Some Hopefully Non-Partisan Thoughts on Abortion

(Note that I will not here attempt to demonstrate that life, or "personhood," begins at conception or at birth. Obviously, the question of when "personhood" begins is the crux of this issue - and I won't directly address it. Nor will I address at all the issue of reproductive rights. That is why I hope this is "non-partisan." All I am trying to counter is the notion that people who believe life begins before birth cannot fight for that belief in the political arena. America, as a democracy, should allow all voices to be heard.)

A lot of the abortion debate doesn't really make sense to me.

Consider this professor's take on Sarah Palin's pro-life views: "...I object strongly when anyone (and especially anyone with political power) tries to take their theology out in public, to inflict those private religious (or sexual) views on other people."

As far as I can tell, what she is saying is not, technically, that Sarah Palin's belief that life begins before birth is wrong; she never addresses or refutes any claim of that kind. Rather, she disapproves of anyone who would impose a religious view upon someone else.

The conclusion that I must draw is that Professor Doniger believes Sarah Palin and other "pro-lifers" should not attempt to ban abortion, even if they think aborting fœtuses is wrong. This conclusion is not unique; in fact, it is echoed by many who personally believe abortion to be wrong but do not wish to impose upon the will of others.

Joe Biden summarizes the reasoning well: "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society."

I find this reasoning to be terribly flawed.

Let us assume that I am walking down the street and see a murder taking place. The person being "murdered" is actually not a person at all, but a life-size doll. I, unfortunately, am unaware of that important fact. Should I deter the alleged murderer?

If I believe I am witnessing a murder - even if there is, in fact, no murder taking place - it is not only my "right" to "impose my will" upon the murderer by stopping him; it is my responsibility. You can argue, of course, with my assertion that a murder is actually taking place - but can you argue with my duty to prevent everything I believe to be murder?

If you cannot argue with that duty, I do not see how you can argue with the duty of those who believe personhood begins before birth to fight for the "unborn" - whether or not you agree with them.

It is true that "pro-choicers" believe "pro-lifers" are imposing their views upon women - and they are - but "pro-choicers" are themselves imposing their views upon millions of fœtuses. Clearly, imposition of will is not the problem. In fact, all law can be construed as an imposition of will. After all, we regularly impose our will upon would-be murderers, rapists, and thieves, because we believe murder, rape, and thievery are wrong.

But abortion is different, many say - because opposition to abortion is religious.

That is generally (but not necessarily) true. (One counterexample is Nat Hentoff, an atheist who is very critical of abortion.)

(Of course, it was also generally true of those who opposed slavery. In the 1800's, mostly Christian abolitionists mercilessly imposed their will on slaveholders, who saw it as their fundamental right to do whatever they wanted with their property.)

However, let us assume it is necessarily true; that is, let us assume that all opposition to abortion is religious. Then, the argument is that political opposition to abortion is groundless because it is religiously based.

Nowhere in the Constitution do I see anything which prohibits the influence of religious beliefs on public policy. Obviously, there are limitations on religion's influence on public policy - but, in this instance, no one is imposing religious beliefs on anyone else. Abortion is not a religious issue, but an ethical and social issue profoundly influenced by religion; the distinction is huge. No one is forcing anyone else to go to mass or to pray to Mecca five times a day. This is a far, far cry from "respecting an establishment of religion."

The Supreme Court itself had this to say in Harris v. McRae:
"Although neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally 'pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another'...it does not follow that a statute violates the Establishment Clause because it 'happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.' That the Judæo-Christian religions oppose stealing does not mean that a State or the Federal Government may not, consistent with the Establishment Clause, enact laws prohibiting larceny. The Hyde Amendment [an amendment banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortions], as the District Court noted, is as much a reflection of 'traditionalist' values towards abortion, as it is an embodiment of the views of any particular religion."
Supreme Court Justice David Souter, in an opinion of his concerning the First Amendment, stated that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion." Most people would agree with his assessment. So let me ask this question: If government is religiously "neutral," is it fair to privilege secular opinions on abortion over religious opinions? Should Sarah Palin's opinion be excluded simply because it is founded on religious belief? Can that be reconciled with Souter's statement?

I think not.

It is anyone's right to disagree with "pro-lifers" and to vote for the expansion or protection of reproductive rights. But to demand that those opposed to abortion recuse themselves from the political discussion, as Doniger does, seems unfair to me.


luke taliaferro said...

thanks!! here are some of my thoughts:"Abortion/Murder does not make a women un-pregnant,
it just makes a mother with a dead baby"
-i have another friend who also sees a direct correlation between America's slave trade and civil rights movements and the unborn. he believes this passionately. personally, i agree.
-i'm avidly pro-choice, by which i mean CHOOSE NOT TO HAVE SEX IN THE FIRST PLACE. No one is imposing something on the woman's body. The woman and man imposed it on themselves, and dont want to deal with consequences.
The most responsible sex is no sex outside of marriage. I don't care if the contraceptive failed-people ought to take responsibility for their actions, period. If someone isnt wise enough to understand risk, mature enough to have sex more responsibly, or man enough to face consequences, you probably are nottt ready to have sex to begin with, or raise a child in a marriage.
-RAPE, INCEST, ETC- about a million abortions happen per year. last i checked, the amount of those found to be caused by reasons such as rape or incest was less than 1%. So we're talking about fewer than 10,000 people. Last I researched, i was surprised to learn that about 80% of rape victims keep the child. So those who fight viciously with this premise for pro-choice are using an excuse that covers one single situation out of every FIVE HUNDRED. Or one fifth of a mere 1%. Ya know, maybe I'm OK with them using that argument, just as long as they mention it once after theyve argued without it 499 times!
-blastocysts die. no big deal. sometimes the fertilized egg doesn't attach. now, if the Catholic church believes for all such elemental stages of life to be "beings", don't they have to baptize blastocysts before they die? that's a lot of work, too.
with this example of reductio ad absurdum in mind, and given the natural failure of pregnancy attempts, i do not think that God has an issue with blastocysts dying. But once it's attached in the womb, that's it. at this point, at the least, a child's formation is certain.
but who am i to assume what God has planned?...read on!
-THE BIBLE SAYS- based on jeremiah 1:5 and psalm 139, our existence is clearly known to God before our formation! Abortion means that millions of persons that God foreknew have been destroyed.
a more complicated argument from the Bible can be formed by stringing together several verses as premises to the conclusion that the ability to shed blood indicates something that can be murdered. Thus, proponents of this viewpoint oppose abortion following the development it's own blood or pieces of the circulatory system.
-something else to consider is what happens during an abortion. well, if saline is injected, the developing child is poisoned, and burns away, and supposedly suffers tremendous pain. or maybe the doctor will use a vacuum so powerful that it tears the developing child out--in pieces. or maybe the doctor will use a hook-like knife to dismember the baby to remove it, and crush the head to get it to fit through the exit. doctors also puncture the baby's skull with a large needle, and...well...yeah. There goes the brain.
-mother's safety? i think the mom's life is the priority, unless the mom is terminally ill or wishes to die and berth the child. take the most certain route to saving a life.