I minored in communication. My senior project was to create a presentation that took a new look at the abortion debate with the stated goal of opening dialogue between what were then and remain now the diametrically opposed factions. I must admit I failed.
The presentation started with the observation that the respective political parties were on the wrong side of the debate. Democrats, with a long history of defending those without a voice, didn’t take notice of those who are arguably the most defenseless among us. Republicans, long heralded as the party of less government intervention and individual rights, were opening the door to our bedrooms and inviting themselves in. It is an interesting conundrum.
To begin, let me say that no matter where you find yourself on this issue, you’re probably not going to like what I have to say. But 25 years after my first offering of these particular arguments, there is even less dialogue and more polarization. I figured I would give it another shot with a reminder that the intended purpose of this column is to promote dialogue — not a specific agenda.
Roe v. Wade was a disaster. As far as U.S. Supreme Court decisions go, it has to have been one of the most anemic, poorly written and cowardly opinions rendered by the court. It fails to respond to the only question that matters from a constitutional perspective: “When does life begin?” Failing to define that, politicians and the electorate have been cut loose to drift and make their own way.
The issue is a simple one. Any “life” as defined from a constitutional perspective is granted “equal protection under the law.” Neither Roe v. Wade nor any related decisions since have begun to address this question, and yet, it is the only question that matters.
To recap the respective parties’ positions on this, the Democratic position can be summed up this way. Life begins when the mother believes it does or when the child is actually born, whichever comes first. Ironically, this has not prevented liberal prosecutors from seeking murder convictions against those who kill an unborn fetus/child.
Following their logic, life is defined by intention. If the woman intends to bring the child to term, it is a life and enjoys constitutional protection. However, if the mother chooses to end her pregnancy, no such protections exist. It is an absurd position. On the other side, the position held by most Republicans is that life begins at conception.
My question to the court is this: Should constitutional protection be granted simply on the basis of geography? Are we to accept that if the fetus/child is inside the mother, it has no constitutional protection, but if it is outside the mother it does? This seems absurd to me.
It is unconscionable to the vast majority of Americans to suggest that late-term abortion is acceptable. I would conjecture that upwards of 90 percent of Americans would concur that if a fetus/child is viable (able to survive outside the womb), abortion should not be considered an option and that constitutional protections should be extended. This because, with few exceptions, we can agree this is a life.
As an aside, let me offer a tip to the pro-life movement. Had the pro-life leaders not waged an “all or nothing” campaign, some ground would have been taken. This is what happens when the need to be right overshadows the right thing to do.
Prior to the point of viability, the waters get a little murkier where information, dialogue and medical research become extremely important. Opinions take a stronger foothold here as well. That said, it occurs to me that we should probably use the same criteria to define life on the way in as we do on the way out.
In so doing, we are not looking for a heartbeat or breathing; we are looking for clear, identifiable brain waves that indicate some level of consciousness. I leave it the medical experts to inform the court on this particular point. However, it does seem to me to be a reasonable matter for discussion and a rational point at which we can say life begins.
The waters regarding “life” before this point get murkier still, and I will refrain from offering further argument. But I believe what has been said is worth consideration and discussion. It will not serve anyone for the opposing sides to remain huddled in the corner throwing stones across the room. We need to talk, find a point of agreement and move on from there with some degree of respect.
In the end, I do not believe this to be a political issue but rather one that belongs in our courts. I also believe it is an issue that will go a long way in defining who we are as a people for future generations, regardless of the petty battles being played out today.
My hope is that reason will prevail and that we can move forward and beyond the divisiveness engendered by this debate. Life is a miraculous and beautiful thing. I believe it to be worth our while to think about the point at which it becomes essential that we grant that life “equal protection under the law.”