Tuesday, January 22, 2013

40 Years of Roe v. Wade: My Nuanced Pro-Life Reflections

Forty years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade that abortion is a fundamental right. I don't solely consider myself anti-abortion, but go beyond the political usage of the term "pro-life" and consider myself a "bona fide" pro-lifer. When I sit and think about the court ruling at this juncture of my life, I realize that I no longer toe the "life begins as conception" line. I've thought about what we would do if we extended full personhood all the way to the beginning of the first trimester, and from a policy standpoint, it's messy and undesirable. I believe that a fetus, especially after the seven-week point of gestation in which all of the vital organs are formed, should have some legal protections. However, it would be nowhere as simple as drawing the line at conception or birth, which would make enforcement even more complicated than the simple blanket prohibition that many social conservatives would want.

I think about how the Burger court made this ruling based on Griswold v. Connecticut, which gave the "right to privacy" to own and use contraception via the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. The ruling was primarily a proverbial middle finger to the Tenth Amendment, which if actually taken into consideration, would have kept the issue of abortion an issue on the state level and not have been shlepped to the federal court for adjudication. Also, I have moral qualms with extending a "right to privacy" to Roe v. Wade because at least with contraception, there isn't an additional party involved. In the case of abortion, there is another life involved. The Court decision talks about "potentiality of life." If the fetus were merely a tumor or a clump of cells, I would agree with my "pro-choice" friends and call it a day. The issue is that technology has caught up and has informed us that the human life of a fetus is more than mere potentiality. Certainly from a philosophical libertarian view, I would contend that the issue cannot be reduced to "my body, my choice."

Public opinion polls aren't much help since they indicate that the issue is still a highly contentious one (see Gallup and Pew) with the battle between choice/reproductive rights and protection of life. Public polls notwithstanding, I don't see Roe v. Wade being overturned unless you a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which wouldn't happen anytime sooner than 2017. States can pass some laws restricting abortions, but that won't stop Roe v. Wade from being the "law of the land."

I'll assume that the Left believes their "abortions should be safe, legal, and rare" one-liner, which would mean they can have the discussion of "how do we continue the declining trend of abortions?" Given the public poll trends, I don't think there is much that the government can do, which means that this would need to be mitigated in the private sector. Contraception is a great place to start, since it has been shown to dramatically decrease the abortion rate. Since teenagers are having sex anyways (thinking that they never did signals a certain naïveté), let's at least keep them informed of their decisions and make sure they can minimize unintended consequences. If this is an issue of "we've cheapened the value of life," like social conservatives opine, then abortion is, at best, a symptom of the counterculture movement that brought about the hyper-individualism (read: societal egocentrism). Although there is no simple solution to counter that, it would certainly entail a bottom-up, decentralized approach in which communities have more influence in an individual's life, and a sensible balance between the individual and community can be struck. I would also focus on various community-building efforts so that adoption can be a viable alternative to abortion, which can be complicated by familial or communal stigma. Bottom-up approaches are more difficult to conceptualize because it takes many individuals working towards a common goal. They might be riddled with obstacles, but I have hope that we can look forward to a future with a significantly lower abortion rate.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for saying that birth control needs to be promoted in order to lower abortions. So many people don't want to acknowledge that. The majority of pregnancies ending in abortions are unplanned. To lower unplanned pregnancies, contraceptives are the key. Let's have contraceptives shown to teens and preteens, let's have them be familiar with what the contraceptives are and how to responsibly use them. Starting every year once a year in sixth grade on up. Facts, not "abstinence" and fear. Of course, it'll never happen. But I can dream. Of course, I remember my own health class involving the quite progressive teaching of birth control. And a video of young teenagers trying to calm down a screaming toddler in a grocery store. If that wasn't an effective argument for the use of contraceptives, I don't know what was. LOL.

    As to the rest of it.. well.. I can't condone abortion- high rates of abortion are one of the factors contributing to the slow demographic suicide of Europe.. but given the diversity of circumstances in which women procure abortions, I don't want to pass a judgement on that. What we can be sure of is, just like teen sex, abortions will occur with or without the rule of law or social sanction to govern them. Abortions do affect women in a stronger way. Abortion and birth control should be governed by what the majority of women decide. This isn't to say that men shouldn't have a say (they should) or that birth control shouldn't be developed for men (it should) but right now, birth control is mainly aimed at women, and has the most dramatic effect on women. If there was a way it could be put to an all-female vote, I'd do that, THEN ask the men, and then decide. I'm a utopian, me. :)