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Born, Citizens
Cell Phone Manners: Outdated At Conception?

The birth of a child is arguably one of the most exciting and memorable moments in a parent's life. Meeting a long-awaited son or daughter may bring tears to the eyes of a new mother or father. Even after months of feeling the movements of the unborn child, experiencing the frustrating discomfort of pregnancy, and preparing the nursery expectantly, the reality of life does not hit many parents until seeing, hearing, and holding their newborn. Perhaps it is for this reason that so many consider the birth to be the beginning of individuality, the beginning of true personhood, for the human child.
Yet birth, for all its importance, is in reality, a somewhat arbitrary event in the course of a human life. While most births occur between 38 and 42 weeks of gestation, it is not only possible, but common, for babies to be born at 30 weeks of gestation and younger. The youngest surviving pre-term baby, Amillia Taylor, was born at 21 weeks and 6 days (Baby). In this case, in-vitro fertilization gives us an exact gestational age. Generally, babies born at 24 to 25 weeks of gestation are considered viable. And as science advances, viability is pushed to earlier and earlier dates. With so many different dates to choose from, how does one determine where true personhood begins? While this question remains in dispute, it is an ethical imperative that our nation protect the developing human from its beginning by passing a Personhood Amendment defining legal personhood beginning from conception.
This question of personhood has plagued our legal system since the monumental Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. Even the wording used in Roe v. Wade indicates that a right to life begins before legal personhood by protecting the life of the unborn human after “the point at which the fetus becomes 'viable'” and by defining viability as “usually placed at seven months (28 weeks), but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks” (Roe). Another notable restriction on abortion is the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which defines the procedure of partial-birth abortion as, “a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited” (Partial). On April 1, 2004 President George W. Bush signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes a human fetus as a legal victim if the unborn human is killed during the perpetration of any federal crime of violence. Thirty-four of the fifty states have passed similar laws in regards to crimes prosecuted at the state level. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 stipulates that the bill not “be construed to permit the prosecution" "of any person for conduct relating to an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on her behalf” (Unborn). Clearly, the legal precedent for personhood is, at best, muddied and unclear. Legally, it is unclear when a human fetus becomes a human person and is granted protection.
Having established that the current laws protect personhood inconsistently, the question becomes, “At what point should personhood be established?” Currently, the United States Government recognizes an individual as a citizen, and therefore a person, at birth. But, is birth the best option? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2005, only 33.7% of births occurred after 40 weeks of gestation. The bulk of births (53.5%) occurred between 37 and 39 weeks gestational age, and 12.7% of births occurred premature, before 37 weeks of gestation (CDC). According to the CDC's statistics, in 2005 a full eighth of the population was granted legal rights at a younger age merely by merit of their premature births. Conversely, nearly a fifth of the population had their rights withheld for an additional month of life due to their birthdates.
By what virtue were those 12.7% of children more worthy of personhood and legal protection? Both the born and the unborn had, at that gestational age, been determined to be viable outside of the womb. Indeed, both groups had survived birth, proving their viability. Were those born children somehow more uniquely human? Both groups of humans had unique and individual human DNA. Does our first breath of air make us more human? How, then, shall we classify those babies born with respiratory problems?
Perhaps personhood comes with life independent of the mother's body. Caitlin Borgmann and Catherine Weiss, both of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, argue that, “A woman's right to physical integrity entitles her to decide whether or not she will carry a pregnancy to term” (Borgmann). Borgmann and Weiss argue that because the child is dependent on the mother's personal, physical body in order to sustain his or her life, the woman has the right to make the ultimate decision of whether or not to allow the child to continue to live and grow within her body. However, this argument gets its basis from the rights of liberty and pursuit of happiness. While these rights are inarguably of great importance, our country has set a precedence of what Marie Harkins and Camille Pauley call a “Hierarchy of Rights.” Harkins and Pauley explain that, “we must have life in order to enjoy liberty, and we must have liberty in order to own property (pursuit of happiness)” (Harkins). These rights are, traditionally, protected and prosecuted in order of fundamental importance. Murder, for example, typically carries a more severe sentence than theft, indicating that the right to life is more fundamentally important than the right to property.
