The Fundamental Question In The Abortion Debate
Not "When does life begin?' but "What constitutes a human being?'
It is challenging to discuss abortion and leave emotion at the door. It’s why I find predictions that people will come for gay marriage or interracial marriage, assuming Roe v. Wade does get overturned, unpersuasive. Yes, there are still some states where polls show that most people oppose gay marriage. However, that doesn’t equate to any groundswell to have Obergefell v. Hodges decision overturned.
Polling is a strange thing as it shows preferences but doesn’t give a sense of urgency about the issue. For example, polling for voter ID laws is very popular, including within the minority community. That hasn’t stopped Democratic lawmakers from trying to do away with it. People cite the nearly 90% approval for background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions, but no one has lost an election opposing it. Popular (or unfavorable) support doesn’t always translate into votes or lead to action (aka lawsuits) on the part of state officials.
As I wrote last week, it seems odd that many pro-choice people, rather than defending the supposed constitutionality of abortion, have chosen instead to go doomsday and pretend everything else is on the table. Or, some of the arguments settled on are somewhat weak though they sound authoritative. One of those is the “bodily autonomy” argument. Adrienne LaFrance, the executive editor of The Atlantic, wrote:
The thing is, the Constitution does not need to spell out that American virtue is derived from the ability to self-govern, that self-governance requires individual freedom, and that individual freedom requires bodily autonomy.
Jamelle Bouie, in a recent column, said:
To put the right to have an abortion up for debate is to put the bodily autonomy of women up for debate. There’s no other way to spin it. It’s just the nature of the thing. And to put the bodily autonomy of women up for debate is to degrade their citizenship, their social standing and their political equality.
Such arguments aren’t all that compelling. First of all, it rests on the premise that an unborn baby (call it a fetus if you want, I don’t care) is akin to a mole, cyst, or wart that a woman wants to remove, and the state won’t allow it. Again, the general viewpoint of those who are pro-life is that a separate human being with rights of its own has, for lack of a better term, some skin in the game. Second, the state regulates what we do to our bodies regularly. Parental consent is required under a certain age to get tattoos or piercings. People cannot legally drink until they turn 21. Most illicit drugs are illegal to possess and use. Assisted suicide is illegal.
Another silly argument (it’s actually a red herring) is where people say, “If you think abortion ends a life, that’s murder, and you then have support for charging the woman with murder, or you’re not really pro-life.” It’s a tactic designed to take the discussion from nuanced to an extreme, and it provides nothing more than an “Aha!” moment on the part of the interlocutor. It says nothing about their position on abortion but distracts from the central issue in an attempt to get someone else to defend a position that is not relevant. It is similar to the “You’re not actually pro-life because you’re not for expanding the welfare state” argument. My position on WIC or Section 8 vouchers has nothing to do with whether or not the unborn is a human being deserving of legal protection.
The acknowledgment of the unborn as a human being is one of the more critical reasons we’ve seen the Democratic Party, as a whole, move so far to the left on the issue. As I pointed out in the last newsletter, Beto O’Rourke and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio are considered moderates in the party. Neither of them could answer a question about acceptable restrictions on abortion. They continually said it was entirely the woman’s decision. They know that opening the door to any restrictions comes with the de facto admittance that the unborn is not just the “woman’s body,” and their autonomy argument becomes moot.
The bill that recently failed to get over the 60-vote threshold in the Senate to “codify Roe” did a whole hell of a lot more. John McCormack of National Review goes over the absurd details of the bill in this Twitter thread (seriously, read it) and how it basically would wipe out all state restrictions and legalize abortion up to the 9th month of pregnancy. In addition, it would allow non-physicians to perform abortions and force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. The bill is vile, and yet 49 Democrats voted for it. Some people have said it was merely a “messaging bill” for the hard-core base, which might be true. Still, the bill is grotesque from where I stand.
Naturally, when it comes to extremes, the Democratic Party is not alone. The Republican Party and some who are pro-life also have an extreme view — that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. That position gets about 20% support in the most recent Gallup poll. Making abortion legal in all circumstances sits at 32% (likely a bit higher after the leaked draft). Those who support restrictions are at 48%.
As with many issues, most Americans (whether it is a plurality or majority) sit somewhere in the middle. Polls that show 2/3 of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade are misleading because 2/3 of Americans believe overturning Roe would automatically make abortion illegal across the country, and clearly it does not. Some states have triggers, but that still doesn’t amount to a national ban.
Thanks for reading The Monday Notice! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
As one who is pro-life to the point where I personally support most restrictions, I also understand the political realities of a diverse nation where my view is in the minority, as is the view of those who support abortion on demand.
So, where does that leave us?
Sadly, in our highly polarized political environment, I suspect the likelihood of a middle ground is out of the question. The Dobbs case covers the Mississippi abortion law that outlaws abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It contains exceptions for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormalities. Most European nations ban abortion after 12 weeks, with some exceptions. Hell, it wasn’t until 2018 that abortion became legal at all in Ireland.
I am fine with the Mississippi standard and the exceptions it offers up. What about you?