On a recent news program, the featured speaker noted that the extremists on both the left and right controlled the abortion narrative and that these extremists had left the rest of the nation voiceless as no other position but the most extreme was possible. Red and blue states have recently taken these extreme views and passed laws governing abortions that range from virtually no limitations on abortion to virtually making all abortions illegal. The purpose of these outrageous laws appears to be to try and force these laws to be reviewed by the Supreme Court to either extend Roe v. Wade or overturn it.
The Supreme Court originally ruled on abortion in 1972 by issuing the infamous Roe v. Wade decision where the court determined that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution gave women a right to privacy that permitted women to choose whether to have an abortion. The court further stated that during the first trimester the states could not prohibit a woman’s right to choose but, because the right to privacy is not absolute, in the second trimester the states could have the power to regulate abortions and that in the third trimester states could prohibit abortion (with exclusions to protect the woman’s life). The first trimester “right to privacy” was later modified to incorporate the concept of the viability of the fetus rather than an arbitrary time period.
The Supreme Court’s decision has pleased no one. Constitutionalists have noted that the justices had to do mental cartwheels to come up with the concept of the right to privacy in the Fourteenth Amendment. And leaving it to the states has led to the current mishmash of jurisdictions concerning abortion rights. The court did not make a philosophically (or religiously) or even constitutionally justified decision. It was a political decision. But not a very good political decision because it has left a painful thorn in the side of our nation ever since.
Abortion, of course, is a topic that lends itself to extremism. The issue is when does life begin? Is it at conception as many people believe? Or is it at the actual birth of the child? Some people even oppose contraception based on the concept that blocking the natural process of reproduction is opposed to the will of God – as if all the other horrible things people do are not). This leaves an approximately nine-month (40 week) period where the concept of life is in limbo.
Abortion and infanticide have been around since ancient times. Women have long been consulting shamans and witch doctors to obtain potions or poisons to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. The tale of Oedipus and the legend of Romulus and Remus are based on attempted infanticides. Infanticide can also be found in so-called tournament species of primates where the new alpha male kills the offspring of his predecessor.
We do not know the incidence of abortion and infanticide in ancient times, but the procedures were not unknown or uncommon (both Galen and Hippocrates addressed the issue of abortion in the philosophy). There is evidence that early Christian theologians believed the Pythagorean concept of ensoulment (supported by Aristotle) where the fetus was not thought to have a human soul at conception but that the soul was embodied in the fetus later, often at the time of quickening or fetal movement (more or less equivalent to today’s viability).
The question is when does life begin, or more specifically in our case, when does the entity created by the process of reproduction attain rights – the most important of which is the right to life? We cannot fall back on religious doctrine to resolve this question because America is made up of people with many different religions and even no religion. The imposition of one religious belief on non-believers is prohibited by the Constitution. And any philosophical argument can be countered by another philosophical argument to the negative. So how can we extract ourselves from this dilemma?
This fertilized egg the size of a chickpea (as described by one endlessly shared progressive Facebook meme) has a DNA structure different than that of the mother. It is not a part of the woman. If a woman asked a doctor to cut off her pinky finger because she did not like it the doctor would call for a psych eval. The fetus is clearly an entity different than the mother but utterly dependent upon the mother. What the woman’s right to choose is actually, is the right to determine when life begins, because once that fetus is a life it would be a crime to abort it.
When I face difficult decisions of this sort, I try to envision what our descendants in the future would think of our actions today. What would Dr. Leonard McCoy think of such a barbaric practice? Our progressive friends can’t complain by this line of thought; they are constantly judging eighteenth and nineteenth century policies and the leaders that promoted them by twenty-first century standards so why can’t their policies be judged by 24th century standards (sauce for the goose Spock would say). And while viability has been pushed back several weeks since Roe v. Wade, given recent medical advances I can easily foresee viability going all the way back to conception at some time in the future.
So, viability only gives us, at best, a temporary political solution to our quandary (and no philosophical solution). But it is the only politically viable solution we’ve got. Progressives are fixated on the concept that killing a fetus is a basic human right as the cornerstone of their identity politics strategy. The vast majority of the American population do not want to come to grips with the ethical and philosophical dilemma of abortion; opting instead for a pragmatic strategy. So viability it is.
