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  • Victor C. Bolles

Ethical Gymnastics

Recently, while watching Deadline: White House on MSNBC, the host, Nicolle Wallace, was discussing the recent school shootings in Michigan where four students were killed by a fifteen year old (I have been unable to find the clip so I am working from memory). She and some talking heads were lamenting about how the US has had 60 school shootings this year while noting that Europe has had none and that the US should have greater gun control so that it could be more like Europe. This is pretty routine stuff for MSNBC so why, you might ask, am I featuring this in my commentary.

Well, a little later, Brett Baier’s Special Report on Fox News, as the Supreme Court heard testimony about Mississippi’s law to ban abortions after fifteen weeks, featured a story about how Europe has much greater restrictions on abortion than the United States. Many countries in Europe, such as Germany, France and Spain, ban abortion after fourteen weeks. Norway, Denmark, Belgium and Switzerland are even stricter, banning abortion (almost Texas-like) after only 12 weeks.

The conundrum arises in that the Democrats want us to be like Europe in the case of guns and not like Europe in the case of abortion. Abortion rights supporters insist that the situations are not comparable (of course, gun rights advocates could say the same thing). The National Women’s Law Center, echoing other progressive groups, asserts that abortion is “a key part of women’s liberty, equality, and economic security.” This strikes me as odd. Having children is an essential part what makes up a woman. It’s the reason a woman’s body is different than a man’s. A woman’s body is designed for giving birth and the hormones produced during pregnancy create the loving and nurturing behaviors of mothers that are essential to the well-being of the child. It is the killing of the fetus that is unnatural and cruel. How can something unnatural be essential to the liberty of women?

Abortion may be a necessary part of modern life, but there are many aspects of modern life that are stressful, traumatic and unhealthy. And abortion is one of those aspects. Modern Western civilization has given humanity longer life, less war and more leisure than any other civilization. But Western civilization is not without its costs as many are eager to point out. It has given us the power to do many things, but power can be abused as well as used. Medicine can now cure many diseases and even prevent disease from occurring. One of the advances of modern medicine has been the ability to save many premature babies that previously would not have survived. Doctors have pushed back the window of viability by months. The most premature infant (so far) was an Alabama boy born after only 21 weeks of gestation. That is only six weeks after the cut-off for abortion in the Mississippi law (and also for many European countries).

But banning abortions completely, as many pro-lifers insist, without resolving the reasons why so many women need abortions will be like trying to eliminate inflation through price controls. Price controls lead to shortages and black markets. And bans on abortions will lead to illegal back street abortions and death. Fighting inflation is difficult and price controls seem an easy way out – but they don’t work (just ask Venezuela). Eliminating the need for abortion will be even more difficult.

After Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions in the US rose quickly to 29. 3 per 1000 women (age 15-44) in 1980 and 1981, but that number has been falling ever since, reaching 13.5 per 1000 women in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This is good news. Sort of. At least we are heading in the right direction. But the other side of the coin is the rising incidence of kids born to unmarried mothers which has doubled since 1980. Decreasing the number of abortions by increasing the number of kids in single parent households is not a public good.

I imagine that our descendants a hundred years from now will look back at the carnage of hundreds of thousands of abortions with horror and disgust, much as many of our contemporaries look back with anger at the moral and ethical lapses of our eighteenth and nineteenth century ancestors. But the solution of the problem with abortions, along with the interrelated problem of single parent households, will not be solved by restrictive but ineffective laws or more lenient welfare programs replete with unintended consequences. But ending this scourge on our national honor will work toward remaking America a leader the world can be proud of.


With increasing secularism in America and around the world, public opposition to abortion has declined. However, the ethical and moral implications remain unresolved. According to current law in some states it is possible to terminate the life of a fetus in the 8th month of gestation, but it is illegal and criminal to kill a baby that was born one month premature. The physical development of the aborted fetus and the murdered preemie is identical. The fetus, if delivered rather than aborted, would have an equal chance of survival as the preemie. Why do these two entities have different civil rights? What sort of legal and ethical gymnastics do you have to perform to differentiate the rights of these two entities?

For most of human history, having babies was, if not a path to wealth creation, was, at least, a way to avoid poverty: more farm hands or workers for the family farm or enterprise, insurance against the premature deaths of siblings, and more family to support ageing parents in a time before pensions. But modern life changed all that. Children are no longer cheaper by the dozen. Now children are an impediment to wealth creation and a hindrance to the enjoyment of leisure time.

There are alternatives to unlimited access to abortions, but they are not easy. Really solving problems instead of papering them over or kicking them down the road is never easy. To begin to resolve the problem of abortion, we need to teach young people not only the mechanical functions of sex but also the duties and responsibilities that come with having sex. While birth rates for teenagers have been declining since the 1990s (a good thing) the number of children being born to unmarried women keeps climbing, now reaching around forty percent of all births. This is not acceptable. The children of these unmarried mothers will face a difficult life and will more likely be a burden on society than a productive member of society. America’s attempt to remove the stigma of unmarried motherhood, has only made the problem worse. Laws incentivizing such births need to be rethought (President Biden’s child credits in his Build Back Better plan will only aggravate this problem).

Men need to be held responsible as well. With DNA, deniability is no longer acceptable. Making many of these men a positive influence in the lives of their children is likely impossible, but it is possible to make them financially responsible. Celebrities who boast of their liberation from cultural conventions such as stable marriages should be held in the contempt they deserve. Their wealth allows them to flaunt responsibilities that lead to the impoverishment of the many that lack such riches (and forces ordinary citizens to bear much of the burden).

The Supreme Court’s opinion on the Mississippi abortion law and its impact on Roe v. Wade won’t be known for several months, but this decision will not resolve the abortion issue in the United States. The religious fervor of many pro-lifers is equally matched by the cult-like zeal of progressive abortion supporters. But religious zealots and progressive fanatics are minorities that have changed very little over the last fifty years. Most Americans believe that abortions with some restrictions are acceptable. The crux of the argument is whether an arbitrary limit (such as 15 weeks) is better than a vague and changeable standard (such as viability).

The two positions of the religious pro-lifers and the progressive pro-abortionists are irreconcilable, but the nation needs a resolution to this tragic problem that satisfies the majority of Americans and tells the fanatics to “sit down and shut up.” Roe v. Wade may be bad law but that is what Roe v. Wade attempted to do. But the problem is that it is not the court’s role to do that, and the result has been fifty years of controversy. The legislature must take this up and resolve this problem by law and not rely on the Supreme Court to bail them out. Then we can focus on the really hard work of reducing the need for abortions in the first place.

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