Is it true, as I often ruefully observe, that my grandchildren will engage in exactly the same debates over abortion that I’ve been engaging in since junior high? That they will get into the familiar “an embryo should have full human rights!” “should not!” “should too!” wrangle that divides us as a nation and is back in the news again in the early days of the Bush presidency?
To explore this possibility, I’ve invited Nora O’Callaghan into the Rhubarb Patch. O’Callaghan is director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago’s Respect Life Office, and the Rhubarb Patch is this column’s series of conversations with advocates that begin in the newspaper and continue in greater depth on the Internet.
I asked her to start by addressing the question, “What sort of compromise or civic settlement of the abortion issue, if any, do you see in this nation’s future?”
To Eric Zorn:
The resolution of the abortion issue will grow from the same sources that have advanced all human rights struggles in our country: respect for the fundamental equality of all human beings; a recognition of the inherent dignity and inalienable rights held by every human being; and a generous desire to act in accordance with justice and truth even when doing so entails sacrifices.
It has taken incredible effort to translate these values into just conditions for groups who have been historically devalued. For instance, the civil rights movement has slowly changed attitudes, laws and customs that oppress African-Americans. There is a growing acknowledgment that everyone benefits when all racial groups are welcomed into the community of those who are valued and protected.
The pro-life movement seeks to build on this legacy by including those on the margins of life, the unborn, the elderly and the physically or mentally challenged, into the community of our common humanity. A culture of life shares the burdens of both mothers facing difficulties and their children and refuses to accept a situation where women feel pressured to choose between their own future and their child’s.
It will take time and effort to build such a culture. Most pro-life work, comprising about three-fifths of all activities, focuses on providing alternatives to abortion through thousands of pregnancy help centers. Other efforts focus on education, prayer, and legislative initiatives. Assistance to women and men suffering emotionally and spiritually in the aftermath of an abortion constitutes one of the greatest needs to which the pro-life movement is increasingly responding.
I don’t know how long it will take, but I do believe that these kinds of efforts will produce a just society where all human beings are valued and cared for.
To Nora O’Callaghan:
To summarize, your answer is “No compromise. This issue will someday be settled with a total victory for my side.”
As a political, technological and social matter I have to disagree: I see no sign and have no reason to believe that we will ever have an overwhelming consensus of opinion supporting either extreme on the abortion issue. Independent of your strong feelings on the matter, you will never persuade even close to half the public that it should be a punishable offense for, say, a 13-year-old girl who’s been impregnated by her father to have an early-term abortion.
And, to go to the other extreme, those who hold an absolute pro-choice position will never persuade more than a handful of zealots that a healthy, married woman one week from the due date of a healthy baby should be allowed to terminate that baby’s life in the womb because she’s decided the whole parenthood thing isn’t for her after all.
In between these polar positions is a vast set of real-life mitigating and aggravating circumstances related to abortion.
Most people tend to see a continuum, just as our laws do, and plant their ideological flag somewhere from zero to 40 weeks gestation, with exceptions for certain circumstances.
As we move this conversation to the Internet, let me ask: What signs do you see that the hope you express above could become reality? And what concrete arguments do you advance on its behalf?
To Eric Zorn:
I see several signs of hope that a just resolution to the abortion issue will one day be a reality. But to understand why, I think there are a few areas that need clarification.
First I would like to say it strikes me as odd to consider winners and losers in regards to a vision of a just social order as your comments suggest. You characterize my statement as being tantamount to a declaration that “my side will completely win” over the opposition. But wouldn’t everyone be a winner if we lived in a society where human life was so highly regarded that we all organized to care for anyone in need, and where no one felt pressured to have an abortion? I would think that even those who view abortion as a necessary evil would agree that this would be a victory as much as any pro-lifer. Why else would many pro-choice people wish to make abortion “rare?”
I’d also like to point out that I read your initial question as involving two distinct issues, which you perhaps thought interchangeable. You asked me what kind of civic compromise or resolution of the abortion issue I see in our nation’s future? There is an important difference between a resolution, a state of affairs in which the issue is no longer a cause for dissension, and “civic compromises” about the divided state of our country on various policy issues. There will no doubt be many civic compromises along the way to a just resolution of the question, but none of them will settle the issue finally.
I think this is an important point to make, because every time I debate this issue, an exasperated person will ask me – Why can’t you just drop this issue and accept the fact that some people will always want to have abortions, and others won’t. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get one, but don’t interfere with others.
But accepting abortion as a part of our social order means rejecting the fundamental position of the pro-life perspective. That point is that human life is precious in all its conditions and stages. Inalienable and inherent rights, beginning with the right not to be intentionally killed, belong to human beings on account of the fact that they are human beings and for no other reason. To deny the inalienable right to life to any group is to assert that the powerful have the right to take rights from those who are relatively powerless. This is fundamentally unjust, and this injustice is inevitably the cause of dissension.
Does this mean that I believe, as you sarcastically state in your column, that “embryos should have the full range of human rights?” This is an example of an attempt at
reductio ad absurdum, a statement intended to assert the indefensibility of an opponent’s position by drawing an absurd conclusion from their premises. So, the statement asserts, the pro-life position implies that embryos should be granted civil rights which they have no capacity to exercise, like voting, driving, and free speech. Let’s examine this assertion, since it’s another one of the more common responses to the pro-life position.
Does the law currently grant such civil rights to new-born infants? Does a toddler have a right to vote, to drive, or to publish a newspaper? No, because common sense informs the law of the obvious fact that small children don’t have the capacity to responsibly exercise such functions. Does this mean that the law refuses to grant human rights to babies? No, their humanity is fully recognized and respected in its present condition. But the full range of human rights are, as it were, held in trust until the human beings who are currently babies have passed through this stage and attained to that point in their development when the full range of human rights can be fruitfully exercised.
During their infancy and childhood, the law and society focus mainly on protecting the child and assisting with his or her development by ensuring access to such things as nourishment, education, and health care. All of these efforts grow out of a respect for the dignity of the humanity held even by those who are completely dependent on others, who drool all over the place, can’t talk, can’t care for themselves, can’t produce anything other than messes, and can’t even go to the bathroom on their own.
Why should such useless beings be granted any such protections and costly resources from society? One reason is that many people find such creatures to be loveable in themselves. Such efforts are also expended because, in its wisdom, society takes note of the obvious fact that infancy is not a permanent trait, no more than being an embryo is a permanent and fixed mode of being. No, these are stages through which we pass in short order on our way to becoming mature, productive, serious adults.
You, Eric, were an embryo for only a few short weeks of your life. You probably don’t even remember it. But during that time, you were producing, specializing and organizing all of your cells into the incredibly complex organs and systems that now support your life and make it possible for you to sit and type at your computer while sipping a cafe latte.
You had within yourself, even as a single-celled embryo, all of the sophisticated information, resources and dynamic capacity to do the work of building up the body that you now employ so profitably. No force from the outside came in and provided extra information after you began cell division, nor did some external force come in and do the work of putting your body together for you. Your mother provided nourishment and a secure warm place to protect you, but you did all the hard work yourself. In fact, because you likely had a different blood type than your mother, the nourishment she passed to you had to go through a filter to protect both of you from exchanging divergent blood types.
