Thursday, June 18, 2009

Abortion IV, Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and the US Constitution

Many Americans may be surprised to know that Norma McCorvey (more commonly known as Jane Roe,) is currently an advocate of the pro-life agenda. In 2005 she petitioned to overturn Roe v. Wade only to have her request denied without opinion [18]. As I attested before, the cofounder of NARAL and previous owner of what was then the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, also experienced a change of heart. His documentary, “The Silent Scream,” was shown at the White House and has since become a major tool of ‘pro-lifers,’ [19].

Norma McCorvey seems to have converted for emotional and religious reasons. Since her conversion to Catholicism in 1994 she has not only campaigned against ‘child-execution,’ she has also expressed her solidarity with pro-life extremist Christian organizations such as “Operation Rescue,” and claimed “I am not a lesbian anymore,” during an interview [20].

Dr. Bernard Nathanson is another story. Although he was raised Jewish and has also recently converted to Catholicism, Nathanson was an atheist when he flipped sides. He describes his change of heart as a ‘secular epiphany,’ in light of advances in science and medical technology [21].

Unfortunately for Nathanson and McCorvey the Supreme Court ruling in 1973 was not centered upon emotion, science, religion, or medical technology. Justice Blackmun acknowledged the cultural and religious difficulty of Roe v. Wade as well as the ambivalence of science present at that time, but nevertheless stressed that Roe v. Wade had to be decided by the constitution [22].

So, what was the exact constitutional premise of Roe v. Wade and was it valid? Well, according to Blackmun’s majority opinion:

“The principal thrust of appellant's attack on the Texas statutes is that they improperly invade a right, said to be possessed by a pregnant woman, to choose to terminate her pregnancy. Appellant would discover this right in the concept of personal "liberty" embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause[…]This right of privacy[… ] is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy,” [23].

There was also an argument that this same right could be derived from the bill of rights, but in Roe v. Wade’s sister case Doe v. Bolton, Blackmun delivered the majority opinion saying: “The Ninth Amendment obviously does not create federally enforceable rights,” [24].

In his Roe v. Wade opinion Blackmun also acknowledged that: “The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy.” [See source 23, paragraph one of section VIII].

Therefore the constitutionality of legal abortion lies solely on a concept supposedly implied in the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment but never specifically acknowledged in the United States Constitution. Yet, very few pro-life advocates challenge the postulate that we have a right to privacy and such a campaign would actually be legally futile.

The United States Supreme court is one of the most powerful bodies present in the legal system of any nation, and holds the frightening prerogative of constitutional interpretation. This was not amongst the Supreme Court’s original privileges but was attained in the 1819 case of McCulloch v. Maryland during which Chief Justice Marshall pointed out that the nature of our constitution:

“…requires that only its great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients which compose those objects be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves” [25]

The logic behind this is pretty simple. Imagine that you have a group of thirty-nine children, two adults, and four elderly individuals relying on you for sustenance. When it comes time to barter for victuals you will doubtlessly sit down and write up a grocery list. However, given the sheer girth of this particular family unit, it would require a very large sheet of paper to record each individual necessity; therefore, it is not mandatory that you record the obvious items. So, if you’ve included breakfast cereal on the list you can assume that milk is also required upon arriving at the store even if it is not physically scribbled into the note. In fact, it would be logical not to include milk on the grocery list since the presence of cereal on the list suggests the need of milk. Who wants to eat dry cereal?

So, whether or not Blackmun’s interpretation was correct is actually irrelevant. This is the American system. If we challenge abortion by attacking Blackmun’s postulate we must also argue that the system itself is flawed and that all rulings influenced by this element of the system are in fact also flawed. That’s a risky operation, especially sense many of the Supreme Court translations of the constitution were doubtlessly correct.

Peter Kreeft, a modern theologian and philosopher, has also touched up on this very concept. In a lecture on the prolife ideology Kreeft described an experience from some time earlier in his life. It seems he’d engaged in a debate with an intelligent feminist and challenged her to find “one argument that defends abortion that doesn’t also defend infanticide.” They argued for a time but made no progress and eventually went their separate ways. Later, the feminist returned with a change of heart. She explained to Peter that he’d convinced her and that she was now for infanticide. [26]

The story was very likely made up, a joke to break the tension while discussing a touchy topic. His approach nevertheless stands strong. It is not easy to find a logical argument for the destruction of prenatal-human life that cannot be extended to postnatal-human life.