Applying this hierarchy, we can clearly display why the unborn child's rights should be protected. While the right to physical autonomy falls primarily under the right to liberty, the protection of the human against termination falls completely under the right to life. Furthermore, if the unborn human at, for instance, 35 weeks gestation is otherwise identical to the born human conceived at the same time, the right to bodily autonomy of the mother should, by all accounts, be secondary to the right to life of the unborn child.
Having argued against the current system, that is, personhood rights at birth, the next most common solution is the protection of the rights of the unborn from the moment of viability. Before one can argue for or against personhood at viability, it is necessary to have a working definition of “viable.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines viable as, “1 : capable of living; especially : having attained such form and development as to be normally capable of surviving outside the mother's womb. 2 : capable of growing or developing” (Merriam-Webster). As is clear, there is a distinct discrepancy in the definitions of viability as per Merriam-Webster. However, in this case, the most adequate working definition is the former. Currently, viability is still legally defined, as per Roe v. Wade, as generally occurring at 28 weeks of gestation but subject to the professional opinion of the individual doctor.
Proponents of personhood at viability outside the womb argue that, as the viable fetus has the ability to sustain life outside of the uterus, he or she has developed sufficient independence and humanity to be protected as a legal person. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, for instance, argues, “The viability line reflects the biological facts and truths of fetal development; it marks the threshold moment prior to which a fetus cannot survive separate from the woman and cannot reasonably and objectively be regarded as a subject of rights or interests distinct from, or paramount to, those of the pregnant woman” (Webster). Blackmun's statement defines the ultimate argument in the abortion debate; that is, the argument of personhood versus humanity. Whereas once, abortion rights proponents argued that the fetus was not yet a living human, science has long since determined that human life begins at the moment of conception, complete with human DNA unique to the fetus. Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe, in his article, The Code for Human Life, states, “It is now an established fact that the DNA in the fertilized ovum bears the code for both human life and individuality which is passed on to every cell in the development of the embryo” (Zugibe). Therefore, the question becomes, “At what point does a human become a person?”
The answer given by proponents of personhood on viability initially appears to be sound. In fact, forty-one states have restrictions beyond those outlined in Roe v. Wade on the abortion of a fetus that is considered viable (Foer). However, as science progresses, the line for viability is pushed earlier and earlier. Although most abortions performed up until the 28th week of pregnancy are considered legal, the human fetus is generally considered viable after the 24th week of pregnancy, nearly a month prior to the legal cutoff for abortion (Foer). While science and technology allows babies born at earlier and earlier gestational ages to thrive, the legal definition of viability remains stagnant.
In addition to the outdated legal definition of viability, the fluctuation of viability with the advent of newer technologies compounds the question of personhood in the human fetus. As children are born and survive at younger and younger ages due to advances in medical engineering, the individuality of the human fetus is displayed at earlier and earlier gestational ages. With such clear individuality and personality being displayed by survivors of pre-term birth, it becomes very difficult to argue that viability defines the right to legal personhood. As Francis J. Beckwith points out, “viability is a measure of the sophistication of our neonatal life-support systems. Humanity remains the same, but viability changes. Viability measures medical technology, not one's humanity” (Beckwith).
Once it is established that viability is not a sound beginning for personhood legislation, we are burdened with the task of discovering what is a sound beginning for personhood protection. This is a daunting and challenging task. As Jon Dougherty explains, “Passing laws or writing constitutional mandates from the bench of the Supreme Court cannot change [the beginning of humanity]” (Dougherty). We cannot make an unborn child less of a person through the legal process. What we are able to do through legal channels is to either condone or prohibit attack on the unborn person, based on the information we have. This is, indeed, an intimidating responsibility. Human lives quite literally hang in the balance. Therefore, caution is not simply prudent, but it is absolutely essential when legislating personhood. It is a discredit to our nation that the legislation of personhood has, until this point, been so arbitrary.
We have little evidence from which to work at any stage earlier than 21 weeks of gestation. Few babies have been born alive prior to 21 weeks, and there are no documented cases of survival prior to 21 weeks and 6 days of gestation. What evidence we have of humanity is gleaned from biological facts and early ultrasounds. Still, this evidence points primarily to the humanity of the fetus no later than the moment of implantation, at “seven to nine days after conception” (Hoffer). Dr. Bernard Nathanson, once adamant abortion-rights proponent and founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), states, “Modern technologies have convinced us that beyond question the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from any of us" (Alcorn). As previously mentioned, the unique human DNA which will forever be the personal genetic “signature” of an individual is formed at the moment of conception, that is, at the moment that the sperm fuses with the ovum. When that bond is made, the fusion of the union results in a living and unique human, which rapidly begins to grow. On the sixth day of development, the zygote burrows into the uterine lining and begins to secrete the hormone human chorionic gonatotropin (HCG) which signals to the mother's body not to attack, but rather to nourish the growing human. By the tenth day after conception, the new human has begun to form organs. By the twenty-first day of gestation, the human embryo has a beating heart (Human).