Even in this temporary embryonic condition, you had your own life separate and apart from your mother’s and father’s. And you had within yourself an inherent dignity (a dignity not dependent on any particular functional ability, and not granted by any outside power) owing to the fact that you were even then a human being. All of the hard-won human rights and duties you enjoy today were even then yours on account of your humanity, although it would take time before you were ready to exercise them.
Though you did not have the right to vote, you were of the type of being who would eventually be called upon to assist with governing the community. You had “ownership” of your own future, which still belongs to you. The “Eric-ness” that is now cherished by your loved ones is a result of the unfolding capacities you had within yourself from the very beginning of your existence. And it would have been wrong for someone else to take your life, your unique gifts, and your future away from you, even at a point when you were a very young human being.
Regarding civic compromises about the abortion issue, then, it has to be recognized that the right to life is not the kind of question that lends itself to resolution through compromises. If a particular human being is denied the right to life, the right not to be intentionally killed, then there really is no right to life for that person. It is by its nature an all or nothing question. (2-12-2001)
To Nora O’Callaghan:
Cafe Latte? Moi? I drink Dunkin’ Donuts coffee black, thank you very much. But aside from that cheap shot I think we’re off on an interesting, enlightening and civil track. It’s very hard, as you know far better than I, to discuss this issue without temperatures going way up. And I’ve never thought that screaming, yelling, fingerpointing and mockery of others’ putative choices in caffeinated beverages will move people on abortion.
When I write of winning and losing I intend it in a political sense, I guess, and also in a practical sense. Ideally, of course, there would never be an unintended or dangerous pregnancy that prompts a woman to obtain an abortion. Even at its least traumatic, abortion is a physical and emotional ordeal for women.
But in the foreseeable reality, such pregnancies will occur. And should my now 3-year-old daughter, to take an example very close to home and close to my heart, find herself so pregnant many years from now, it’s my hope–my definition of “winning” — that she’ll be free under the law to follow her own conscience and make her own choice about whether to continue that pregnancy.
You write that we’d all be winners if we lived in a world “where no one felt pressured to have an abortion,” but I think you’re missing something. The pressure to have an abortion is often related to whatever stigmas we have left about out-of-wedlock pregnancy and the realities of the difficulty of single parenting. And I think we lift that stigma and dilute those realities at our peril. This may make me sound like a troglodyte to my liberal cohorts, but I think young single women *ought* to be mortified at the thought of being pregnant; ought to take lots of precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The pressure not to be pregnant, internal and external, comes from the very real, very complicated–physically, emotionally, financially–consequences of bringing a child into this world.
You ask why pro-choice people say they want abortion to be “rare.” ( Former President Clinton often voiced his desire to make abortion “safe, legal and rare”) If abortion is a morally neutral excision of a meaningless clump of cells, why would the pro-choice side worry about whether it’s rare or common? You don’t hear them suggesting that the removal of plantar warts be made rare.
A fair question. And the reason is that the pro-choice position lacks moral clarity. But don’t quote me on that out of context. I don’t speak for the pro-choice movement, but many pro-choice voters probably agree that the issue to them is filled with ambiguities and ambivalences; that they do not see abortion as a good thing or a morally neutral thing, but a necessary option, a vital freedom. And, for reasons we can get into as we go along, they become increasingly uneasy with the procedure as the gestational weeks go by.
The pro-life position’s big selling point, it seems to me, is its supposed and self-proclaimed moral clarity–the bright line that abortion foes draw at conception, a recognizable instant, and stand their arguments upon.
But the reason I introduced my
reductio ad absurdum example was to demonstrate that the pro-life position also lacks moral clarity. We are in the ambiguity boat together.
First, let me revise my terminology. When I wrote “full human rights” I meant to imply the full legal
protections we afford born human infants and not, of course, the full range of adult civil rights.
The laws protecting infants make it a felony–first-degree murder, punishable by death or life without parole–for someone of sound mind to participate in the killing of that infant, regardless of the circumstances of its conception.
It’s not an absurd or insincere question to ask of pro-lifers, then, if they would support a severe prison sentence for, say, a 21-year-old woman who had an abortion after discovering herself one month pregnant with the child of a man who had raped her.
The vast majority of people would say no; probably even the vast majority of people in your movement would say no. They would have an almost instinctive sense that such an act would not be equivalent to taking a baby to an executioner one month after birth. Not even close.
I do not raise this just to play gotcha, but to point out that both sides in this debate really are on the continuum and do see some ambiguities. And while I am no more optimistic than you that we will ever settle the issue finally through rhetoric (technology is another possibility, though, and maybe we’ll get into that), I hold out some thin hope that the battle might turn constructive rather than totally adversarial based on the insight that both sides appreciate the complexities and nuances involved.
Your attempt to present the abortion battle as a civil rights issue ultimately assumes its conclusion, that from the moment of conception an embryo is as fully human– for legal and moral purposes– as any human being who has been born. Obviously if one concedes the latter then one must concede the former, but, again, I don’t see the signs you do that such a widespread concession is in the offing nor do I believe it is imperative or even desirable or logical.
Anti-abortion advocates have tried and, as a political matter, failed significantly to make the case that that there is no continuum, no gradual acquisition of “humanity” through the gestational process, no rough benchmarks along the way in which greater and greater moral weight and thus more and more rights accrue to the zygote/embryo/fetus/baby. We can talk about why they have failed, but I don’t think you can dispute that they have.
At the risk of making an analogy for a limited purpose that might be misunderstood, I’ll say that they’ve failed in the same way and for the same reasons that radical animal-rights advocates’ arguments have failed to make the case that sentient mammals deserve human-like rights. It doesn’t comport with the experience, common sense or emotions of most people.
The attempts to make this case that I am most familiar with are also
reductio ad absurdum arguments: If you can’t abort a healthy fetus at 40 weeks, why should you be able to at 39? And if you can’t at 39, why 38? And if not 38, why 37? Down to 10, 9, 8 and ultimately zero. Any attempt to draw a line is met with the objection, “What happens biologically or ethically on that last day before you draw the line that justifies drawing it there?”
The answer to this is that we draw somewhat arbitrary general lines in our society all the time. Why can people vote at age 18 but not at age 17 and 51 weeks? What possible wisdom or maturity do they gain in that last week to make them suddenly capable of voting?
We draw lines in the law and public policy in order to balance interests, apportion conflicting rights and shoot a workable shaft of light through the many gray areas we encounter. Virtually every social and political issue involves this sort of attempt to reconcile and make peace between those with competing claims and values.
When you say it’s impossible to compromise–that a pregnant woman’s right to reproductive self determination is nothing and the embryo’s right to continue to use her body to grow is all– then you in effect remove the issue from table. How, under such terms, can we negotiate or even talk productively?
Those leaning toward the pro-choice position stiffen and solidify their positions when they realize that the game is not compromise but conversion and that you have no interest whatsoever in attempting to meet them halfway. This strikes me as a difficult atmosphere in which to attempt to find strategies that might dramatically reduce the number of abortions performed each year, a goal for which I think you would find broad consensus.
Let me ask you again: What signs do you see, aside from current Republican dominance of so many branches of government, are or could be going your way? And, to add a new wrinkle, what are your highest realistic hopes for, say, the year 2015, the year my daughter turns 18?