We can say that while a fetus is a human it is not a person because it is not capable of independently living. In this case a person is defined by the technology available in his/her time and place of birth.

My cousin recently birthed her first child, the beautiful Kimberly (pictured above).Complications arose, however, when little Kimberly arrived premature. After the c-section she was immediately taken by the doctors and placed on a breathing apparatus. Without this machine she wouldn’t have been able to live outside the womb. So, had darling Kimberly been born in the Amazon rain forest she would not have been a person. Since she was born in the United States she is a person. North American postnatal human specimens are therefore more morally significant than South American postnatal human specimens. That’s bigotry, and while it may technically be true, very few people will make this concession.

There are also those who say that personhood begins on our first breath outside of the womb, in which case it’s decided by location. This is also bigotry. Should I say that human specimens located in Gaza Strip are not persons I’m a racist. When I act upon this postulate and begin to terminate the burdensome Palestinian Arabs in that area I’m a genocidal maniac. This argument also seems weak.

There are others that suggest that we are not persons until we become a part of the human culture, in which culture defines personhood and now we’ve run back into bigotry. It’s one culture with a position of power exterminating a lesser group of human beings-that’s genocide.

There is at least one argument left to us. That’s the constitutional argument. Why do we not consider the unborn human specimen’s rights when discussing abortion? To be blunt, the unborn human specimen does not have human rights-not constitutionally.

Section one of the fourteenth amendment states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Just as it omits illegal immigrants and enemy POWs, the US Constitution fails to provide any protection for the rights of an unborn human specimen. Only the mother has constitutional rights; therefore, the conclusion is actually quite simple. Through the same logic presented in the Scott v. Sandford, abortion is in fact constitutionally sound. We may argue that the 14th amendment was not meant to be interpreted in this way, and we may be correct in this assumption. Yet, as demonstrated in Elk v. Wilkins, the 14th amendment wasn’t originally intended to include Native American’s either [28]. As it stands, if we rely on the intentions of the constitutional authors alone then all of the amendments are actually null, because these were tacked on later and not a recorded part of their original will with the constitution.

Therefore, I shall reiterate. The answer is simple. Legal abortion is a completely constitutional process, but does this justify the practice? Can’t this argument, for example, be extended to give any American the right to execute anybody who isn’t an American citizen? Is abortion ethical? Is it a violent crime against humanity? Is it genocide? I shall address such questions in my next segment.

[18] Harry, Lighthorse. "Norma McCorvey's Petition for Cert Denied Yesterday." Sic Semper Tyrannis. 23 Feb. 005. 16 June 2009 .
[19] DeParle, Jason. "Beyond the legal right; why liberals and feminists don't like to talk about the morality of abortion Washington Monthly Find Articles at BNET." Find Articles at BNET News Articles, Magazine Back Issues & Reference Articles on All Topics. Apr. 1989. BNET. Fall 2009 .
[20] Duin, Julian, and Ralph Z. Hallow. "Roe finds god, prays for life Insight on the News Find Articles at BNET." Find Articles at BNET News Articles, Magazine Back Issues & Reference Articles on All Topics. 19 Feb. 1996. BNET. 16 June 2009 .
[21] Dr. Nathanson Shares Conversion Story «." My Womanhood Journey. 2 Apr. 008. Wordpress. 15 June 2009 .
[22] "Roe v. Wade - MSN Encarta." MSN Encarta : Online Encyclopedia, Dictionary, Atlas, and Homework. 1993-2009. Microsoft Corp. 15 June 2009 .
[23] Roe v. Wade. No. 70-18. Supreme Court. 22 Jan. 1973.
[24] Doe v. Bolton. No. 70-40. Supreme Court. 22 Jan. 1973.
[25] Hughes, Charlse E. "The Court and Constitutional Interpretation." Supreme Court of the United States. Http:// 16 June 2009 .
[26] "The United States Constitution - The U.S. Constitution Online -" Index Page - The U.S. Constitution Online - 15 June 2009 .
[27] Kreeft, Peter. "Pro-Life Philosophy." The Official Peter Kreeft Site. 15 June 2009 .
[28] Eastman, John C. "From Feudalism to Consent : Rethinking Birthright Citizenship." The Heritage Foundation - Conservative Policy Research and Analysis. 30 Mar. 006. 15 June 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Abortion III, The Scientific Status of a Fetus, Personhood

Political scientist Jule Boykoff and geographer Maxwell Boykoff recently conducted a study concerning the media’s presentation of global warming [5]. According to this study journalists and media outlets give off the impression that scientists are “embroiled in a rip-roaring debate on whether or not humans [are] contributing to global warming.”