But the argument does not end there. Even if we concede that abortion is a necessary evil, it is still evil. Therefore, if we cannot prevent the act of abortion, it is our duty to try and reduce the need for abortion.
There has been some good news on the abortion front. While in 1990 there were over 1.4 million abortions in the United States, by 2015 this number had dropped to a little over six hundred thousand, a reduction of 57 percent (and with a larger population). And more good news, between 1990 and 2017 the birth rate for mothers 15-19 declined by more than half and also declined for mothers 20-24 years. Unfortunately, the number of births to unmarried women has climbed substantially although most recently it has begun to taper off.
To condemn a poor girl to single motherhood and a life of poverty is not a viable alternative to abortion. If pro-lifers and their politicians want to reduce the number of abortions, they need to create viable alternatives that can offer poor girls some hope.
There is nothing wrong with chastity. A person’s sexual reproduction equipment matures more quickly than the pre-frontal cortex. So while adolescents are capable of having sex, they are not well equipped to handle the consequences of sex. Waiting until a person has the maturity to handle the emotional and economic consequences of sex is not a bad idea.
Natural family planning involving periodic abstinence according to the woman’s ovulatory cycle is recommended by the Catholic Church (and others) as the only way to prevent pregnancies (which is why Catholics have notoriously large families). But many other methods are available. Prophylactics can not only prevent pregnancy it can also protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV/AIDs. The pill, originally approved in 1960, launched the sexual revolution that created the permissive society we currently live in, but the permissive sexuality of our society has swamped the utility of these preventive measures resulting in the high number of abortions and single parent families.
I don’t mean how to bake a cake. Young people need to know enough economics to be able to function in the modern world. And they need to know the economic consequences of having a baby while unmarried. 40% of children born in the United States are to unmarried couples (compared to 10% in 1970 and even lower before that). Wendy Wang, Director of Research at the Institute for Family Studies notes that low-income young adults that follow the “Sequence” (graduate from high school, get a job, don’t have children until your are married) had a poverty rate of only 6% compared to 35% for those that had missed just one of the steps (and higher if they missed more).
Pew Research has discovered that the poverty rate for married parents was only 8% while the poverty rate for cohabiting parents was 16% and 27% for solo parents. It further found that blacks (and especially black mothers) were much more likely to be solo parents than whites or Hispanics. The liberal Brookings Institute calculates that a single mother earning the minimum wage who marries a man earning $8/hour stands to lose $8,000 in welfare benefits and while most people in these circumstances don’t perform the calculations done by Brookings, they do figure that they will lose “stuff” if they get married. With the sexual revolution generated by “the pill” already creating a cultural shift that deemphasizes marriage, we don’t need the government to give it a further push.
We now have the technical capability to identify the fathers of children born to unmarried women. What we currently lack is the legal and moral authority to utilize that technology. It may be difficult to accomplish this without violating the right to privacy (oh, that again) of the unknown fathers, but dumping the burden on the unmarried women as well as the taxpayers is also unjust so a way should be found.
We have a lot of reasons why there are so many abortions and so much poverty in single parent households. Many of those reasons relate to a cultural shift that is promoted on the movie screen and music videos but that has been a disaster for poorer communities.
Is the reason for entrenched poverty and rising income inequality due to a cultural shift away from personal responsibility, the demeaning of middle-class values, the unintended consequences of government policies and a rising sense of victimhood and not due to the greed of the one-percenters. If this is true (or even only partly true), then the nostrums of the progressive left will not solve our problems but only make them worse. If the reason for our problems is us and not them then we must look to us for the answers.
Pro-life conservatives have passed extreme laws limiting abortion in the hopes that the Supreme Court will issue a decision in support of their beliefs that will override legislative inaction and ignore the opinion of the majority of the people in the country. This is the same tactic used by the left to try to get the court to transition the US Constitution to a living (meaning left-leaning) document. And it is just as wrong. The United States Constitution was designed to manage the government and not to manage the culture. The culture is up to us.