Once a human organism has a unique and personal DNA structure, rudimentary organs, and a beating heart, can that organism be determined less than a person? Without definitive proof to the contrary, is it acceptable not to define that human as a person? Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania, states “I am no more prepared to say that these early stages [of development in the womb] represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty...is not a human being. This is human life at every stage" (Alcorn). Jon Dougherty points out that, “humans are never 'fully-developed.' We're not born 'complete'; we grow, change, mature and age constantly... [T]he fact that the first nine months of our developmental life is in utero is of no consequence to our overall lifespan; it is just the first stage” (Dougherty).
By week six of a pregnancy (week four of actual development), the unborn has begun to develop fingers, a mouth, a nose, and ears. They have developed reflexes, have distinguishable brain wave patterns, and have begun to respond to stimuli in their environment (Week 6). In other words, if you could look into a six-week pregnant woman's uterus, you would see a lentil bean-sized developing human who could respond to your touch and had the beginnings of a distinctly human face. Despite the fact that this unborn child is still, scientifically speaking, an embryo, and despite its tiny size, the child already is beginning to resemble his or her mother. Regardless of arguments over humanity versus potential humanity, it is undeniable that the unborn child in the womb is already a boy or a girl, despite the lack of visually apparent genitalia. Not being able to see the features that we consider distinctly human doesn't make the child any less human.
With little to speak of the inhumanity of the unborn, and much to argue that an individual and unique person is created at the moment of conception, it seems foolhardy and unethical not to protect all human life and rights, beginning at conception. Organizations throughout the United States are currently working to get personhood amendments on state and national ballots. Legally defining personhood as beginning at conception is a matter of basic civil rights, and a moral and ethical imperative. As Justice Harry Blackmun pointed out, “If this suggestion of personhood is established... the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment” (Roe). We are obligated as a nation to respect the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all persons. The passage of a personhood amendment on the federal level is integral to fulfilling that obligation.
Passage of a personhood amendment cannot happen without a strong and united front in defense of the civil liberties of this group of currently unrecognized persons. Past attempts at protections of the lives of these young humans have primarily centered around restricting access to abortion and have failed due primarily to inconsistencies within the concept of these attempts. Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center calls the inconsistent strategies used by the pro-life movement “incremental,” adding that they offer “no plan or promise of ending abortion in the foreseeable future” (Muise). Muise goes on to argue that human life is not negotiable at any stage of development, and points to the self-contradictory strategies adopted by individuals and groups within the movements as reasons for failure. When the basic tenet that all pre-born humans are persons is compromised by incremental legislation and exceptions for 'undesireable' situations (such as rape and incest), the entire argument for protection of life is compromised.
A personhood amendment with clear language stating that the human life is a person with the legal right to life from the moment of conception would display the consistent approach necessary when dealing with a matter as gravely important as the protection of human life. Many organizations are currently working through petition, letter-writing campaigns, and phone campaigns to introduce a bill amending the national Constitution to include protection for human life from conception. Notable groups among these include the American Life League and Personhood USA. Both have easily accessible websites through which you can sign petitions for a Personhood Amendment and donate time or money to the cause. The voices of the average American are of incredible importance in this matter, and even an action as small as signing your name in defense of the unborn has a resounding effect.
As has been made evident by the effects of concerned Americans at town hall meetings and peaceful demonstrations historically, vocalizing your concern even in small ways can make the difference between the passage and failure of a bill. Just this summer, the nation saw the voices of the people change the course of national healthcare with the passage of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment in the United States Senate (Condon). Similarly, calls to Senators and Representatives in support of a Personhood Amendment, as well as vocalization through petitioning, letter-writing, and demonstrating, could make the difference between the protection of personhood and the resounding failure to care for the most vulnerable and voiceless of our species.
