Roe v. Wade
Abortion is a divisive subject but not as divisive as you might guess. Most polls say that 60 % of the overall population favors continuing the status quo, 30% want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and 10% are undecided or don’t care whether to continue allowing abortion on demand before 24 weeks. Among Democrats, it is 70% for the status quo while Republicans are about half of that i.e., 35%. Women reflect the total population at 60%, while 55% of men favor abortion. Most of us would not favor killing the infant at or shortly after birth, something China has been practicing for years. That would no longer be abortion but infanticide and is generally considered uncivilized.
Since the debate swirls around killing babies, when does the fetus become a baby? Is it the morula, a solid ball of about 60 cells? Or is it the blastula or the gastrula? The answer mostly depends on your religion. Catholics declare there is humanity even before the sperm and egg meet. It is immoral to prevent conception! The idea of a fetus becoming human belongs to Aristotle, which St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine adopted. And that was when ensoulment happens at 40 days for males and 80 days for females. Don’t ask me why the female is double the time of a male. Islam puts that event at 120 days. Prior to that, no human life exists, and abortions were legitimately performed. It got a bit muddled with the invention of the microscope when Antonie van Leeuwenhoek made the erroneous pronouncement that sperm was in the shape of “tiny humans,” which suggested humans start much earlier than either Aquinas or Augustine taught. Yet both Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo pointed to the phenomenon of “quickening” as the definitive sign that the fetus had become a human. Prior to that, intentional abortion was always an act against God, but it was still pardonable, but once quickening happened, having an abortion was highly immoral and required a penalty, as for homicide, and also required ex-communication. Quickening usually happens at 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
I must confess that as a young doctor, I did hundreds of abortions. You would be surprised who actually opened the flood gates and brought abortions out of the back alleys into the sanctity of hospitals – Ronald Reagan when he was Governor of California. Reagan thought about abortion long and hard. And no one can say that Reagan was a Godless baby-killer. I was a Resident at a Ventura County Hospital, learning the trade of General Practice. A very aggressive “Feminist” nurse took it upon herself to bring the new Reagan law into mainstream practice. She organized a clinic for young girls who found themselves pregnant at ages 11 on up. Initially, it was a necessary requirement that the life of the mother had to be at risk to comply with the law allowing abortion. That was easily sidestepped by having the girl claim to threaten suicide, and that was enough. Later that went by the wayside, and it was basically on-demand abortion. The only rule we had to abide by was that the fetus had to be under 500 grams. Over that it was murder. That, too, could be fudged. A few days of drying before the weighing would bring the weight down. I gradually found doing abortions troublesome and even started to question the morality, especially the late-term abortion, which required actively ending the baby’s life. I stopped doing all of them.
But then there is the question of the lesser of two evils rearing its ugly head in my brain. Is it not also evil to bring an unwanted child into the world with the inevitable years of maltreatment, malnourishment, pain, and suffering, the invariable increase of mental illness, crime, and a litany of other social ills that spring from throw-away children versus a 30-minute operation that undoes the evil? Other issues come into the mix like rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother. And then there is the return of the back-alley coat-hanger abortions that killed young women! I saw my share of that especially egregious evil at LA County USC Medical Center during my internship. Birthing is only the beginning of a long process; feeding, housing, clothing, college tuition, vaccinations etc., that is what pro-life entails. Where are the pro-lifers for all that stuff? The moniker “pro-lifers” is a gross underestimation, and it should just be “pro-birthers.” Pro-life includes a lot of other things.
I have not gotten over my conflicted decision. It was John Milton in Paradise Lost who stated that if there is a choice between two evils, the lesser evil must be chosen. I must side with the lesser of two evils argument. I do think, however, that infanticide is homicide which I define as when the fetus can exist independent from the mother. This cannot be allowed to stand in a civilized society. It is an impossible decision as to when a fetus becomes a human, and my definition is prospective and for that reason not very useful. I must therefore go with the arbitrary wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine of Hippo. Quickening is my cut-off, as it happens to coincide with viability. For me, that is 20 weeks, no more. Surely that is enough time to make a decision. I am surprised that the Supreme Court is so shortsighted and fails to see all sides of admittedly a difficult argument. Others besides Justice Alito have weighed in on this subject from Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, and 60 % of the US population. All have come up with a different view from Justice Alito’s Catholic opinion based on his narrow theological view of a canonical hypothesis that only he is imbued with the absolute truth. The other major world religions, Protestant, Jewish, and Islam, are much less dogmatic, more charitable, and more forgiving. They do not denounce it as murder until viability. Does one religion’s doctrine overrule all the others and require all others to obey their edicts? For half a Century, we adjusted and lived with a law, although imperfect, that could be justified, legally and morally for the majority. Do we really need this “stare decisis” (a legal term meaning “to stand by things decided” in Latin) issue that will undoubtedly be reactivated and cause harm, turmoil, and demonstrations in our already fractured society? Every dilemma has a bad or worse choice. We must exercise wisdom to pick. In a Democracy, the majority has a powerful voice, and the majority holds the opinion that more evil would be created by eliminating all abortion. The concept of viability is a compromise that gives both sides a bit of plausible defendability.
The majority will not likely accept judicial dogmatic imprudence no matter how well thought out the legal arguments are. There will be demonstrations, with possible violence from both sides. It will lead to moves such as attempts to rebalance the court and alteration of the country’s political landscape that eventually will manifest itself at the voting booth or congressional intercession. I predict the end result will eventually be no net change, except the destruction of one of our three pillars of government! That is why “stare decisis,” and precedence are such important principles.
Good going, Supreme Court! How many more nails will the Justices find to shut the lid on their own coffin?