Three Abortion Items

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Do you think you know about how Roe v. Wade came to be? Think again. David Savage presents the inner workings of the Supreme Court and Blackmun's opinion. A number of justices in the majority thought this would be a minor revision of the laws. Justice Blackmun himself, who wrote the opinion, didn't think it would have sweeping consequences. Chief Justice Burger concurred with the majority, indicating that he didn't think this could possibly lead to abortion on demand. It makes me wonder what would have happened if these justices could have envisioned what this decision would lead to. They certainly would have been horrified by the current state of affairs. [Hat tip: Eugene Volokh]

Meanwhile, Wendy Mcelroy wonders if scientific developments will help limit the number of abortions while satisfying the primary motivation for abortion -- for the pregnant woman not to be pregnant anymore and not to have parental responsibilities. This is something I've been sying for a few years now, something Laurence Thomas first made clear to me. Scientific developments will in the near future make the primary arguments for the pro-choice position obsolete. They will no longer be arguments that we should allow abortion. They will be arguments that we should allow someone to remove a fetus. As Laurence would put it, a legal right to be rid of a fetus does not provide a legal right to the death of that fetus. Technology does not allow us to make such a distinction in the first trimester (though the movement of viability to about 20-22 weeks does allow us to do so in the second). It will almost assuredly at some point allow us to make the distinction at a very early stage of development. What then for the pro-choice view? [Hat tip: Volokh conspirator Todd Zywicki]

Finally, Eugene Volokh finds what could inspire a Dr. Seuss rhyme if I had the time to compose one (I'm not above that sort of thing). Justice Black and Justice White, an FDR appointee and a JFK appointee, had a little disagreement in 1965 over whether the Griswold v. Connecticut case would justify outlawing laws against abortion. Hugo Black thought it would, and he voted against it. He didn't think it was their job to specify unenumerated rights. Byron White didn't think that decision really did justify doing the same with abortion, because contraception takes place in the home (usually), while abortion doesn't, and contraception involves stopping the creation of a life, while abortion involves ending a life. White apparently understimated his colleagues, while Black seems prescient. White took the same position regarding Roe v. Wade, by the way. He was just in the minority. I think Volokh is a little overstating things when he says White dismissed the possibility of this happening. All he did was get the lawyer to admit that these are very different situations, which we know he believed because of his vote against Roe. He didn't say that he didn't think his colleagues on the Supreme Court wouldn't try to use this sort of reasoning. All he did was give a reason why they shouldn't.

Update: I didn't write a Dr. Seuss poem about Justices Black and White and abortion, but apparently Dr. Seuss wrote his own statement about abortion.

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What happened to "safe, legal and rare"? Did the pro-abortion crowd figure eh, two out of three ain't bad? Read More

8 Comments

On the "scientific developments" - I know women who say that they would rather have an abortion than give their baby to someone else to raise.

If this kind of women don't feel like raising a child, abortion, not "removing the fetus" will still be their preferred option.

Someone who would rather kill her viable offspring than allow someone else to care for the child seems to me to distinguish the people I would have compassion on for not understanding the moral significance of abortion and those I would consider truly heartless. I wouldn't label most who have abortion heartless. I think there's a lot of deception and manipulation with this issue, and women who make that choice are often under what is often called coercion in other contexts. I don't have the time to find it now, but search my blog for "abortion coercion", and you'll find my argument for that. I think abortion is almost never morally justified, but I think it might be excused if someone is completely misled by other people who might even mean well but are in some ways manipulating women in unfortunate circumstances, often to make a buck (e.g. Planned Parenthood, whose doctors and other employees make their living off the money that comes from their abortion mills).

Someone who would rather kill a viable fetus than allow someone else to raise the child is certainly not in this position. Someone who would do that knows full well what abortion entails, because she's consciously thinking of it as death, in this case even death of her own child who could live without the need of her body. I have trouble thinking of that as morally tolerable. How truly unlivable is it to know that you have a child out there being raised by someone willing to be a better parent than you think you can or are willing to be? Is it so bad that the difficulty of it makes it ok to kill your own child who does not need to die for you to be rid of it, a child who can survive without you? In that light, this argument pretty much loses what force it originally had.

I have a question: If I do something wrong but don't know that I am doing wrong--am I guilty?

If a aborigine spends his entire life in the bush and never hears of Jesus, is he guilty and sent to hell? (Yea, I know it's boilerplate, but I love to hear you philosophise.)

PS: You point about having compassion for those who are mislead is a good thing to ponder (and practice.)

No, those are actually very good questions, and it's worth thinking about how they tie in with some of the things I said in the post.

I would say in most cases that the action is still wrong, but actions aren't the only things we evaluate morally. We also evaluate character, and someone who ignorantly does something wrong might be excused, depending on other factors. One factor might be how wrong the action is. If it's photocopying articles for my class, not knowing that it's illegal, then it might be excusable morally but legally enforceable if someone decided to prosecute. I wouldn't say that that's anywhere near as wrong as growing up in a KKK household and affirming KKK propaganda wholeheartedly because you never met a black person and simply believe what they say. I'd give some moral charity to such a person but not as much as to someone who thought copying articles was ok.

Another factor, perhaps even more important, is whether the person is without excuse. If the KKK person should have been able to bring themselves to know better but didn't, it's a pretty serious negligence on their part. Maybe someone who is mentally retarded is excused from a certain level of moral knowledge. Some people think so. I often give moral deference to those in situations I've never been in and probably never could be in, as at least the default mode. That doesn't mean I don't speak against actions like abortion as wrong, but I might be more willing to think there are extenuating factors in terms of excusing the action in certain cases.