With the majority of Americans aligning themselves as pro-life and in defense of the unborn (Saad), the scene is set for a resounding victory in terms of the passage of a personhood amendment. Organizations such as Democrats for Life have brought the issue of abortion beyond the restricting limitations of partisan politics. The burden now rests on the average voter to speak out and prove that life must be defended for all humans. As Mother Theresa once said, “Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign” (Notable).

Works Cited

Alcorn, Randy. “Scientists Attest to Life Beginning at Conception.” Human Life Alliance. 2009.
“Baby Amillia Taylor is a Marvel.” People Weekly. 12 March 2007. 193
Beckwith, Francis J. “Viability: Is a Fetus a Person Once it Can Live Outside the Mother's Womb?” Christian Research Institute. 2009.
Borgmann, Caitlin and Weiss, Catherine. “Abortion is not Immoral.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, vol. 35. January 2003. Rpt. in Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. 22.
CDC. Distribution of Births by Gestational Age, United States, 1990 and 2005. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 21 November 2007.
Condon, Stephanie. “Abortion Rights Groups Mobilize Against Stupak Amendment.” CBS News. 16 November 2009.
Dougherty, Jon. “Life Begins at Conception.” WorldNetDaily.com 6 February, 2001. Rpt. in Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2006. 29.
Foer, Franklin. “Fetal Viability.” Slate Magazine. 25 May 1997. Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC.
Harkins, Marie and Pauley, Camille. Understanding Inalienable Rights. Healing the Culture. 2005.
Hoffer, Peter Charles and Hull, N.E.H. Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2001. 159.
“Human Reproduction and Development.” IUPUI Department of Biology. 3 March 2004.
Merriam-Webster Online. Viable. Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. November 2009.
Muise, Robert. “Rethinking Pro-Life Strategy: The Human Life Amendment.” Celebrating Life July/August 2008. 29.
“Notable and Quotable.” The Wall Street Journal. 25 February 1994: A14.
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Public Law 108-105. 5 November 2003. Stat 1201.
Roe v. Wade. No. 70-18. Supreme Court of the United States. 22 January 1973.
Saad, Lydia. “U.S. Abortion Attitudes Closely Divided.” Gallup Poll. 4 August 2009.
Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004. Public Law 108-212. 1 April 2004. H.R. 1997.
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. No. 88-605. Supreme Court of the United States. 26 April 1989.
“Week 6: There's Nausea Everywhere.” Babygaga.com. 2009.
Zugibe, Frederick T., Ph.D. “The Code for Human Life.” Catholic Answer 9 (1996): 40-45.

Cell Phone Manners: Outdated At Conception?
As your plane taxis the runway, your flight attendant's voice over the PA system politely informs that, “At this time, you are free to turn on cell phones and other electronic devices.” Like a flash, passengers throughout the plane begin pulling out Blackberries, flip phones, sliders, and Razors. You try to tune out the cacophonous sounds to finish the last chapter of your favorite novel, but can't help but overhear the passenger to your right loudly repeating instructions to her daughter to “meet at the baggage claim!” Shutting your eyes momentarily, you realize with some chagrin that you long for the days when an unruly baby was your worst plane nightmare.
Avoiding the loud gossip of strangers' conversations is becoming more and more difficult as cell phones become commonplace in our society. From the grocery store to the movie theater, it's unusual to find yourself in any public place without the nuisance of other people's cell phone conversations for a companion. When Alexander Graham Bell patented the first telephone in 1876 (Bellis), he opened the path for the “phone courtesy” debate; it wasn't until the cellphone became widely available in the 1990s, however, that telecommunications began to infringe on common courtesy.
Developments in telecommunications have allowed us to connect with each other, to share our day with people across the country and around the world. But, as Ken Belson of the New York Times points out, “Sociologically speaking ... phones pit the priorities of the 'in' group - those on the phone - against those in the 'out' group, or people in close proximity to the talkers” (Belson). Telephones create a mental separation between you and the world around you. This is understandable in its way, but can lead to a breakdown of civility when it isn't acknowledged. It simply isn't practical to expect ourselves to be able to pay full attention to our surroundings and to our phone conversations, yet it is increasingly common that the average cell phone user attempts to do exactly that.
