Thursday, June 3, 2010

That Is An Odd Line

I remember reading Roe v. Wade the first time, and coming across this line in Blackmun's opinion: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins." I remember thinking at the time, "Boy, that's an odd line. I must not understand what he's saying." I had always assumed the abortion debate was a fight about when human life begins. Some people say conception, other people say viability. I was young, and I didn't know who was right, but I assumed that everybody was worried about the life or death issue.

So I was surprised, shocked even, when I discovered that one side of the abortion debate doesn't care about the baby's life at all. "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins." I had trouble getting my head around that sentence. Isn't infanticide important? Aren't you worried about it? Why is the baby's life irrelevant?

This is not to say that conception is a great point. A zygote is a microscopic organism. Maybe pro-lifers are overprotective when it comes to protecting the life of the unborn. Maybe pro-lifers don't care about the pregnant woman's choices. But pro-choicers do not care about the baby's life, apparently. I feel this is a much more damning charge.

According to Roe v. Wade, our abortion debate is not in regard to whether (or when) the unborn is a baby, or alive, or anything like that. The Supreme Court waved that issue away. Even more astounding is how they went about it. The Supreme Court declared, "the word 'person,' as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn." In other words, the infanticide issue is irrelevant because a baby in the womb has no rights.

The problem with this rather infamous argument is that it has been used twice before, in a very bad way. In Dred Scott the U.S. Supreme Court declared that black people, even free black people, were not a part of the American people and had no rights. A hundred years later in Germany, the Nazis declared that Jews were not a part of the German people and had no rights. In both cases, the authorities declared that human beings were legal non-persons.

Of course the upshot of stripping human beings of human status is that it becomes legal to kill them. So this chain of reasoning led to slavery and the Holocaust, respectively.

It is quite stupid, I would suggest, for the Supreme Court to rely upon this argument and assume that ordinary people will accept it. "We need not resolve the infanticide issue, because we have classified unborn babies as legal objects." That sort of reasoning might satisfy a slave-owner, or a Nazi, but it might upset other people. And, in fact, it has.

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