Ultimately, I don't think you can say that the aborigine is without excuse with respect to
God if you're going to see the New Testament as authoritative. Romans state explicitly that we are all without excuse. You don't have to hear of Christ to have failed in your moral obligation to serve God.

That makes sense, and I believe biblical.

God seems to cut more leeway (if that's the word) to the ignorant than to His people who should know better.

"It makes me wonder what would have happened if these justices could have envisioned what this decision would lead to. They certainly would have been horrified by the current state of affairs."

I think this is true, and because of that I find it very frightening. It is a case in point of how awry well-intentioned actions can go, made even by the most intelligent and considered of people.
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"Someone who would rather kill a viable fetus than allow someone else to raise the child "

That is comparable in my mind with the men who kill their wives and children rather than lose anything through divorce process to a 'theoretical' other. Just as reprehensible.

No offense, but if you've never had an abortion, you have no room to talk. Women who have had an abortion OR put their children up for adoption are not without a heart, values, or a conscience. We are human beings who, for whatever reason, are unable to "keep" our unborn children. I have had TWO abortions, both of which were when I was very young and living in fear of my abusive stepfather.

Abortion is a necessary evil for some women. In a perfect world there would be no need for it. Children wouldn't be conceived out of wedlock, fathers wouldn't be absent, & all women would be emotionally/physically/financially/mentally prepared for motherhood. However, the real world doesn't work this way. While men are entitled to their views (men whose wives or partners have actually had an abortion, that is), I've always felt that this is primarily a woman's issue. A man doesn't have a social cross to bear, in other words. Men don't have to endure the physical, emotional, mental, or societal problems. Women who have abortions are often condemned by society, Bible-thumpers, & people who claim to be "pro-life" although they really don't know what they're saying. Abortion is a controversial issue, people will always have their own belief system, but it is important to be compassionate & non-judgemental.


I'm "pro-life" too! I'm pro-life in the sense of being opposed to war & acts of terrorism. I'm pro-life in the sense that I abhor cruelty, abuse, suicide, and violence. And before anyone says "abortion is violence", let me state that it is not. Adoption is not an option for certain people...it wasn't for me. I wanted to either keep my children or put them up for adoption, but my circumstances wouldn't allow that. I love children. Mine weren't planned but I wanted them. However, when you're a young girl in an abusive & controlling environment, it is difficult to make the right decisions.

Life won't always be what you want it to be & you won't always have control over what happens. This is as true for abortion as it is for losing a family member or friend. I have asked the Lord for forgiveness & guidance since having had my abortions. Women who abort fetuses are not bad people, per se. Most people have a very limited scope of realizing this. My former partner's sister (who has two children at 19) told me I was "evil". She calls herself a Christian! Who is she to judge my actions? Her own environment was comparably ideal. Her mother practically helps her with those children like they're her own. Calling somebody "evil" or "selfish" because you don't understand her plight is one of the most incomprehensible things one person can do to another. She also wished that I would never be able to bear children & said that I should have died while the procedure was performed. Real sweet, isn't she?

In terms of what seems to be your primary point, I've made the same point you're making myself right here. Conservatives on this issue don't understand the motives of liberals on this issue and tar them in a way that I find offensive, just as liberals do with conservatives because of their own lack of understanding.

I have a lot less problem with people who see abortion as a necessary evil in very limited circumstances, which is what you seem to be saying. You are willing to call it an evil, though. The person I had in mind is truly heartless, and your case doesn't necessarily involve that kind of heartlessness. What distinguishes your case is that, given a certain view of the quality of life, you might have argued that going through the pregnancy and bring children into that abusive environment would have been worse than not living at all. I don't know if I agree with such an assessment, because I don't have a sense of how easily the quality of life can trump the presumption against killing. It's clear that you had a heart motivation very different from the person who would kill her children to prevent others from raising them, though. I was never denying that such a situation occurs. I was simply responding to one argument against the adoption point that I found to be a bad argument, and I still think it's a bad argument. You've given a different argument now, and your case is quite different.

I don't agree with the claim that not having an abortion leaves no room to talk. I've never killed my mother either, but that doesn't give me any reason to condemn the killing of one's mother. Whether I've done something is not relevant to whether I can say it's morally wrong. People who haven't had or been slaves still have a moral obligation to stand up against slavery, and having no connection to people who have had abortions does not absolve someone of the moral responsibility of ridding our society of one of the biggest moral failures of our generation, which is allowing abortion for completely silly reasons. That's tragic, and it should have been avoidable, but because nothing has happened, partly because men have given in to the argument that they have no moral standing on the issue.

There's some place for moral deference on tough cases, but most cases of abortion are not tough cases, from what I've read, and I've read widely on both sides of this issue. Most cases of abortion really do seem to be of convenience, and I think that's downright awful. It's not what Justice Blackmun had in mind when authoring Roe v. Wade, and it's not what several of the justices voting for Roe v. Wade thought they were voted for. Chief Justice Warren Burger even wrote a few months later that his vote for Roe v. Wade was one of the worst decisions he'd ever made in his entire life, because he'd honestly believe that it would simply allow doctors to make the occasional exception in the tought cases, and maybe he even had in mind cases like yours.

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