(I don’t mean to suggest that you ducked this question last time; I was a taskmaster about keeping you under 1,500 words, per the format)
I am just over 1,400 words here, and so will stop, give you a turn and have me a cuppa joe. (2-12-2001)
To Eric Zorn:
Ok, I realize that discussing one’s choice in beverages can get a little sensitive. So let’s turn to less controversial territory.
Given your limit of 1500 words I can only give one semi-complete answer to the question you pose about the political stalemate, and several short replies to the points you just made.
Yes, it’s frustrating that we can’t find political compromises to reduce the number of abortions, given that most people agree that fewer abortions would be a good thing. But I dispute that this is the fault of the “unbending pro-lifers” who allegedly refuse to search for such compromises. I would
love to be able to use the democratic political process to protect women and the unborn from abortion, even if such steps fell short of complete victory for the pro-life cause. So why can’t we find such solutions?
The short answer is that the Supreme Court won’t allow it. I don’t want to get too technical here, but I think it’s important to discuss the legal background. The Supreme Court violated its own constitutional rules in
Roe v. Wade, and in order to shore up that decision it must continually re-violate them, precisely in order to prevent such compromises.
The Court says that in deciding constitutional questions it is supposed to read the text of the Constitution and look at the history and tradition of our country to determine whether a law adopted by the majority violates an established right. That is all the Court is supposed to do. It is not supposed to “make up” constitutional rights (since the justices are appointed and serve for life that would make them Kings), they are only supposed to recognize and apply rights that come from specific, known sources.
What did they find in those sources on the abortion issue? First, the text of the Constitution is completely silent about abortion, reproductive rights, sexual or general “privacy” rights. Nor could the justices point to the history and tradition of our country to show an unspoken consensus and acceptance that there is a right to abortion, since it was illegal in most states. Justice Blackmun says in
Roe that he wasn’t sure if the “constitutional” right to abortion came from the 4th, the 5th, the 9th, or the14th amendments, or maybe it was an “emanation” from the “penumbra” of them all (don’t ask, no one knows what this means).
He left out the obvious possibility that maybe there is no constitutional right to an abortion. Perhaps abortion is an issue the Constitution leaves to the people to decide upon through the normal democratic process. Those who want a constitutional right to abortion are free to campaign to amend the Constitution, but pretending it’s already there is not sufficient.
Why not? The main problem with nine un-elected judges making up a constitutional right is that it permanently stops the political process in its tracks, creating the frustration over the abortion stalemate you decry. The abortion issue, by the way, is totally different from anti-majoritarian civil rights decisions like
Brown v. Board of Education, wherein the Court ended legal segregation even where a majority supported it. Why? Because in Brown, the Court was applying and enforcing the text of the 14th Amendment which was adopted into the Constitution by the people. Therefore, even those who disagreed could understand the Court’s source of authority and its reasoning.
But even in law schools filled to the gills with people who support the outcome of
Roe v. Wade, there are very few who claim to understand where the Court got the authority to over-rule the abortion laws of 50 states. I was the only pro-lifer willing to speak up in my Constitutional law class of 150 students, but no one was willing to argue that this decision comported with the known rules of constitutional law. Not even the pro-choice professor defended it.
That makes the Court’s abortion decisions seem like a triple injustice to those who disagree, because we believe that both the outcome and the process are unjust, and we are forever deprived of the ability to use the democratic process to even minimally correct these injustices. While pro-choicers may like the outcome (unlimited right to abortion through all nine months), they should be concerned about the illegitimate use of the Court’s power – it may one day turn and bite them.
Roe makes it impossible to engage in the process of compromise, persuasion, policy development, and agreements to meet someone “half way” that we usually employ to arrive at civic settlements over disputed questions.
For example, about 80% of the people in this country, including many pro-choicers, agree that the right to abortion ends once the baby is in the process of coming out of the mother’s body alive. Through the democratic process, they passed laws in 41 states banning partial-birth abortions, with an exception if the mother’s life was endangered. Partial-birth abortion involves pulling most of the child’s intact living body out of the birth canal, holding the baby’s head inside the mother’s body, stabbing the baby in the head and suctioning out her brain. Pro-choice Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called this practice “too close to infanticide.”
A nurse at an abortion facility, Brenda Pratt Shaffer, quoted in the dissent to the Supreme Court’s
Stenberg v. Carhart decision, testified about witnessing such a procedure. With most of the child’s body dangling outside the mother’s body, the doctor held the baby’s head inside:
The baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head, and the baby’s arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall.
The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby went completely limp.
Martin Haskell, MD, who acknowledged doing more than 700 such abortions at 20-24 weeks gestation said that “probably 20% are for genetic reasons, and the other 80% are purely elective.”
American Medical News, April 15, 1996. Another facility in New Jersey acknowledged that this method was used in at least half of the 3,000 abortions between 20 and 24 weeks they perform each year. American Medical News, March 3, 1997. At a recent court case in Ohio, a doctor testified that on two occasions the baby accidentally slipped out of the mother’s body alive before the doctor could complete “the procedure”. He said these babies were held until they died. Because the babies had slipped a few inches, the law at least protected them from the rest of the procedure.
But, lo and behold, even though a great majority of people participated in a democratic process to ban partial-birth abortions except to save the mother’s life, the Supreme Court overturned the laws of 41 states last year. Why? They gave two reasons.
First, the Court claimed that laws banning partial-birth abortion were too vague and might someday be mis-read to ban all methods of abortion, not just this one procedure. The obvious answer is that they probably wouldn’t be so mis-read and the Court could easily stop any such misinterpretation. Anyway, the Court is supposed to uphold laws if there is
any proper interpretation possible, not over-turn them because a mistake might happen. Secondly, they held that a particular doctor might think that such a procedure was the best and healthiest (for the mother) way to perform an abortion, even if other safe methods were available. Therefore the Constitution forbids the people from banning this barbaric procedure.
Uh, sure� whatever you say. Because whatever 5 justices say about abortion is the end of all discussion about a civic settlement to the question.
So, I’m with you, Eric. Let’s over-rule
Roe v. Wade so that we can engage in normal democratic political consensus building and end the frustrating stale-mate over abortion. Would abortion automatically become illegal? Probably not. Most states would come up with the arbitrary cut-off periods and the exceptions you seem to favor, allowing early abortions and making exceptions for hard cases. But at least we could start moving toward greater protection for vulnerable women and their children. On your other points, I’ve already violated your space limits so I’ll just say:
Yes, abortions are mainly performed on single women (80% unmarried according to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S.). That’s why everyone should read and follow the radical advice from your abstinence Rhubarb Patch about controlling their own bodies by saving sex for marriage.
You are mistaken, high rates of abortions have not led to a decline in single-motherhood. Illegitimacy rates have soared right along with soaring abortion rates, as have the rates of female and child poverty. Why? Could it be that men feel more free to abandon their responsibilities in an era when abortion is widely available?
When the states had laws against abortion, women who had them were treated as “secondary victims” of the offense. It was the doctors who were prosecuted, with evidence provided by the women. When a society is far out of whack, corrective laws must take into account the “background” social conditions that led to the injustice. I would think it will take a long time to rid ourselves of the cultural degradation caused by
Roe, and I don’t think that locking up women who have abortions would be helpful in healing our culture, nor that it would be supported by a majority of people. Coercion is normally the last (and often least effective) means for creating a just society. No one even thinks of buying or selling a human being today — not because they fear jail, but because our culture has internalized the morality of the 13th amendment (even those who’ve never read it).
