The complete intellectual degradation of the abortion debate

9 month old fetus

The starting point for any discussion about abortion is, of course, Roe v. Wade.  Pro-abortion people like to throw that case name around like a magic talisman that allows abortion from the moment of conception until some time after birth.  They invariably forget that Roe v. Wade was a very limited ruling. It did not create an unfettered right to abortion. Instead, it established a delicate balancing act over the entire length of the pregnancy between the State’s interests and the woman’s interest in the fetus.  Based upon the state of medicine in the early 1970s, the court saw viability as starting sometime within the second trimester.  The specific weeks or months of a pregnancy, though, weren’t the issue.  Viability trumps all:

With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the “compelling” point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.  (Emphasis added.)

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 163 (1973).

The Supreme Court has decided myriad abortion cases since Roe v. Wade, all of which push back on limitations states attempt in impose on abortions in the early weeks.  The one thing that none of these cases have done is to limit the viability standard.  Instead, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court actually expanded the viability standard by saying trimesters are irrelevant.  The only thing that matters when it comes to determine the State’s interest is average fetal viability under current medical practices:

We have seen how time has overtaken some of Roe’s factual assumptions: advances in maternal health care allow for abortions safe to the mother later in pregnancy than was true in 1973, see Akron I, supra, at 429, n. 11, and advances in neonatal care have advanced viability to a point somewhat earlier. Compare Roe, 410 U. S., at 160, with Webster, supra, at 515-516 (opinion of REHNQUIST, C. J.); see Akron I, 462 U. S., at 457, and n. 5 (O’CONNOR, J., dissenting). But these facts go only to the scheme of time limits on the realization of competing interests, and the divergences from the factual premises of 1973 have no bearing on the validity of Roe’s central holding, that viability marks the earliest point at which the State’s interest in fetal life is constitutionally adequate to justify a legislative ban on nontherapeutic abortions. The soundness or unsoundness of that constitutional judgment in no sense turns on whether viability occurs at approximately 28 weeks, as was usual at the time of Roe, at 23 to 24 weeks, as it sometimes does today, or at some moment even slightly earlier in pregnancy, as it may if fetal respiratory capacity can somehow be enhanced in the future. Whenever it may occur, the attainment of viability may continue to serve as the critical fact, just as it has done since Roe was decided; which is to say that no change in Roe’s factual underpinning has left its central holding obsolete, and none supports an argument for overruling it.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 860 (1992) (emphasis added).

In sum, what the Supreme Court has done over the years is to expand pre-viability rights, while contracting the window of time within which those rights apply.  This is an important point to keep in mind when considering the House’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.  First, don’t let the 20 weeks throw you.  The method the House bill uses to calculate fetal age translates to what most women would consider 22 weeks pregnant, which is when fetus’s can survive outside the womb.  (There are two different time measurements, in the same the way that Celsius and Fahrenheit are two different temperature measurements.)

Right out of the box, the pro-abortion media gets the bill wrong.  In a Washington Post article, the Post claims the House bill goes beyond the Supreme Court, which it does not:

The bill would narrow the window currently set out by federal law and the Supreme Court, which bans most abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Some Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed similar laws in recent months.

As you can see from the quotation above, the Supreme Court did not place a time-limit on abortion.  It placed a viability limit.  Once the average fetus is viable with modern medical care, the State has rights.

Now that we’ve established the law, let’s look at what Barack Obama has to say about the House bill, which he has declared he intends to veto in the unlikely event it gets through the Senate:

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1797, which would unacceptably restrict women’s health and reproductive rights and is an assault on a woman’s right to choose.  Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care, and Government should not inject itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor.

Forty years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to privacy, including the right to choose.  This bill is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and shows contempt for women’s health and rights, the role doctors play in their patients’ health care decisions, and the Constitution.  The Administration is continuing its efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, expand access to contraception, support maternal and child health, and minimize the need for abortion.  At the same time, the Administration is committed to the protection of women’s health and reproductive freedom and to supporting women and families in the choices they make.

If the President were presented with this legislation, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill.