Actually, the scientific community is hosting no such debate. Journalists try too hard to provide equitable coverage. People approach this issue under the mindset that there is no definite answer. Unfortunately this puts us out of sync with science. While we look at the world in shades of grey, science provides black and white answers. This is also true concerning the definition of life and humanity.

So, how do we identify an organism as a member of its respective species? It’s not actually that hard. There are 1.8 million known species on the face of this planet [6]. Each one is identified by a genetic signature unique to and universal among its members throughout their lifespan [7]. Human beings are not an exception.

At what point in the reproductive process does this unique genetic signature occur? Upon conception whenever the male's gamete fertilizes the female's oocyte and creates a zygote [8]. This instant marks our beginning as a unique member of the human species.

Blackmun claimed that “There has always been great evidence that life does not begin until live birth.” This is not true. Within the medical and scientific community there is no debate. According to the United States Senate judiciary subcommittee:

“Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being - a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.” [9]

Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an internationally known obstetrician and gynecologist, is famous for his film, "The Silent Scream." His video can be easily viewed over the internet and on youtube.

What many people may not know is that he also cofounded the NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League). Bernard Nathanson even owned and operated what was at that time the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere. After studying the science fetology he resigned from his position. Dr. Bernard Nathanson said that he knew with an "increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths." [10]

Nathanson later stated, "Modern technologies have convinced us that beyond question the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from any of us." He went on to publish the 'realities' of abortion in his "Aborting America."[11]

Dr. Landrum Shettles served for nearly thirty years as an attending obstetrician-gynecologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. He is best known for his discovery of female producing sperm. Dr. Shettles also stated:

"...I accept what is biologically manifest—that human life commences at the time of conception." [12]

Dr. Jerome LeJeune, professor of genetics at the University of Descartes in Paris, is most famous for discovering the chromosome pattern of Down syndrome. Dr. Jerome Lejune testified before the Judiciary Subcommittee:

“After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being. [It] is no longer a matter of taste or is plain experimental evidence. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception." [13]

Professor Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic:

“By all criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”

Ashley Montague, pro-choice geneticist and professor at Harvard and Rutgers:

"The basic fact is simple: life begins not at birth, but conception."

There is no argument. Scientifically speaking a fetus is a living human being. At the Senate hearings, "Pro-abortionists, though invited to do so, failed to produce even a single expert witness who would specifically testify that life begins at any point other than conception or implantation." [14] (One expert DID testify that "no one can tell when life begins.")

However, Robert Flowers, arguing for the appellant in Roe v. Wade, felt that the status of a fetus should not be demonstrated by scientific fact. Instead he insisted that it should be ‘a legislative decision,’ and Blackmun agreed.

This being said, President Barrack Obama promised to ‘restore science to its rightful place’ in his inaugural address [15]. He also swears to ‘crack down on fathers avoiding child support,’ because he believes we are obliged to support our dependents [16]. So then why isn’t he having Roe v. Wade re-addressed?

Maybe he feels that science’s rightful place is second to the constitution and he may very well be right. The problem is that our constitution does not provide a definition of personhood or human life. Now, scientifically we know that a zygote is a person by definition [17].

Constitutionally the only thing we know is that a fetus does not classify as a citizen of the Unite States. This means that there is no constitutional protection of a fetus’ rights, but does this justify abortion? I shall address this in my next segment.

[5] Vivian, John. The Media of Mass Communication. 8th ed. Pearson Education, 2008.
[6] Heilprin, John. "Genetic 'Barcodes' Used to Identify Species." MSNBC. 14 Sept. 2007. Associated Press. 2 Jan. 20
[7] Stoeckle, Mark. "A reliable, consistent, and democratic tool for species discrimination." Consortium for the Barcode of Life. 18 Jan. 2009. CBOL. 13 Mar. 2009
[8] Keith L. Moore, Ph.D. & T.V.N. Persaud, Md., (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998), 2-18.
[9] Report, Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981, 7.
[10]Bernard N. Nathanson, "Deeper into Abortion," New England Journal of Medicine 291 (1974): 1189Ð90.
[11]Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979).
[12] Shettles and Rorvik, Rites of Life, 103.
[13] Alcorn, Randy. "Scientists Attest To Life Beginning At Conception." EPM. 2008. EPM. 16 Apr. 2009
[14] Landrum Shettles and David Rorvik, Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence of Life Before Birth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 113
[15] Transcript- Barack OBama Inaugural Address." New York Times. 20 Jan. 2009. New York Times. 3 Apr. 2009
[16]"Family." Barack Obama. Obama for America. 4 Apr. 2009
[17] Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Abortion Part II, Roe V. Wade

Instead of asking whether or not a woman should be allowed to obtain an abortion, novice debaters often begin to bicker over the moral status of a fetus. Does it classify as a living human being and if so at what stage? Where do we draw the line? Who gets to decide what a living human being is and why do they have that privilege?