You are simply incorrect when you claim that there is no consensus on the moral status of the unborn. Poll after poll agree that a large majority, including many who favor the right to abortion, believe that abortion involves taking the life of living human being. Ultrasounds and science back this up. And furthermore the “experience, emotion, and common sense” of most Americans used to be overwhelmingly convinced that people of African descent were not fully human beings. Guess what? They were wrong, we realized it, and most people now reject this de-humanizing idea. Same thing will happen with the unborn.
Yes, many laws draw arbitrary lines for the sake of convenience- why 18 to vote and not 16? There are also important laws that draw no such arbitrary lines when the harm is very great and human dignity is at stake. No deliberate killing of an innocent human being. No raping people. No slavery. Abortion is an issue that involves these kinds of harms and human dignity, and so arbitrary lines are not morally warranted.
The single greatest source of political consensus that will lead to policies reducing the number of abortions by 2015 will be a growing awareness of the terrible effects of abortion on women. More on this later. (2-23-2001)
To Nora O’Callaghan:
If Roe truly is a bad decision as a matter of law–and certainly there is disagreement among scholars over this–then it will likely be overturned. What the consequences of that will be are anybody’s guess because for nearly 30 years now the abortion debate has politically marginal–lots of little skirmishes and firefights (and a few clinic bombings and shootings) but very little in the way of pitched battles or socio-political wars. My guess-and it’s just a guess–is that the mainstream of the Republican party really isn’t eager to see the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe because of the way the exceedingly divisive abortion issue might then come to dominate the political landscape as every state fights over new laws.
My layman’s view of Roe is that, however inelegant and improvisational it may have been, it represented an attempt by the majority of the court in 1973 to split the difference between competing, rights-based claims. It basically says that a woman has the right to choose an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, and after that point the state’s interest in protecting fetal life takes precedence and it may ban abortions except in cases where the pregnancy threatens the life and the health of the woman.
It doesn’t seem to me beyond the scope of Constitutional interpretation for the court to more carefully define such terms as “person” and “liberty” and “due process of law,” and to attempt to help us draw the important line between My Business and Everybody’s Business. The court does this from time to time—I thought, for instance, that it made the right call when (in Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965) it overturned the state of Connecticut’s attempt to prevent adults from having access to contraceptives. Don’t you?
At some point, some questions of personal behavior are not subject to majority rule or even super-majority rule; the state ought to have to show a compelling general interest when it regulates, controls and forbids. Laws must not be arbitrary or unnecessarily invasive.
Your complaint that “Roe makes it impossible to engage in the process of compromise, persuasion, policy development, and agreements to meet someone `half way'” does not resonate with me because you have already allowed that you have absolutely no interest in compromise or meeting the other side half way.
What you will not admit, though, or allow or discuss frankly is your ultimate goal. You give us squishy-speak about the desire to “produce a just society where all human beings are valued and cared for” because that sounds so nice and positive and hopeful, but you don’t or won’t talk about what laws you’d ultimately like to see on the books (after we “rid ourselves of the cultural degradation caused by Roe”) and what you’d do about or say to my hypothetical 13-year-old girl impregnated (raped) by her father.
Your own logic locks you into prosecuting women who seek abortions for murder. You write of such women as “secondary victims” and hem and haw about transition periods and the ineffectiveness of coercion because you know how utterly unpalatable such prosecutions would be for the vast majority of Americans who do, in the end, see, feel and sense a real distinction between an embryo and, say, a one day old baby. (Speaking of this, I have a question that I honestly do not know the answer to–does any archdiocesan publication print obituaries? If so, does it print obituaries in cases of early miscarriage? And if not, why not?)
Your complaints about Roe v. Wade are a red herring, as is your argument about intact dilation and extraction (IDE) abortions, also called “partial-birth.” A ban on IDE abortions would probably not prevent even one abortion from taking place — if it did, then the dispute over whether it’s ever medically the best option is settled. Doctors would simply use other methods, methods that for one reason or another they don’t prefer. We could get into the whole issue of why some doctors use this technique, but why bother? The pro-life strategy here is to say, “ban, this, it’s gross and upsetting,” then to say, “now that we’ve banned that, let’s ban the alternative technique because it’s gross and upsetting, too,” then to say, “as long as we’re banning things that are gross and upsetting, let’s ban this�and why not this? and this?”
I’m not saying this isn’t a fair polemical technique, but I’m saying that’s really all it is. I’m inclined to let doctors and patients together make informed decisions about which technique to use to perform this legally permitted medical procedure and to remove such aesthetic questions from the realm of politics.
You return frequently to the slavery metaphor though I pointed out earlier that the argument drawing parallels between abortion and civil rights for African Americans assumes its conclusion. Let me try again: The belief that African Americans or any group of “others” do not deserve the same protections and rights as all human beings comes from an entirely different set of philosophies and notions than the belief that an embryo or fetus does not deserve these full protections. Blacks and whites share thousands of attributes that mark them as human beings, and differ only in slight and relatively superficial ways–to see blacks as less than human requires awfully twisted logic. Infants and embryos share few attributes. And, again, the general sense and experience is that as embryos acquire these attributes as the gestational process moves on, they acquire more and more rights.
Does a pregnant woman have a right to say “I don’t want to be pregnant? I don’t want to endure the physical and emotional effects, the risks and perhaps the opprobrium of taking this pregnancy to term? I don’t want the embryo, this fetus to keep growing inside me?” Is the thought that from conception to birth there is a continuum from potentiality to reality one way or looking at things–a philosophy, approach, attitude? Or is it, as I think you would have it, sick, illogical and cruel?
It’s my view that the continuum outlook makes sense philosophically and morally and that the bright-line outlook does as well. In the end, one’s answer to this question is rooted in one’s larger, perhaps religious and social perspectives and is balanced in some ways by one’s views on human sexuality. I can certainly understand and respect any individual woman’s choice not to have an abortion because of her views on when human rights begin. That’s the source of my sense that reasonable people can have different views on this matter, and it was the source of the dismay I felt at reading a comment from a pro-life leader in a recent Boston Globe essay.
Frances X. Hogan, president of Women Affirming Life, wrote that she was worried that a dialogue with pro-choice leaders might generate “a scandal if people thought I was treating abortion merely as a matter of opinion on which reasonable people could differ.”
I am going to take the liberty of breaking format here to insert your response, Nora, to a question I raised to you in an e-mail aside (Rhubarb Extra!) of whether you think reasonable people can differ on abortion:
I just don’t really know what it means to say that “reasonable people can differ.” I think what it means on a colloquial basis is — “there are people of good intention who are intelligent on both sides of this controversy and we should respect them and not treat anyone with contempt because of their views on abortion.” If that is what it means then I agree.
But on another level, what it must also mean is “there really is no truth about human life, it’s all just a matter of opinion so there’s no use in arguing about it.” If that is what it means then the statement “reasonable people can disagree about abortion” really means “Nora, you and everyone who thinks like you is wrong.” And, probably it means “Mr. Pro-Abortion Person – persons who think like you are wrong too.” Because the statement means that there really is no truth about the question whether or not human life is of such a nature that aborting young human lives either is or is not morally justifiable. And both sides base their arguments on a view of human life (and freedom and rights and the meaning of life) that they believe to be objectively real and true.