Before the widespread availability of the mobile phone, these conversations were saved for home settings. Out of respect for guests in our home, generally friends, land-line conversations generally remained brief and courteous while entertaining. Direct connections to phone lines created ideal circumstances, and this combined with protection from the elements resulted in ideal connections. Conversations were limited to the confines of an appropriate venue. With developments in mobile technology, however, the daily gossip is limited only by coverage area. Cell phone connection qualities, as a result of their mobility, vary greatly. Consequently, it isn't uncommon to hear phrases like, “I SAID, I have a dentist's appointment at 2:00!” shouted by aggravated talkers in public places. Furthermore, public venues lend themselves to a degree of anonymity. John Curtin points out on radio talk show “Tv, Eh?” how an increasingly impersonal and anonymous society lends to an indifference towards one another (Blog Talk Radio). Because it isn't our neighbors and friends being annoyed, we feel somewhat safe in engaging in rude behaviors at the supermarket, on the plane, and in other public places. The fact that we are around strangers leads to a lower awareness of others, and increases ill-mannered behavior.
This additional anonymity unfortunately doesn't only affect cell phone users, but has an adverse affect on most people within range of impolite talkers. As courteous phone use decreases, polite behavior as a whole becomes less common. Other individuals, aggravated by the rude behavior of mobile phone users, tend to find their tempers short and their behaviors reflective of this. What person hasn't found himself at some point justifying a rude comment with the argument that the other person “was just asking for it” with their inconsiderate mobile phone behaviors? As we allow each other's discourteous behavior to justify our own, the general social expectation of common courtesy becomes anomalous. Meanwhile, while their offensive behavior continues to anger others, the impolite phone users themselves remain oblivious to their part in their company's poor behavior. Unaware of their own part in the decreased courtesy, the cell phone user might get aggravated at the poor mannerisms of the strangers around them. Although the cycle may not be immediately self-evident, discourteous cell phone usage ultimately is leading to worse and worse public mannerisms, with decreasing expectations of polite conduct.
So how do we avoid inconsiderate public phone etiquette? Simple perception changes can go a long way towards improving cell phone manners. According to market research group Synovate, 72% of Americans view the worst cell phone habit as loud conversations in public places (Jijon). Watch your volume and reconsider before dialing your best friend while waiting to order that grande nonfat mocha. Another aggravating cell phone habit? Leaving the ringer on in inappropriate places. When you walk into a church, movie theater, or restaurant, your cell phone should be off or silent and not visible. If you receive an urgent call during that time, take it outside (German). Consider the content of public phone conversations. The gentleman behind you at the checkout line doesn't generally want to hear the office gossip or the details about your wife's recent illness. Using your cellphone while driving is not only discourteous to other drivers as well as passengers, but it can be downright dangerous! If you must take calls during your commute, use a headset and keep conversations brief. Most importantly, ask yourself before picking up your phone in public, “Is this offensive?”
Arguments abound as to whether poor cell phone etiquette is simply a result of the novelty of mobile technology, or if it is a permanent social norm. Robbie Blinkoff of Context-Based Research Group says, “Technological change leads to social change, but there's always a lag” (Krotz). James Gleick, author of numerous books on technology, agrees and adds, “We should recognize that we're on a technological roller coaster and things are changing fast and there are levels of rudeness that we are just discovering ” (Belson). Whether the recent breakdown of common phone courtesy is temporary or a permanent fixture of social interaction, there is no excuse for unnecessary rudeness.
Works Cited

Bellis, Mary. Alexander Graham Bell-First Telephone Patent About.com 2009. <http://inventors.about.com/od/tstartinventions/ss/TelephonePatent.htm>
Belson, Ken. “I Want to Be Alone. Please Call Me” The New York Times 27 June, 2004.
Blog Talk Radio. Tv, Eh? “To Hell With Manners! The Decline of Civility” John Curtin. 14 September 2008. <http://www.blogtalkradio.com/tv-eh/2008/09/14/The-Decline-of-Civility>
Geekologie.com Personal Cell Phone Booths: Make it a Law 16 November 2007. <http://www.geekologie.com/2007/11/personal_cell_phone_booths_mak.php>
German, Kent. Mind Your Cell Phone Manners CNet Reviews 9 October, 2007. <http://reviews.cnet.com/4520-3504_7-6785301-1.html>
Krotz, Joanna L. Cell Phone Etiquette: 10 Dos and Don'ts Microsoft Small Business Center 2009. <http://www.microsoft.com/smallbusiness/resources/technology/communications/cell-phone-etiquette-10-dos-and-donts.aspx#Cellphoneetiquettedosanddonts>