Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why Roe vs Wade is Divisive

Yesterday we marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs Wade, the case that made abortion legal. Advocates of women’s rights see this as the capstone of the movement for women’s liberation. Those who believe human life begins at the moment of conception see Roe vs Wade as permitting mass murder on a scale not seen since the Nazis. And the real problem is both sides are correct. Absolutely correct.

The idea human life begins at the moment of conception becomes easier to defend with every advance in genetic science. If we are going to define humanity by reference to the human genome it is obvious a human being comes into existence at the moment its genome comes into existence. That is the moment a sperm cell enters an egg cell to form a human zygote. So while genetic science can’t prove human life begins at the moment of conception it leads to the conclusion the most inclusive definition of humanness is one, which requires us to conclude human life does begin at the moment of conception.

From this point the argument for the criminalization of both abortion and contraception comes forth with the precision of a mathematical proof. Given the humanness of the zygote we must conclude the entire growth process from one celled organism to fully developed adult is that of a human with full rights including the right to life. Since this life has done nothing to warrant death we must conclude killing it is wrong. Indeed we must conclude killing it is an act of murder since murder is defined as the taking of human life without justification. Punishing murders is a moral duty of the government. If government is not going to punish murderers why have a government at all? Abortion kills the unborn since they can’t live outside their mother’s bodies. Contraception kills by permitting the union of sperm and egg but not permitting the resulting conceptus to implant itself in the mother’s uterus.

So we have concluded the following: the pre-born are human, the pre-born are innocent. Abortion and contraception both kill the unborn. One of government’s primary moral duties is the punishment of those who kill other human beings. Therefore we must conclude one of the moral duties of those who hold authority over the government is to enact and enforce laws making both abortion and contraception illegal. QED.

In the above argument the only thing missing is he abode of all these pre-born human beings. They all live in the bodies of adult human females. So what happens of one of these women doesn’t want to remain pregnant? What happens if for some reason it is bad for a woman’s health for her to remain pregnant? We can’t simply transport the unwanted pre-born out of her body and into a willing one. That happens only on Star Trek. In the real world a pregnancy can end in only one of two ways. A woman either carries her pregnancy to birth or she has an abortion. If abortion is illegal then a woman is legally required to carry her pregnancy to term.

The dilemma of abortion is a law that protects the right to life of the pre-born and a law that compels a woman to become and remain pregnant against her will is exactly the same law. You simply can’t pass a law which protects the right to life of the pre-born without passing a law that compels a woman to become and remain pregnant against her will. Can’t be done. The two laws are identical in effect. Removing the pre-born from their mother’s bodies kills them Therefore in order to protect their lives we must prevent that removal. But this is the same as using the government to force a woman to remain pregnant against her will. Sometimes this is the same as compelling a woman to remain pregnant even when it not healthy for her to do so. This is one reason why people of good will oppose laws against abortion.

Postmodern societies are feminist societies. Feminism requires legalized abortion. More to the point laws against abortion, especially laws against both abortion and contraception are laws that establish patriarchy as the preferred form of social organization. To force women to remain pregnant against their will is to restrict their role in society. Clearly society is giving men authority over women when says a woman’s ability to bear young is so important she can’t be allowed to terminate her own pregnancy. To say moral law requires this is just to make moral law itself patriarchal in character. The patriarchal leanings of all arguments against a woman’s right to abortion and contraception are the primary reason those who defend a woman’s right to choose claim their opponents advocate patriarchy.

Abortion is the most divisive of issues because we are dealing with two of a modern society’s most important needs and these needs are in direct and inescapable conflict. All societies must be based on commonly accepted moral principles. Natural Law is the best source of such moral principles. Natural Law labels both abortion and contraception evils of such magnitude as to compel government to outlaw them. But modern societies must be pro-feminist societies. They just can’t survive any other way. Feminists must have legalized abortion and contraception. There is just no way around it. But giving feminists what they need defies the laws of nature and nature’s God. There is just no getting around that either.

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