Which side is extreme?

Cross-posted from Secular ProLife

In the United States, the courts treat abortion as a constitutional right through all nine months, for any reason, and that has been the law since 1973. It’s shocking how many defenders of the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions do not know this.

Either by design or by accident, our law is confusing in the extreme. The Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade made it seem as if it was only talking about abortions before viability, saying that the states, if they wished, could make late abortion illegal. But in Roe vs. Wade’s companion case, Doe vs. Bolton, the High Court created a “health” loophole that effectively crushed the states’ ability to make third trimester abortions illegal.  (Pro-life policymakers hang their hats on language in Gonzales v. Carhart, the partial-birth abortion case, to defend 20-week bans—but the Supreme Court has not yet addressed the issue directly.)

When I debate pro-choicers, I always make a point of clarifying the current state of the law right off the bat. Often, they won’t believe me! I then follow up with some questions: “If that was the law and you did not know it, would that prove that the media and educational systems are not doing their job?” “If I did show you that abortion is legal through all nine months, for any reason, and has been since 1973, would you oppose that law?” (These questions usually elicit a lame “no comment.”)

Pointing out the extremism of our current law is important because it frames the debate. Rarely do people support the law as it is; pollingconsistently shows that those who believe abortion should be “legal in all cases” are in the minority. But people are more likely to condemn the law if I explain it to them after they have said what their desired law is.

But the supposed “middle-of-the-road” position—that some abortions should be legal, but not others—is very difficult to defend. To successfully oppose any abortion and advocate for at least some unborn babies, you have to abandon arguments that demand nine-month abortion under all circumstances. Consider the following common pro-choice arguments:

  • The government has no right to make abortion illegal.
  • A woman’s right to control her body grants her the right to abort.
  • The fetus is not a person until birth.
  • Criminalizing abortion will lead to the deaths of women in “back-alley” abortions.
  • Only the woman and her doctor get to decide.
  • Children are expensive and burdensome to the woman, family, and society.

The six contentions above make up the entire core pro-choice argument.  If you don’t believe them, you’re not really pro-choice, and if you do, you are a nine-month pro-choicer.  But often, when people use these arguments, they are unwittingly insisting upon abortions they themselves don’t even support! Where many anti-abortion people will try to disprove the core arguments, I will simply point out that the pro-choicer I’ve debating does not actually believe them (unless I’m talking to a nine-month extremist).

A person who opposes the legalization of some abortions believes that:

  • The government has the right and obligation to legally protect at least some unborn children from abortion.
  • A woman’s right to control her body does not necessarily grant her the right to abort and kill her child.
  • The unborn is a baby with rights before he or she is born.The threat of back-alley abortions is not serious, or if it is, it’s less important than the protection of at least some unborn children.
  • Men like me and people like you sometimes have the right and obligation, through the government, to prevent women from aborting.
  • The fact that an unborn child is expensive and burdensome does not necessarily justify killing him or her.

There are obvious practical problems with drawing a line, with trying to protect some unborn children while killing others.  Third month, fourth month, fifth month, sixth … can the killing be contained?  Are we to have nurses stand by with calendars and stopwatches saying, “Kill the fetus now, Doctor, while you still have time.  You have ten seconds … five, four, three, two, one … Murder!”

The “middle-of-the-road” pro-choicer must say to his or her peers, “You do not have the right to kill these unborn children”… which is rather difficult to do while he or she is also saying, “I have the right to kill these other unborn children.”

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