This is a steaming pile of manure.  It cites to Roe v. Wade without understanding it, and which completely ignores Casey, all in an effort to give women unfettered abortion rights from conception through to some moment after delivery.  Reading the statement, it’s difficult to remember that our President is a Harvard Law graduate and former constitutional law professor. I mean, we know he didn’t author it himself, but how in the world could he have put his imprimatur on it?

I’ve commented before on the factual dishonesty of the abortion debate.  Abortion proponents pretend that we’re living in the 1950s, when out-of-wedlock pregnancy was a stigma, not a commonplace.  I guess it’s unsurprising that the intellectual debate would be equally dishonest.  One could say that the good thing about mass murderer Kermit Gosnell is that his “post-birth” abortions have brought to light the intellectual paucity of the Democrat party when it comes to abortion.  The Supreme Court has insisted on a balancing act, and the Democrats have responded by putting their thumb firmly on the abortion side of the scale.

photo by: fekaylius
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  • Tonestaple

    I have to disagree with your initial assertion that “the starting point for any discussion about abortion is, of course, Roe v. Wade.”  The starting point for any rational, logical discussion of abortion is “What is human life?” 
    It cannot logically be argued that an embryo or a fetus is not a human life:  this tiny creature is alive – it respires, it excretes, it takes in nutrition – and its genes are all human, ergo it is a human life.  Until and unless the pro-abortion forces can agree with this painfully obvious fact, it is not possible to have a reasonable conversation about abortion with or without reference to laws and court decisions.

  • Doug1943

    Of course an embryo is a human life. The millisecond after the sperm embeds itself in an egg, we have a human life. It’s alive, and it’s human. Someone who uses a morning-after pill, is ending human life. Someone who uses contraception, is preventing human life from ever starting.
    So also is someone who has been pronounced brain-dead and on a respirator, a human life. So also is the innocent child riding in the car of his terrorist daddy, as the American drone drops from the sky to kill him.
    We have always been content to kill children by the hundreds of thousands, if we believed it was necessary, as in war. We don’t — most of us — object to switching off the life-machine on the brain-dead human life. 
    The more the human life resembles OUR human life, the more uneasy we feel at killing it. Most people would have, I suspect, a very different reaction to killing a new born baby (unless it was necessary to achieve our war aims, of course), than they would to killing the just-joined sperm-and-egg. As the human life moves from being a sperm-in-an-egg, towards being a full-term baby, the more we are upset by killing it, because the more we can identify with it. 
    The only question worth arguing about is: when do we want to send a woman to prison, for having an abortion?
    And the real problem with Roe v Wade was that it nationalized what should have been left to the states. 

  • Spartacus

    “Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care, and Government should not inject itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor.”
    These are the folks who gave us Obamacare?
    “Forty years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to privacy…”
    These are the folks who want to digitize all medical records and upload them to a central government database?
    Do these clowns ever listen to themselves?

  • jj

    It’s worse than that, Spartacus.  We begin with the State’s (with a cap, no less) “important and legitimate” interest in potential life, and we follow simple straight-line logic to arrive at: “government is the only thing we all belong to” 49 years later.  (Unquote, El Exigente, democrat national convention, August 2012.)  If they have an “important and legitimate” interest, then anything is excused, and they own us all, don’t they?  They can do whatever they like with us, as we are just now beginning to find out.  And we’re finding it out too late, too late.  That infelicitous phrase went into the books fifty years ago, and the hangar door’s open: we’re about to be run over by a 747.

  • Libby

    Just wait until they start justifying post-birth abortions a/k/a euthanasia programs for defective babies such as NHS’s Liverpool care Pathway or the Netherlands’ Groningen Protocol.

