the fetus has progressed beyond the embryonic stage of seven to eight weeks.''

Until now, protections extended to a fetus under California law were given only to those infants capable of surviving outside the womb, usually at about 25 weeks. In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that an abortion was a woman's right until the fetus becomes viable outside the womb, and may be legal, subject to regulation, even after viability.

I never fully understood the logic of those who argue that because a baby is not fully developed, it is not human. That's like saying that a crumb is not bread because it's not fully baked or the whole loaf. It has always fascinated me that everyone who argues in favor of killing someone else has a valued life of his or her own.

It advances all of us when legal institutions reach decisions that are both logical and moral. The current ruling is significant because it provides the status of humanity to a child yet unborn. I am more convinced than ever that abortion is murder. I hope that the courts one day will force us to face this deeply troubling reality.

Claude Lewis is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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