One question leads to another and soon we lose sight of the original topic. I do intend to address these inquiries but before I digress I would like to first delineate the foundation of Roe V. Wade. We can matriculate from there but I feel it apropos to first address the initial issue.

In Roe V. Wade the Supreme Court ruled that attaining an abortion is a constitutional woman’s right. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion for Roe V. Wade saying: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” He described the sciences of biology and medicine as inadequate and “unable to arrive at any consensus.”

The justices did not necessarily decide that life does not begin until birth (although, Blackmun did claim that there has always been strong evidence for this). Rather, they argued that the status of a fetus is irrelevant and that either way a woman has the right to attain an abortion.

Judith Jarvis Thomson does a fine job defending the logic of Roe V. Wade in her, "A Defense of Abortion."[1] In this article she actually grants that a fetus has human rights. In the same breath she asserts that a woman has no constitutional or legal obligation to support the fetus.

She gives an effective, though admittedly outlandish, hypothetical situation to prove her point. In this example she asks that you suppose you were kidnapped and attached to a musician through a series of life supporting tubes. You can protect this man’s life by remaining attached to him for nine months, or cut the cord and spend that time unencumbered. However, if you make the latter decision the musician will inexorably die.

Judith offers a bit of praise for mothers who see the pregnancy through when she notes that it would be a wonderful thing for you to support this life. Yet, you have no legal or constitutional obligation to be a wonderful person. Actually, you have a right to do the opposite. You have the right to cut the cord. A woman has the right to attain an abortion.

One might note that this example is only applicable to cases of rape. Judith took this into account. According to statistics provided by Planned Parenthood through the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the Center for Bioethical Reforms[2] less than one percent of abortions are being attained in response to rape. Judith's article is titled "In Defense of Abortion,” not “In Defense of a Some Abortions Attained in Specific and Relatively Rare Circumstances.”

However, her approach and the logic of Roe V. Wade do seem to have some weak points. Should we grant that a fetus does have human rights as Judith does, we must follow up and consider that these rights are also being transgressed upon.

In cases of consensual sex it is no longer a matter of being kidnapped and forcibly attached to the musician. Instead it would be more accurate to say that you chose of your own volition to attach yourself to this stranger without his consent. (A fetus never asks to be conceived.) You have just made this man reliant on you for survival.

Imagine an ambitious girl fresh from high school. Her plan is to go through college and become a legislator. On the way she falls in love with a man who convinces her not to pursue her education. Instead he asks her to marry him, abandon her career, and become a stay at home wife. After forty years of marriage he divorces her. We now have a fifty eight year old with no tangible work experience or financing skills trying to survive in society.

Luckily, our courts protect this woman. The husband created a dependent and is held accountable for it. [3] Judith says that a woman has no constitutional obligation to be a wonderful person. Well, she’s right. We can be immoral or amoral. Nevertheless, we are required to provide for our dependents. There are strict laws concerning the care of children. [4] Why, if a fetus is just as human and has just as many rights as I do, should our laws force us to support a newborn but not an unborn? Under the postulate that a fetus is a living human and has human rights these laws apply.

However, Blackmun did not believe that a fetus was a living human. The majority opinion for Roe v. Wade tells us that we “need not answer the difficult question of when life begins,” but then it tries to do just that. Blackmun wrote, “There has always been strong support for the view that life does not begin until live birth. This was what the Stoics believed.”

So, was Blackmun being a bit dishonest? This seems to be a convenient contradiction within the text. Blackmun tells us that a fetus is not a living human, but that this is irrelevant. In doing this he manages to uphold his belief, the belief of the stoics, without having to defend it. "I think the earth is flat," "But these pictures..." "Well, it doesn't matter anyway."

Roe v. Wade is glaringly flawed, but this does not necessarily mean that abortion should be restricted. There are still various arguments to be considered. We can attack the status of a fetus. Constitutionally speaking, a fetus is not classified as an American citizen, and science is not ambiguous on this issue either.

