The Abortion Debate: Thirty Years After Roe v. Wade
. Before I hit on some of the deeper issues involved in the abortion debate, I want to vent about a couple of pet-peeves. Number one: abortion is not murder. Anyone who tells you otherwise is mistaken. It is not a matter of opinion. "Murder" is a legal term, with a legal definition. Under the laws of this country, abortion is no more murder than speeding. Of course, what people mean when they say "Abortion is murder" is that abortion is, morally speaking, functionally equivalent to murder. As rhetoric, it has a bit less punch, doesn't it? That interpretation of the "Abortion is murder" assertion is amenable to debate and discussion. There are arguments for and against the position which can be legitimately and honestly argued. But that doesn't change the simple fact that, as a matter of law, abortion is not murder.
Another pet peeve of mine is pro-life supporters who insist on calling pro-choicers by any name other than "pro-choice". "Pro-death" is my personal favorite, which was used by a fellow student in my Torts class last semester. I'd be willing to bet big money that this particular student supports both the death penalty and war in Iraq, while your humble blogger, who fits this student's definition of "pro-death", supports neither. Another common one is "pro-abortion". These little word games are petty and small. Grow the fuck up. If I wanted, I could refer to pro-lifers as anti-choice, or anti-privacy, or anti-woman, or pro-female-slavery. All of those labels are at least as applicable as pro-death or pro-abortion. Let's just all agree that these stupid word games serve no honest purpose, and mutually agree that my position will be called "pro-choice" and the opposing position will be called "pro-life". Everybody happy? Good.
To me, the abortion issue is so simple that it boggles my mind that we're still stuck in this hideously tedious debate. Oh, I know that the issue is complcated on a personal level, on a moral level, and on a religious level. But on a legal/political level, it's so simple. Who chooses, government or pregnant woman? That's the only issue. Most pro-choicers agree with pro-lifers that abortion is an awful, awful thing which should be limited, ideally, to cases of rape, incest, and medical emergency. Pro-choicers, however, understand that it is a complicated moral issue with no easy answers, and that a woman should be allowed to choose for herself, on the advice of her physician, how to handle her own body.
Let me diverge fr a moment. When I was in high school, I was swayed, for a time, by the facile philosophizing of Ayn Rand. Not my proudest moment, I don't mind telling you. I later studied hilosophy in college, and realized how primitive and naive her philosphy was. But, one of her observations has stuck with me ever since. She once wrote that rights, by definition, cannot be in conflict with one another. She used this point to support her view that no one has a right to medical care. You see, if someone has a right to medical care, that means that someone else (i.e., a doctor) has an obligation to provide it for her. Obligations, in the legal sense, are the exact opposite of rights. Ayn Rand argued that the doctor, as a human being, obviously has a right to life and liberty and yadda yadda yadda. A legal obligation to provide all and sundry with health-care, irrespective of whether they can pay for it, is a flagrant limitation of his rights. Therefore, there is no right to medical care, as it would entail the curtailment of another previously recognized right.
The same argument works for abortion. Pro-lifers talk about how fetuses have the same right to life as everyone else. But, by the above argument, they can't have. Granting a fetus the right to its own life necessarily deprives the mother of her right to hers. This is the inherent conflict at the heart of the legal debate. It is impossible to grant fetuses rights without stripping those rights from women. It is unconstitutional to strip women of these rights. Therefore, fetuses do not, and cannot, have the kinds of rights pro-lifers want to grant them.
So, we now have two perfectly simple planks from which to argue that the government should stay out of abortions entirely. One, it's too personal a decision to leave to the government. Two, it's impossible to grant rights to fetuses without taking them from women. But pro-lifers are not swayed by these arguments. Well, that's not really surprising. The biggest problem pro-choicers have to face up to is that the opposition is buoyed by religious fervor, and when in the history of mankind has calm, intelligent, logical reasoning done a damn bit of good in the face of religious fervor? [Hint: never.] I'd love to read an argument for the pro-life position from a non-religious person (and such an argument is possible), but I'm not betting on any takers, especially with my low traffic.
The thing that pro-choicers always have to keep in mind is that, regardless of all of these legal/political/religious debates, an abortion comes down to something very simple and very powerful: killing a defenseless creature which otherwise would one day be a beautiful child. This is precisely why I have no debate with those people who believe that abortion is, morally speaking, functionally equivalent to murder, as long as they agree to keep their personal value judgements out of the public sphere. This is the argument I've often had with my good friend Rob, whose intellectual brilliance is only matched by his utter inability to formulate or refute a logical argument. [It goes to show that studying English literature for long enough will turn even the sharpest mind into pudding.] Rob grew up Catholic, although his attitudes and lifestyle don't suggest to me that he is particularly religious (like most American Catholics I've known). Rob is stringently and vociferously pro-life. I find it hard to disagree with most of what he says, except when he tries to apply his moral code to everyone else in the country.
Just to prove that I have the courage of my convictions, I want to say this. When my mother was pregnant with me, there were complications. I had a twin, who died in the womb. The doctors were very concerned that carrying me to term might have endangered my mother, and that I would probably have been born developmentally disabled, if I survived at all. The doctors urged her to have an abortion, to protect her own health. She refused. I was in pretty bad shape when I was born. I had to stay at the hosptial for a while, I was jaundiced, and I needed surgery when I was still an infant. But otherwise, I turned out fine. My mother turned out fine. Se has never regretted for one moment the decision she made, and of course, I owe my life to her bravery and determination. That having been said, if I had been there when she was pregnant, out of concern for her safety, I would have strenuously advised an abortion. I don't what that adds to the discussion, exactly, but I wanted to share that story.
And one other story... a while ago now a dear friend of mine became pregnant. When I heard about this, I was thrown for a loop. I thought long and hard about what I would say to her if she asked my advice, and how I might feel about it if I had been the father. [There was... um... no chance of that.... trust me.] She decided on her own to carry the baby to term, but sadly miscarried. But, before she told me of her decision, I resolved that if she asked, I would advise abortion. Her boyfriend was a lunatic. They had very little money. Neither of them were in an emotional or financial position to care for a baby. In a situation like that, I don't see how bringing the fetus to term can be considered a good thing for the child. I know a lot of people argue that to believe alive, whatever the circumstances, is in all cases preferable to not being a live. I don't agree. I am in the strict minority of people who believe that, in particular cases, a decision to have an abortion can be made on the basis of the interests of the fetus.
So, that's where I'm coming from. I certainly hope that Roe v. Wade will never be overturned, but I expect that it will. The decision has survived thirty years of a concentrated Republican onslaught. Democrats have been in the White House for only twelve of those thirty years. The Republicans have stacked the Supreme Court with anti-abortion zealots, and Bush will probably have the opportunity to appoint at least one Justice before he has to face a re-election challenge. Can Roe v. Wade survive another Scalia or Thomas? I doubt it very much. Will Bush appoint anyone who isn't another Scalia or Thomas? No chance in hell.
UPDATE: Be sure to take a look at this
article, by Columbia Law Professor Michael Dorf, on the current legal standing of Roe v. Wade
. Dorf examines several crappy Constitutional arguments pro-lifers employ against the ruling, and also a couple of pretty good ones. It's interesting reading, and a good example of a fair and balanced approach to a tendentious issue put forth by someone with an avowed opinion.