Americans seem very queasy about questions that are either/or. We want it to be both ways. So the “reasonable people can disagree” statement is a way of trying to have it both ways – it’s all a matter of subjective points of view, with no objective truth rearing it’s “unbending, rigid,” uncomfortable head. But when it comes right down to it, it’s not really possible to dodge the question in this way. When group A asserts X is true in the objective order of reality and group B asserts not-X is true, then either group A or group B is correct or they are both seriously wrong. They can’t both be correct, as this would violate the principle of non-contradiction.
So for instance, it either is or is not objectively true that human beings are endowed with an inalienable right to life or it is not true. It is either true or it is not true that adult human beings are of such a nature that aborting a fetus is a good and just thing for them to do, or it is not a good and just thing for them to do. People’s opinions about these things might be interesting, but they don’t change the reality. For instance, (I know I keep coming back to this example, so forgive me. It just works). Even if everyone in the world, 100% of Americans, believed that Africans are not really human beings, that unanimity would not change the reality of their humanity. Even if 100% of the people believed that you journalists are not human beings, that would not make it true.
Assertions about reality are either true, or they are false. My opinion about the nature of the force of gravity makes absolutely no difference about how quickly a stone falls off a building.
It makes perfect sense that believing that there is an objective truth at stake one should feel motivated to continue discussing the issue. Because through the dialectic method one can arrive at a fuller, more true, more real understanding of the truth, and that understanding becomes more persuasive and compelling to others. If there’s no objective truth at stake — and it really is only a matter of opinion, then I would think discussing the issue with those who disagree is really a waste of time. There’s no arguing taste…. You believe what you want, I’ll believe what I want, and we’re both equally “right for ourselves.” That’s the real dead end of any disputed question, because there’s no way out of it.
My response to this assertion of “objective truth” is to reassert my claim that you’re really talking about a philosophical, moral, even religious truth and that there are simply too many matters that are genuinely matters of opinion–not fact–for you to make some claim of objectivity when you assert your definition of “humanity.” It comes down to one’s values and priorities–the weight one gives to certain concepts, certain freedoms, certain rights.
Most every law we have balances absolute concepts. The absolute right to keep and control one’s property vs. the absolute necessity of human societies to fund joint projects and generally beneficial institutions, for instance. And, as previously noted, many laws recognize continuum and ultimately draw workable lines designed to balance out the various viewpoints, interests and so on. And the overall goal, actually, is similar to the one you stated above, to produce a society that is both as free and safe and fair and peaceful and productive as possible.
A couple of years ago I asked my readers how an “artificial womb” would effect the abortion debate. If technology existed, as I suspect it will someday, for doctors to remove any zygote, embryo or fetus from a pregnant woman and bring it to term, would that impact their view of the rights of that developing being? How would it change things?
It wasn’t a trick question, though both sides approached it warily. As one who sees the abortion question as one of rights in conflict, I’m comfortable saying that I think it would cause rights to accrue to the fetus under the very terms of Roe v. Wade–viability outside the mother’s womb.
But, as I am at the end of my word limit here, I would ask you if you would be comfortable with what would amount to a separation of the human sexuality issues that lurk under the surface of the abortion debate with the life issues upon which you dwell? Would it be worth it to you to break the link between sex and unintended pregnancy? (2-28-2001)
To Eric Zorn:
Well, after a break of several months, I guess we’re back at it Eric. I apologize for the hiatus, but it’s good to be back. Obviously the intervening events of September 11th have highlighted the fragility and incalculable value of each human being’s life, so this conversation takes on all the more meaning to me.
Let’s see where to start? First everyone should go back and read Eric’s last piece again (which will make Eric happy), and then come back here and I will point out exactly where he went wrong. Everybody ready? Ok.
First, I think it’s kind of odd that you quote my remarks stating that I believe that those with whom I disagree often have good intentions and should be treated with respect, and shortly later you state that I must find those with whom I disagree to be “sick, illogical and cruel.” For the record, I simply view such people to be “wrong.”
Secondly, regarding the justification that we may kill those who do not look or act much like us, I must demur. As an empirical matter, infants share every single one of the characteristics that are demonstrably present in embryos and fetuses. In fact, I have it on good authority that the infants were themselves at the embryonic stage of development only a few short months before they posed for their baby picture. If you doubt this fact, you should ask Ana Rosa Rodriguez, a 10-year old girl with only one arm. She lost her right arm when a New York abortionist tore it off
in utero in a failed attempt to perform a “safe and legal” dismemberment abortion on her.
To state, therefore that Africans and Europeans have more in common than an embryo and an infant is simply not true. In the latter case, the two are genetically, biologically identical unities. True, they
look different in many respects, but it would be impossible to imagine two “more like” cases than you at 1 month gestation and you at 30 years.
Nonetheless, it is obviously true that some people choose to value infants and fetuses differently. That these people are therefore justified in taking the life of someone whom they dis-value is not obviously true.
By the way, if you believe that people “earn” the right to be protected from killing as they develop and attain various attributes, do you also believe that people lose the right to such protection as they lose more and more attributes? Which ones? I gotta go take my vitamins right away.
Next, there’s a question that seems to come back time and time again. Because my goal is to protect all unborn children, you seem to believe that I am somehow incapable of accepting or working toward compromises short of that goal. For instance when I point out that many such measures that I, and a majority of people, would be happy to accept would be ruled unconstitutional under
Roe, you say that this point “does not resonate” because I have somehow given you the impression that I “have absolutely no interest in compromise.” How’s that for a circular argument?
Let me make it clear – yes, my goal is to live in a society where all human beings are protected and cared for at all stages and in all conditions. However, it does seem unlikely that this state of affairs will suddenly dawn upon us at any time in the near future. Therefore I would be overjoyed to accept laws that a majority of people would agree upon to lessen the harms that abortion causes in this country here and now.
Examples of such laws would be: notice to parents if their minor child is seeking an abortion; limiting abortions to “hard cases”; greater financial support for pregnant women and alternatives to abortion; women’s “right to know” laws informing them of risks, fetal development, and sources of support for alternatives to abortion; ultrasound pictures of her child offered to each woman; mandatory counseling by people who are independent of the abortion facility with a waiting period as happens in Germany; banning abortions after 12 weeks as in France. (I can think of more if you like)
Once such laws were passed, supposing that they were not immediately overturned by the courts, your understanding of “compromise” seems to be that I must thereupon immediately abandon any interest I have in furthering my goals, and I may not seek to persuade people of any other protections. Otherwise, I apparently lose all credibility in your eyes, because I have not accepted that this compromise is the final word on the subject. Well, gee that sounds fair. I must surrender my goals and views in order to participate in the political process. Would you be willing to do the same?
Roe, I don’t want to re-hash arguments about its illegitimacy, since there really is a broad consensus in the legal profession that it is constitutionally unsound. Your incomplete explanation of Roe‘s result does require a response, however. It’s true that subsequent Supreme Court cases threw out Roe‘s trimester approach and replaced it with a dividing line based on the “viability” of the child (viability is of course not defined, and of course, all of the children would be viable if they were left alone, but that’s another argument). But what you skim over is the fact that abortions are permitted after viability in this country.
After the child can live outside the womb, the child may still be aborted if the health of the mother is at risk. And the definition of health of the mother, under the Supreme Court’s rule, is “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.”
Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973). This definition is so broad that anyone who wants an abortion at any time before the birth of the child fits within the “health” exception.
And post-viability abortions do take place in this country for reasons unrelated to the normal understanding of health of the mother. In fact, the State of Michigan caused quite a stir last year by seeking to prosecute a certain Dr. Higuera for performing a post-viability abortion on a healthy woman without even asking why she wanted the abortion. He apparently believed there was no need to establish a “health” exception to abort a viable child.
Indeed, given the Court’s definition, what would a “non-health” reason be? According to news reports, the woman aborted her child in the 7th month of pregnancy because she was no longer married to the child’s father and already had other children. Had the doctor bothered to ask her and record this information, there is no doubt that this reason would qualify as a health exception under the Supreme Court’s definition.
No one would have even known about this doctor’s practice except that a nurse working for him finally became so disgusted by the doctor’s regular post-viability abortions that she reported him to authorities. The doctor pled guilty to altering medical records and the state dropped the charge of illegal abortion. Forty states have post-viability abortion laws on their books, but all of them must be interpreted to include the Supreme Court’s definition of “health” which permits abortion for any reason. There are almost 10,000 abortions of viable babies reported in this country every year, along with an unknown number of unreported cases, such as Dr. Higuera’s.
Guess who went to jail in the case of Dr. Higuera? No one. And, regrettably, as you point out, this child died unloved and unmourned, probably disposed of as medical waste, and without the dignity of even a name. There are, however, monuments all across the country in memory of unborn children who have died or were aborted, and every Catholic cemetery has a section for the bodies of miscarried children. Cardinal Bernardin once held a memorial Mass and burial for aborted children whose bodies were found in a dumpster, an act of charity that was greeted with derision by those who must maintain that unborn children are utterly worthless.
But what to do in the “hard cases”? The legal maxim is that “hard cases make bad laws.” According to Planned Parenthood’s research, which is usually considered accurate because they are the largest abortion provider in the country, between 3 and 4 % of U.S. abortions are done for reasons of rape, incest, or health fears combined. The other 96 – 97 % of abortions, again according to Planned Parenthood, are performed because the mother does not want to have a child for various social reasons.
Your hypothetical concerns a 13-year old girl who has been raped by her father. How would such a case be handled today? Well, this child could enter an abortion clinic anywhere in Illinois and have an abortion without any adult being notified. No one will know that she has undergone surgery, so no one will be alert to possible complications. The police need not be notified if the girl is too afraid to tell, so her father will be free to rape her again. In fact, her father could take her to the clinic himself in an effort to cover up his crime.
You are correct that most people would likely support abortion in this and other “hard cases” even though there is research indicating that women who carry a child conceived in rape to term suffer fewer emotional problems than those who abort. And, despite the fact that there are many, many adult people who were themselves conceived in rape who argue that they did not deserve to be punished for their father’s crime.
While I do know there are heartbreaking cases such as this that happen from time to time, thank God they are very few. There is nothing that can erase the suffering of a child who has been raped. But I really believe that abortion poses more physical and emotional risks to the child, and that it is also an injustice to the life of an innocent human being.
Since most people seem to disagree with me, and would support abortion in this case, I would probably not be successful in efforts to protect the life of children conceived in rape or those in other “hard cases.” While I still believe that these human beings deserve protection, I would be more than willing to work towards a world where only “hard case” abortions are permitted. Why? Because, in the end, I think there would be fewer people seeking to abort even in cases involving hardships once the norm becomes respect for the dignity and humanity of the unborn.
Briefly, (I’m approaching my word limit) you can say you don’t accept my answer on jailing women for abortion if you wish, it doesn’t change my views. As an empirical matter, women were not prosecuted under U.S. abortion laws when they were in effect, and compared to the situation today, abortion was very rare.
Your belief that there is no reason to ban partial-birth abortions other than the fact that they are “gross” is interesting, but last I heard there was no constitutional prohibition on passing laws because people find something to be gross.
The states claimed the laws were needed because they found it degrading to the medical profession to permit a doctor to kill a squirming baby he was holding in his hands. They also argued that once a child is almost completely outside a woman’s body, her right to have the child killed ends. Her “pregnancy” can be “terminated” without “terminating” the baby with a scissors to the head. The Supreme Court in its wisdom disagreed. I guess that’s what passes for serene judicial “balancing of conflicting rights claims.” In case you haven’t noticed, the balance is as follows: baby always loses, abortion always wins.
I’m well over my word limit as it is, so I’ll answer your last question, which I assume is about contraception, by posing a few questions of my own. When contraception and abortion are made readily available, do the rates of pregnancy, abortion, and birth increase or decrease compared to the time before they were available? (Hint: all three go up). Why do researchers believe this is so? And what percentage of those seeking an abortion report having used contraception when they became pregnant?
What percentage of women having abortions last year had already had at least one previous abortion? How much higher is the death rate for women in the year following an abortion compared to the death rate for women in the year following the birth of a child? Is giving birth to a child therefore safer than having an abortion? How much does a woman increase her risk of developing breast cancer by having an abortion? Why aren’t women informed of these risks? (10-12-01)
To Nora O’Callaghan:
Taking your last point first: One can cite various statistics regarding risk–the breast-cancer / abortion link is controversial as those who wish to explore the matter on the web can easily learn–and I’d certainly encourage anyone seeking an abortion to consider the statistics and the sources before she goes go ahead. I also wouldn’t object to laws requiring that abortion clinics offer a variety of such written materials.
Your implicit assertion that the one-year mortality rate is lower for childbirth than abortion intrigues me, as I was under the impression that a woman is more likely to die in childbirth than in a botched clinical abortion. My first impulse is therefore to wonder if other factors aren’t at work that cause this–lifestyle, age, income, etc. Do women killed in car accidents or by angry boyfriends figure into your stats? Or are you talking about purely illness related deaths that are related to birth or abortion?
Does it matter, though? Truth is, Nora, that if having an abortion eliminated a woman’s risk of breast cancer and tripled her chances of one-year survival you’d be no more in favor of abortion. You just wouldn’t bring up the health statistics.
I brought up contraception in two places in my last letter–the first had to do with the Griswold decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that laws banning contraception use were unconstitutional. I asked (and you did not answer) whether you agreed with that decision. The second had to do with hypothetically probing how much of the anti-abortion stance is related to an anti premarital sex stance. It is not an idle query. I believe that a belief in sexual freedom and a belief in abortion rights are linked in our culture. Not totally, but I think it would be disingenuous to suggest that it’s coincidental that those who hold more liberal views about sexual behavior tend to hold more liberal views on abortion. And contraception is integral to sexual freedom, one definition of which would be the ability to express oneself sexually with controllable consequences.
I have posed the question to liberals this way: If there were a “perfect” contraceptive–say, for the sake of argument, an otherwise harmless additive to the water supply that would render us sterile until we elected to take an otherwise harmless antidote that would render us fertile–would that change the landscape of the abortion debate? If, in other words, every pregnancy started off as an intended pregnancy, would we think differently about the right to end that pregnancy at will?
I ask foes of abortion rights whether they would want such contraceptive technology to exist at all (assume, also, perfect disease prevention). My purpose is to elicit the degree to which their position is animated by an overall conservative stance on sexual matters and a belief that unintended pregnancy is a fitting natural (or divinely intended) punishment/consequence for fornication (as they would say).