  • Charles Martel

    Some discussions with pro-abortion people begin at a level of appalling sophistry, with them asserting that an unborn child is a.) not alive and b.) not human. Some low-information folks—think college education and humanities majors—still cling to this argument.
    But ever since Naomi Wolf spilled the beans in the 1990s and admitted that an actual human life was at stake in an abortion, sophisticated pro-aborts have fallen back to the more powerful pagan position that has always been the great strength of their argument: Those who can take absolute power over life can define which lives are worthy. The will to power has always been the great temptation in human history (a certain serpent in a legendary garden certainly knew to take advantage of it), so the idea that we can be like the Romans or Chinese in exercising life-and-death power over the powerless is appealing.
    That position also explains the pro-aborts’ obsession with bodily autonomy and their view of a baby as an invader, usurper, and possible destroyer—whether of a woman’s body or good looks, or her career, sexual and otherwise. All threats to the wielder of power must be dealt with by death.
    When you bring up niggling points of law, such as the ones Book has presented here, another tactic is to summon up horrific visions of the 1950s, when outlaw surgeons with filthy hands and unsterilized instruments roamed the night looking for wombs to pillage. How this relates to a state saying that you can’t kill your kid after 6 months in the womb, I don’t know. Most moms will have made the decision to eviscerate or accommodate long before that time is up. But I guess it’s hard to pass up a chance to hand wring and establish one’s cred as a compassionate person who never, never wants to see that terrible bloody era recreated.
    I remember the interrogation scene in 1984 where Winston is desperately trying to make O’Brien see how illogical the Party’s positions are. But O’Brien is the master of cognitive dissonance. He knows it is the path to the always triumphant, all-consuming power the Party cannot stop craving. In so many instances, we pro-lifers know exactly how Winston felt.

  • Oldflyer

    To me the whole logical, legal and moral argument is illuminated by the fact that in recent murder trials, in which a pregnant woman was murdered, the state has charged the defendant with dual murders.  Not an eyebrow was raised.
    As the grandfather of a pair of wonderful twins, born two months prematurely, and hospitalized for a solid month in ICU in the case of the girl, and for two whole months for the boy, I am not interested in arcane discussions about viability.  Give ’em a chance is my line.  As I joyfully watch these sixteen year olds compete in track, cross country and soccer; excel in the class room; and bring joy into lives, I am just thankful that they got the chance.  Oh, and they weren’t the only ones who were given a chance,  nine months ago the girl donated bone marrow to her older sister,whose leukemia is now in remission. (She has now signed up on the national donor registry.)   The boy was the alternate donor, ready and willing.

  • Bookworm


    Having gotten to know you and your values over the years (as well as one can through these blog interactions), it occurs to me that those good apples didn’t fall far from their grandfather tree.  I’m glad your granddaughter is in remission.  It sounds as if that branch of your family has had many trials and met them with great courage.

  • Ymarsakar

    It all started when a judge didn’t want his daughter to be sent to jail for an abortion he wanted in Roe v Wade, sure.
    Always remember that the Left had people to push their agenda as well. Destroy the reputation of those people and the benefits of their policies will become more dubious.

  • Ymarsakar

    It’s relatively easy to cast the motives of pro abortionists as those hungry for profit and unlimited killing, much as the boy pulling the wings off a fly. Somebody has to be the fly. And somebody’s going to get rich off abortions, whether the doctors involved or the federal government.
    Casting one’s enemy as evil is effective because most people don’t care about anything other than that. It doesn’t concern them or their way of life. When it comes to falsely casting someone as evil and pooling support against them, this takes propaganda and illusion crafting to maintain the mirage. When it comes to exposing someone as evil, not good, it takes propaganda and illusion breaking skills.
    But both require that one comprehend how easily humans are manipulated and misled.

  • Earl

    Doug1943:  I’ve met very few pro-life folks who would send the mother to jail.  The person who actually DID the abortion is generally the target.  The sophistry about what abortion is and about what an unborn child is, plus the various pressures that are brought to bear on a pregnant woman these days, make it unlikely that most women make a fully-informed and un-coerced decision in these very sad situations.
    The primary question that needs answering, it seems to me, comes down to “Is human life sacred?”  It certainly used to be, and that’s why abortion was against the law.  Our current problem is that the human race is being divided up into groups with different “levels” of “rights”…specifically, the right to life.  Some of us have what every human being used to have in Western countries – the right not to be killed so long as we’re not threatening someone else.  The rest of us – old, very young, disabled, inconvenient, etc. – are no longer granted that right simply because we’re human….we’ve got to meet someone’s criteria in order to have a claim that must be respected.
    It’s a change that has moved us over toward barbarism.

  • Michael Adams

    Remember,  one of the things Pagan and Christian Romans wrote about the Gothic barbarians was that they did not practice abortion or infanticide. They clearly saw the difference between  a thriving society and a dying one.