This is the continuation and final installment of the previous blog on human development and who should determine whether or not that process is interrupted. Below is an image of the developmental stages to date from http://embryo.soad.umich.edu/
Following two months or so of development (that is, about three months after the last menstrual period), the embryo has acquired most of the physical characteristics of a human being, and from then on it is referred to as a fetus. However, the brain is still very poorly developed and will continue to develop and change, adding a great many new cells and connections. Initially the brain is rather reptilian in structure, but eventually the cerebral cortex undergoes rapid expansion and folding and the brain becomes more human in structure and function. During this period of development, anything the mother eats or drinks, especially alcohol or drugs, can damage brain cells or alter the way they’re connected. This goes for exposure to environmental toxins, as well, including pesticides, heavy metals, and many types of plastic residues.
The last four or five months of pregnancy are usually easier on the mother; her body has accommodated to the foreign body within, but she will continue to lose calcium from her bones, and after two or three pregnancies, she will be well on her way to osteoporosis. Moreover, in the last half of pregnancy, ligaments in the hips and other joints start to loosen, increasing the difficulty of walking, and paving the way for future arthritis. In addition, as the fetus becomes larger, its weight presses against the veins of the lower abdomen and slows blood flow in veins of the legs, resulting in varicose veins that are often permanent, leaving the mother at risk for future blood clots that can cause problems in the lungs or brain.
Birth, itself, is a tricky and dangerous process, and one that was often fatal to both mother and infant in the past. So, too, were diseases of early childhood. The brain continues to develop after birth, but very few people remember events in their lives before the age of three. This is because the brain has not completed its growth (in size) until around age four. Moreover, language acquisition is marginal in infants and toddlers; this substantially limits cognitive processes. The brain will, of course, continue to develop after the age of four, and the nature of its growth, the connections formed, the learning acquired, the value systems developed, all result from an interaction of the brain structure and the environment to which a person is exposed–beginning at birth and continuing throughout a lifetime.
So it’s pretty hard to assert that a developing organism within a womb is a separate human being until it is born and begins to form its own individual experiences of the world. Since men have no existential understanding of what it’s like to be pregnant, a man should not have any say on the issue of whether or not a woman has an abortion unless he is married to the pregnant woman and intends to offer financial and emotional support after the birth. Likewise, a woman should have no say on whether or not a man uses Viagra, unless she is his intimate partner.
From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for men to try to control women’s bodies; in this way a man can ensure that his genes – and not the genes of some other man – are passed on to future generations through the body of the woman (women) with whom he mates. However, in this day and age, if men had to carry a baby within their bodies for nearly a year, if they suffered the nausea, the burden, and the backaches, most would be silent on this subject.
My friends and relatives who have had abortions (two before and two after Roe v. Wade) chose the procedure because they thought their lives would be ruined if they carried to term. A baby would have drastically limited their future, and they would have had no way to care for a child in their circumstances at the time.
Personally, I would not voluntarily have had an abortion. I was lucky never to be in a situation where I needed one. I once went with a man who wanted me to agree that, if I got pregnant, I would have an abortion. I refused to agree. I told him that, if I became pregnant, I would leave him before I would have an abortion. Fortunately, that choice never came up; my birth-control method worked, and we parted, childless, after nearly two years of being together. Indeed, it’s clear that the best way to limit abortions is to make inexpensive birth-control widely available to both women and men.
A blog post written back in 2011–when tea-partiers nearly shut down the government over the abortion issue– expresses my frustration with those who proclaim that any pregnancy is “God’s Will.”