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The Abortion Debate, Part One Zillion

In his letter to the editor (“Abortion is the Cruelest,” The Mail, March 23), Leo Otterbein mischaracterized my view on abortion and the status of a fetus. It is not that I deny rights to a fetus while accepting the rights of other living organisms; it is only individuated humans that have rights. Rights, properly understood, can only be applicable to an individuated organism that has the unequivocal capacity to function on a conceptual cognitive level, as rights are moral principles that sanction a person’s freedom of action in a social context. Rights simply are not applicable to a fetus and an appeal to rights in debates regarding abortion reveals a gross misunderstanding of the concept.

Amesh A. Adalja
Butler, Pa.

I have to respond to the verbal ululation of Leo Otterbein, 4-F (Fearless Fighter for Fetuses). Mr. Otterbein, to quote Ed McMahon, when it comes right down to it “you are correct, sir,” that I do not think human fetuses have the same rights as human beings! A fetus is not a human being! A baby’s not a baby until it comes out! That’s what a birthday is all about! A human fetus is a fetus. Not a human being!

And all that horror story rhetoric about what happens in abortion clinics: Give it a rest! Abortions are clinical/surgical procedures. If done quickly enough the fetus is no larger than a pencil point. It’s you anti-woman/anti-abortion folks that make it hard on the woman.

And yes I did say that an unwanted child was a burden. Not every child is wanted. There are children born out of rape and incest and to women who have had their spouse or sperm donor die or abandon them. It is their right to have an abortion! You want horror stories? What about all the women who either commit suicide or die because of botched abortions?

Fetuses don’t possess innocence! They have no consciousness! Women have both and are sacrificed daily on the altar of anti-abortionists! To quote you, Mr. O, “In whose name? At what terrible cost?” Women are NOT incubators! Fetuses are NOT children! Abortion is NOT Murder!

Alan Barysh

Leo Otterbein is incorrect. The only choices are NOT between fetuses having no rights at all—being “a parasite to be eradicated”—and it being sacred and inviolable.

There is, indeed, a middle ground in the abortion debate between the rhetorical extremes of the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” camps.

It is called classic Judaism, and derived from the Torah, Holy Scripture!

The only cogent scriptural text on this issue is the legal one in Exodus 21, which recounts an incident in which a pregnant woman, caught in the middle of a fight between two men, is struck and miscarries. The culprit pays a monetary fine for his action: If the fetus were considered a full human being, he would have been charged with murder. (And since it would be viewed as involuntary, the culprit would be required to flee to a city of refuge.) If the fetus was worthless, he would get off only with punishment for striking the woman.

In short, the Torah takes a middle view on this matter, which is the position upheld by rabbinic tradition: The fetus is something but not a full human being. It has property value and potential as life; but, in and of itself, is not life. And thus, abortion is not murder—it is, at best, a tort issue.

(Indeed, in Jewish law, when the mother’s life is medically at stake, abortion is not merely allowed, but actually required.)

I would argue that the majority of Americans, pragmatic as ever, prefer something more along the lines of such a nuanced middle view, and not the either/or dichotomy in which the debate is usually framed by extremists on both sides.

Borrowing an architectural metaphor, think of it this way: A blueprint is by no means the same as a finished bricks-and-mortar edifice, but, on the other hand, neither is it a worthless piece of paper.

Note, also: Neither Jesus nor Paul addressed this issue, so, for Christians, the only direct, explicit Biblical optic on this subject is that explicated above. Other positions may well be deeply felt, magisterial or otherwise “religious,” but, as such, they are read into, and imposed upon, the Bible, not objectively derived from it. Jeremiah 1:5, for example, is sheer hyperbole and nothing more. Furthermore, for the Hebrew Bible, and especially the Torah given to Moses at Mount Sinai, law is the authoritative form of divine expression, not poetry.  Hence, it is the 10 Commandments, not the 10 Odes. 

Stas Cohen
Newark, Del.

Memory Lane

What a pleasure it was to read Michael Byrne’s article on the Hour Haus (“Chris Schafer,” Music, March 23). In the mid-’90s, I was the drummer for a band called Laughingstock, which included John Dickie on guitar and Jeff Yadovitz on bass, and we occupied one of the second-floor rooms that faced out onto North Avenue, along with Joe Loverde’s band S.Q.U.I.D. and another band called Burner’s Grove. I have many fond memories of jamming at the Hour Haus, as well as shooting pool in the main room while Pornflakes practiced on the stage, and interacting with the other Hour Haus denizens of the day, including Adam Cooke, the drummer for Helikopter and soundman at Memory Lane, who had a loft there. And who could forget that awful bathroom! Those were great times, and I’m glad to hear that the Hour Haus is still going strong. I will cherish the memories always.

Richard Longway

That’s an Understatement

I picked up this week’s City Paper in Attman’s Deli yesterday, and read Andrea Appleton’s March 16 Councilmania column. In it, she referred to the late Clarence Mitchell Jr. as “a local civil rights activist.” I would laud her understated, dry wit, were it not, regrettably, grounded in an appalling ignorance of fact. Calling Clarence Mitchell Jr. (“C-2,” to simplify your frame of reference) “a local civil rights activist” is like calling Ted Kennedy “a former Massachusetts Senator” or Babe Ruth “a one-time New York Yankee.”

I won’t give a lengthy recitation of Mr. Mitchell’s accomplishments. I’ll just say that in 30-plus years as chief Congressional lobbyist for the NAACP, he earned the dual sobriquets “The 101st Senator” and “Lion in the Lobby” (also the title of a book on him), and suggest you Google him. In doing so, please note the Wikipedia hit is significant in its omission of former Vice President Walter Mondale as one of Mr. Mitchell’s eulogists.

The First Amendment’s right to freedom of the press, like all rights, carries with it a corresponding responsibility. Your responsibility, as a reporter, is to do your homework before you report. And when you’ve done your homework here and realized how woefully your reference undershot its mark, you’ll be qualified, ready, willing, and able to give your paper, your readers, and the Mitchell family the apology they all deserve. Thank you.

Osborne B. Dixon Jr.

Count Down?

I noticed a few weeks ago that your count of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan had migrated from the cover to the table of contents, and that this past week it had vanished altogether.  As of March 20, the Iraq War has gone on for eight years. The war in Afghanistan, at nearly 10 years, is the longest-running in U.S. history. To see the numbers, that sign of quiet outrage on the cover, week after week, regardless of the contents, was heartening and a solemn reminder of this ceaseless brutality. I can think of no good reason why you would remove it and I doubt you can either. America is killing its youth, let us never forget.

Owen Gardner

Editor Lee Gardner (no relation) responds: I introduced the number to the paper and update it every week, although the vagaries of assembling the information vary, which is why it sometimes misses a week. It may not be as prominent as you’d prefer, or as consistent as I’d like, but it isn’t going anywhere, at least until the current conflicts do.

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