The topic is incredibly complex. Entire chapters and books can be dedicated to debating abortion. I’m not entirely certain that we’ll be able to scrutinize every nook and cranny involved. However, I will try to address as many arguments and approaches as possible in future segments.

[1] Thomson, Judith J. "A Defense of Abortion." Philosophy and Public Affairs 1971: 47-66.

[2] "Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States." Guttmacher Institute. Ed. Sharon Camp and Fatima Juarez. July 2008. Guttmacher Institute. 2 Feb. 008 .

[3]alimony." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. 2 Apr. 2009 <>.

[4]"Child Support." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. The Gale Group, Inc. 2005. 2 Apr. 2009 <>.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Abortion Part One, Prelude

This essay is a prelude of sorts. Abortion is a very difficult topic. People often view opposing arguments with same measure of credibility they’d grant me if I claimed I was Elvis Christ. So, before I address the actual issue I think it’d be appropriate to first consider the controversy. Why is this such a touchy topic?

I think there are many reasons.

The Supreme Court consists of nine individuals who are appointed and not elected. In 1973 national polls made it very clear. America was against abortion. Yet, the Supreme Court legalized it in all states under any circumstances with their Roe v. Wade ruling.

The government made a decision and we the constituents were given no choice in the matter. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Popular sovereignty was used to justify slavery in southern states prior to the Civil War. The government is obliged to protect our rights. It cannot always submit to true democracy. It cannot always subject itself to the tyrannical rule of the majority.

Seventy seven percent of pro-life leaders are men. Often times propaganda ads credit this gender gap to the male inability to relate with a frightened mother’s plight. To some degree this is true.

I can relate but as a man I must do so by finding a parallel issue. I will never get pregnant, but one day I may fall under attack. I acknowledge that allowing more liberal laws surrounding the trade of firearms increases gun related accidents. I’m also a supporter of the second amendment. The core of my opinion is upheld by a simple thought. I know that if I were in the situation of a victim to some violent crime (say Kitty Genovese)…I would want a weapon.

Still, I think the real divider is our desire for control-not as men or as women, but as human beings. The male role in society has been deeply mitigated over recent years. Roe v. Wade effectively removed men from the family equation. It gave women something they haven’t had before: a large scale and politically accepted position of power over men.

Throughout history male citizens have enjoyed exclusive rights denied to female citizens. This tradition of bias began long before American slavery, and lasted well afterwards. African Americans were given voting rights well before women. Hiram Revals became a US senator in 1870, long before women had any presence in political offices. In modern times, Obama became the first black man to beat a white woman and get away with it when he won the 2008 presidential elections.

I think that’s why so many feminists cling to abortion. It’s an empowering industry. At last! After being discriminated against and treated like children for thousands of years womankind has won a victory over men! They’ve finally attained a position of privilege and if men don’t like it, tough! I think this is also the reason why so many men are opposed to abortion. They don’t want to see their parental rights or family roles further devalued. They don’t want to be omitted and they don't want women to stand above them.

Of course not all women support abortion and not all men are pro-life. I’ve been speaking very generally so far. You cannot deduce somebody’s stance on the issue based simply on rather or not they have an X chromosome. Today there are even some pro-life feministic movements.

So, there must be something more to this issue, and in my opinion there should be.

Conservatives on the issue are staunchly defending the lives of 1,300,000 unborn children every year, and that’s in America alone! Liberals on the issue are championing women’s rights! Both pursuits are honorable! Both pursuits should be respected! Neither end of this argument is made up of monsters! Neither side is ‘pro-death.’ You simply have people living according to conflicted merits, and I think it is our zealotry on this issue that proves we’re human.

So why is it that so many people seem unable to understand each other? Love is blind and rage is blinding. These are the two main emotions born in the topic, so it’s no surprise that it induces serve myopia. Otherwise logical, open minded and intelligent individuals can be reduced to screaming fanatics and blind supporters.

Even when we research abortion we're not doing so for education. We're doing so for affirmation. We want to hear somebody agree with us. We want to buttress our arguments. We want to intellectualize our opinions, though most of us (I suspect,) know deep down our opinions are arbitrary and emotional.

Most research sources available to us on the topic only encourage this habit. They’re built to be marketable not enlightening. They’re essentially infotainment more interested in providing a product we’ll purchase than initiating understanding of the issues and arguments.

So, I intend to take a new approach. I will carry my readers through a clinical analysis of both sides, summarize the key contentions, and finally print my conclusion.