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.