I bring this up as an aside to wonder aloud if the abortion debate isn’t actually a stalking horse for a debate over sexual mores, a debate that is very dicey in and of itself (see the rhubarb on abstinence education).
Onward: I do believe that rights and even degrees of humanity itself accrue to a zygote, embryro, fetus as it moves along through gestation–that biological coding and potentiality are not the same as actuality and that once full human status is attained (you’ll have to refresh my memory on the concept of “ensoulment,” not that I would consider it binding), it cannot be lost.
I’m assuming from your elliptical answer that the church does not hold funerals or run diocesan newspaper obituaries for, say, individual miscarried 12-week old fetuses. I know from lots of experience with friends that those couples whose pregnancies end shortly after they are confirmed do not suffer nearly the grief of those whose infants die at birth.
For you to translate this everyday emotional response into a conclusion on my part “that we may kill those who do not look or act much like us,” has a whiff of the old “Baby Killer!” charge that so polarizes this debate.
I hoped at the outset we could avoid that and perhaps identify some middle ground position that most people–we’ll never get all–could accept as a matter of law. This would allow society to move beyond this debate, which really hasn’t changed since junior high when I was having it with my dear friend Lisa. But, as the title of Laurence Tribe’s book put it, abortion seems destined always to be a “Clash of Absolutes.”
You discuss slipperiness of the “health” exception. In practice it may, admittedly, be too broad and the existing laws may not be being adequately enforced. And I imagine if a spirit of compromise truly existed in this area, pro-life and pro-choice leaders might be able to come together to hammer out a detailed statute defining the “health” parameters for permissible late-term abortions. But it ain’t going to happen because there is no reason for pro-choicers to compromise in the context of a false negotiation. I’m not faulting you personally for refusing to compromise on this matter of great importance to you, but I am asking you to see how and why, politically and socially, the absolutist position probably does not help you achieve an interim goal of fewer abortions.
Quickly, on some of the halfway measures you support:
Parental notification sounds all well and good, but it waves away the very real, very fraught way in which parents and teens often deal with each other in matters relating to sexuality. The goal from your end is to stop the abortion from taking place, clearly, but I’d like to see long-term studies done on young women who were subject to parental notification or parental consent laws in order to get a better idea if such laws are in their best interests.
Greater financial support for pregnant women sounds good to me.
Ultrasound pictures offered to each woman and mandatory counseling by people who are independent of the abortion facility sound like paternalism to me. A woman seeking an abortion should be offered printed material that directs her to counseling opportunities and to facilities where she can obtain an ultrasound image of the fetus if she wishes. I’m all for the free flow of information. But I’m not for mandatory propaganda sessions.
I’ve been pushing you on the question of whether a woman who seeks and obtains a first trimester abortion, for example, should be charged with first-degree murder in order to probe how profound your belief is that such an abortion is morally equivalent to murder and to invite readers of this debate to consider the implications of that absolute position. I know you don’t want to answer–you fall back on historical empiricism rather than tell me what you would do if you were in charge–because the inescapable answer, like the answer that you did provide to my “hard case” hypothetical of the 13 year old made pregnant by her dad, reveals the morally absolute stance as unpopular at best, unworkably extreme at worst.
Not to say that the absolute pro-choice position is any less extreme or more workable; just to point out, again, that most people on both sides of this debate do not enjoy the refuge of perfect moral clarity or consistency.
It’s difficult, in this polarized atmosphere, for me to express the view that an abortion is a regrettable event. Every pregnancy should be intended and wanted, and those that are not are nearly always, by definition even, traumatic for at least the woman involved and often the man as well. An embryo/fetus is not, particularly in the first half of the pregnancy, an entity that is entitled to legal protections that contravene the wishes of the mother, but–again as our intuition tells us–it is more than just a clump of cells like a cyst or benign tumor. Accordingly, those who work toward reducing the number of unintended pregnancies –and there are a variety of ways — are doing important work, as are those who believe that “pro-choice” ought also to include offering pregnant women the wherewithal and support to make the choice to continue a pregnancy if they desire.
I can square this with a position that the law ought to permit a woman the right to choose to end her pregnancy under certain conditions, and it’s my sense that both law and practice will continue to support this position. Your side may win some modifications and limitations, but we are not going back to the days of back-alley abortions and trips to foreign lands for pregnant rich girls. If there’s a way to end the debate or render it minor and academic, it will come not through philosophy or debate, but through technology.
The last word in this rhubarb is yours, Nora. Please don’t wait another eight months to have it! As I close I want to thank you for a vigorous, sometimes chippy but respectful dialogue. This is probably the hardest topic to wrangle over and not get nasty because feelings run so high, and I’m glad for the professionalism and intellect you employed in rhetorically whacking me over the head. Your turn. Be nice. (10-16-01)
(Note from Zorn–Nora’s schedule prevented her from composing a final reply, so I asked Chicago area anti-abortion activist James Finnegan to pinch hit. If Nora ever chooses to add to this discussion, I will gladly post it.)
To Eric Zorn:
One has to be pleased that Eric Zorn has chosen to discuss in such detail the subject of abortion. After thirty years in this struggle, dialogue between members of the media on this topic is rare indeed.
By way of introduction, my involvement started on 1-22-73 . I am a long time “on the streets” activist in this life and death issue. I am often asked why such intense involvement for such a long time?
Looking back, I realize that the reasons for such an intimate involvement are four:
(l) A strong belief from the start, that when a defenseless preborn child’s life can be ended right up to, and now including the moment of birth, our lives, and the lives of our children and grand children would be forever cheapened. Indeed a lowering of respect for the importance of live with all of society. (2) The unfairness of allowing one person their day in the sun, while denying another the same opportunity.
(3) At age 10, a feeling of disbelief, and then shock and revulsion, at seeing the results of “the final solution” that the Nazi’s employed. I asked myself , “how could people allow this to happen?” Why didn’t people speak up and stop this horror? As I grew older, I then asked myself if I would have had the courage to speak for those defenseless and unable to speak for themselves. To me, the parallels are identical. Innocent and defenseless people being killed, after first having their humanity/citizenship denied, in order to allow the atrocities to happen. This, and the willingness of people to stay silent and look the other way. An aborted child, a dead inmate, just a case of “whose ox is being gored”.
A professed strong belief in almighty God. God’s greatest gift to us is our very lives. The fifth commandment is very clear. Thou shalt not kill. Murder is defined as “the unjust taking of an innocent life.” An accurate description of what is occurring in abortion. Scripture, such as Proverbs 24:11-12, is full of references to the sanctity of life, and God’s special love for His children. We as Christians, and decent Americans, have a responsibility to honor and protect the weak and defenseless among us. Do we always succeed? The answer unfortunately is no, but we must put forth the effort.
It is interesting that no where in our constitution can you find a stated right for a woman to an abortion. In fact, quite the contrary. In the Bill of Rights we are all guaranteed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Notice life is listed first. Without life, the others are meaningless. The abortion right was an opinion of seven of the nine Supreme Court Justices who found in the fourteenth amendment (a right to privacy) the right to abortion on demand. A right allowing a mother something never before permitted in the first 1973 years of this country. No constitutional amendment put to the people’s vote, but rather what has been referred to by many noted jurists, as a raw abuse of constitutional power.
