Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Keep the back door closed

Today, professedly Christian Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed a bill that denies federal funding for abortion in almost every case and erects a gauntlet of hurdles both legal and procedural that would force women — including victims of rape and incest — to bear children that, in many cases, they are not prepared to support. Alternatively, they can seek illegal abortions, with all of their risks. All of this will come to pass if the Senate allows the GOP minority to insinuate the provisions from the House bill as a rider to some other legislation.

Correlation of abortion restrictions with maternal deaths

This chart, taken from a moderately “pro-life” web page, graphically depicts the mortality consequences
of restricting abortion.
[ Image Source ]

Abortion is, unsurprisingly, among the most emotionally charged and divisive issues in the lexicon of American lawmaking — a fact that has been enormously useful in making of it a wedge issue often used to divide those who would otherwise ally themselves against repression and pathocracy. But it is not hard to understand its political potency, for in it are hidden many contested questions and a delicate balancing of rights that invites a thousand distinct interpretations.

Of one thing, there is no question: Abortion is the taking of a life, whether or not we call that life human. Therefore, it cannot be undertaken lightly, and no solution will satisfy everyone. But it is also impossible simply to glide over the issue, and since we live in a society that is at least nominally relatively democratic, we must reach a consensus acceptable to most Americans; this kind of morality-by-majority is offensive to all who would like some more final and principled resolution, but it is a pragmatic necessity.

To me and many others, the balancing of rights is a dynamic one. The age and condition of the fetus, the cause of pregnancy, the health of the woman: All of these are among the factors that can shift the fulcrum. Although a zygote upon conception or an early-term embryo is technically alive, few of us would argue that it should enjoy more rights than the woman in whose uterus it exists. A fetus destined to be born anencephalic, or whose potential life appears likely to consist of a few weeks or months in intensive care followed by inevitable dissolution, cannot readily be forcibly brought to term. And most rational people would not demand that a woman bear a child at the cost of her own life or future health, nor that a victim of rape or incest be forced to carry to term the progeny of her assailant.

On the other hand, unnecessarily waiting until late pregnancy to seek to abort a healthy fetus is an irresponsible course that should not be encouraged.

Ultimately, however, if you really believe in human liberty, you must question whether abortion is an appropriate subject for public law. Generally, it’s rational to regulate actions that threaten the rights of others, and leave to the individual decisions affecting only the individual; but here, as so often, precisely that question is in dispute. This means the decision cannot fail to be subjective. And we find that, subjectively, most Americans are agreed that where doubt exists, the right of a woman to determine her own fate outweighs the right to life of the fetus.

It also follows that if this right exists, it must be real. It is no good saying that a woman can choose abortion, and denying her the practical means to effect it. This is what makes laws that restrict abortion without banning it outright so pernicious, and this is why I expect that the GOP will sink like a thallium dirigible if it succeeds in ramming its authoritarian legislation through the Senate.

What the GOP proposes is fundamentally dishonest. I cannot accept it; nor, I think, will most liberty-loving Americans. If you agree, sign this petition to ask the Senate to reject such back-door lawmaking.

Originally published as a review of a People for the American Way petition asking the Senate to deny any rider making abortion impossible for the poor. Note: This petition is no longer active.

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