In the 60’s, abortion in limited forms was available in six states such as Colorado, and New York. Justice Blackmun wrote in his affirming decision, words to the effect, that once we know with certainty when life begins, we can then begin to offer protection to him/her. A short time later Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated “Roe is on a collision course with science”. Sonograms, ultra sound imaging, and photoscopy all clearly show the activity of the newly created life as early as 8-10 weeks.
Videos of this life within the womb are routinely offered to the mother for her electronic scrapbook. These, and other measurable activities of the preborn child, were not available on that infamous day of January 22, 1973. Improved medical efforts now pick up the heart beat of the preborn at 21 days, and the brain waves at six weeks. In anyone’s definition of when live ends, it is based on the stoppage of these two. Why than do we deny the same criteria as to when life begins? Of course the answer is to facilitate the continued denial of the humanity of the preborn, so abortions can continue through her first nine months of life.
The use of euphemisms such as “choice,” “my body,” “cells and tissue,” “emptying of the uterus,” and “products of conception,” are all word speak employed to make a ghastly act acceptable to both mother and society. The gymnastics involved here would seem humorous were it not such a profound subject. Mothers are cautioned not to smoke, drink, or take drugs as they can harm your baby. This child somehow mysteriously becomes something else if scheduled to die in an abortion.
As Nora correctly pointed out earlier, no one has a fetus shower. A baby shower is cause to celebrate the pending arrival of the same child who if not wanted by its mother could have her life ended in a violent pain filled manner. Preborn children can inherit property, and are treated in utero for life altering medical conditions, such as repairs to the heart. I might add always with the proper administration of anethesia for pain control. Laws allow the “doctor” to end this life without punishment, while an individual who kills this same child through an act of violence is prosecuted for murder. Vehicular homicide charges are given an individual who through drunken driving kills the unborn child. The list of contradictions, euphemisms, and general hypocrisy that allows abortion on demand to continue goes on and on.
Positive steps such as efforts to increase the availability of children for adoption are vigorously fought against by abortion on demand advocates such as NARAL, NOW, ACLU, and Planned Parenthood. Abortionists themselves are large contributors to the needed finances to lobby and wage the fight to place no limits on abortion on demand.
One only has to look at the attacks of Crisis Pregnancy Centers across America, that provide financial help to mothers in need, to facilitate a real right to choose, to see this happening. The “Choose Life” license plates now in existence in six states provide money raised from the sale of the special plates towards fostering adoptions.
One’s own choice to pay the $20 additional charge for the plate that simply says “choose life” is attacked by all of the above groups as a “religious statement” and “entanglement between church and state”. At the start, the ACLU stated “we view this as an acceptable first amendment free speech right”. Since, this group, who never saw an abortion they didn’t like, has changed its tune. It is also argued against by saying it is an inflammatory statement sure to cause road rage. Hardly worth a comment, but I will add that there has not been any road rage in the l6 months it has been off and running in the founding state of Florida. Over $1,000,000 raised, and already one of the top 10 largest selling plates in the sunshine state. It is expected to be the number one selling specialty plate within the next 3-4 years. Eligible recipients of this money are: homes for unwed mothers; pregnancy help centers; and adoption agencies who are both non profit and not connected in any way to abortion providers. All of the money raised goes to foster adoption. It has nothing to do with abortion unless one considers that an aborted child can not be given up for adoption. An adopted child also does not put any dollars in the hands of the abortionist. In the year 2000 over $29,000,000 of Planned Parenthoods income came from the abortions they did. I might add, that an additional $30,000,000 comes from our tax dollars in the form of government grants.
Another example is the strong connection between abortion and breast cancer that has been shown to exist through extensive medically accredited studies (many by Pro Choice physicians such as Doctor Janet Darling of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) over the past twenty years both here and abroad. At the VERY LEAST the expectant mother should be made aware of the fact that these studies exist, in order to make the informed choice the pro aborts always speak of.
Equally amazing, is the fact that any efforts to regulate the safety conditions of the abortion location, as well as the credentials of the abortionists, are fought tooth and nail by these same groups, who portray them as acts of Pro Life zealots limiting the mothers access to abortion. As a result there are more protective regulations for a veterinary clinic that an abortion mill. Don’t take my word for this Eric, look it up starting with the Ragsdale abortuary in Rockford, and the Supreme Court decision under the same name. Deplorable conditions, but no regulations enacted.
Polls on abortion consistently show overwhelming support for realistic limits on abortion. In particular, fellow Americans are against abortion on demand for social reasons and for birth control. That is, abortion for any and all reasons, and at any time during the first nine months of the preborn child’s life within the womb. This reluctance to accept abortion as a method of birth control becomes relevant to any intelligent discussion about abortion. Alan B. Guttmacher is the research arm of Planned Parenthood. PP is the largest single provider of abortions in America today. Over 200,000 surgical, and countless chemical abortions, are performed at PP each year. One of every seven abortions are done at PP locations. The annual report provided by PP shows under “reasons given for having the abortion, ” slightly more than 95% are for these same social/birth control reasons. Less than 1 1/2 % for rape and incest. One percent for fetal abnormalities. The remainder of the five percent not found under social reasons was for “health of the mother. The simple fact is that 95% of all abortions being done today are as a means of birth control to end an unwanted pregnancy. This while over 1,000,000 prospective parents wait for a child to adopt, from a newborn pool of but 50,000 each year. this while over 400,000 teens choose to end the live of their child rather than provide continued life for their child, and great joy to a couple struggling to find a child to bring into their family. Forty three percent of all abortions are repeat abortions on the same woman. Many for the third and fourth time. As many as thirteen abortions were performed on one woman counseled by Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.
Parental notification of children as young as 13 ,being taken for abortions without their parents awareness, women’s right to know laws, late term abortions, (over 100,000 abortions are performed on preborns in their second and third trimester of life, with 45 abortions each day on women carrying a child of over five months.) are all limits that the vast majority of fellow citizens approve of.
As you have correctly mentioned in your give and take with Nora O’Callahan there is little give and take from the two sides. The abortion on demand camp is absolutely against anything that would in any way regulate a woman’s right to an abortion on demand. In all fairness, there is no room for me to move off my 30 year support of my belief in life being sacred from start to end, and the need to protect it. You and I through the graces of God, and loving parents, also made the journey from embryo to fetus, from toddler to pre teen, teenager to young adult, middle aged, and for me senior citizen. At least its half fare at the movies, if I can find any thing worthwhile to see. Do you have any suggestions on that? You have had your crack at writing an interesting column for a top notch paper, and I have had the opportunity of a 30-year career in sales management within the ladies swimwear industry. Cole of California, Calvin Klein and others. All the euphemisms and word engineering will not alter the fact that abortion does indeed stop a beating heart. That the often performed abortion of dilation and extraction (D and E ) without any anesthesia to the preborn, is the dismemberment of a living human being wilthin the mothers womb. That in both this action, as well as partial birth and live birth abortions, we have a cowardly act being perpetrated on those unable to respond or defend themselves.
I often think of that awesome moment we will have ( at 67, I would hope mine a lot earlier then yours) at the end of this short life, when we stand in front of the Lord for the final judgment we are promised. How we have lived our lives. Did we care enough to make a difference in others pain. At this time I can only hope He will say “well done my good and faithful servant”. I wish the same for you my friend.
(July 29, 2002)