George Jonas | Nov 7, 2012 12:01 AM ET | Last Updated: Nov 7, 2012 12:03 AM ET
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I see we’re debating abortion again. This is where I came in 30-some years ago. Out come old arguments from the mothballs, along with old proponents and opponents. Only this Monday I read somebody saying that, well, you can outlaw abortion, but women will just keep doing it in back alleys.
Hmm. Should we legalize holdups, too? People keep robbing banks anyway.
Well, robbing banks is wrong.
Ah, and killing unborn babies isn’t.
We don’t kill unborn babies. Women terminate pregnancies.
Arguing without a shared premise is like playing tennis without a net. We’ve reached an impasse 30-some years ago, but pro-lifers are getting restless, and one judicial appointment could change things. This impelled my old pal and debating partner, the civil libertarian Alan Borovoy, to ride again, presumably to stem the tide of fetal menace threatening to engulf us all (“Why personhood is beside the point,” Oct. 29).
Indeed, Borovoy argues that “even if we assumed that personhood begins at conception, why should that ‘person’ have sanctuary in the body of someone who doesn’t want it there?”
Well, ahem, because she put it there in the first place, Alan, wouldn’t you say? But Borovoy raises the point only to make clear he doesn’t want to hear about it: “The abortion debate should focus less on the mysteries of embryonic life and more on the limits of governmental power.”
Well, yes, shifting gears is wise because embryonic life isn’t all that mysterious. What comes out of the womb in nine months, sans interference, is a baby, not a tissue sample. One could respectably argue, though, as Borovoy does, that whatever it is, it’s the mother who should decide its fate, not the government.
Societies that restrict abortion don’t interfere with what a woman does with her own body. They interfere with what she proposes to do with someone else’s body. Few societies expect a woman to keep her baby if it’s inconvenient to her, but they do expect her not to kill it. Or used to.
Life is an autonomous process and it begins when it begins. Talking about a fetus as something that isn’t yet alive is inane. If it weren’t alive, mother wouldn’t have to hire Dr. Morgentaler and colleagues to kill it. A fetus proves that it’s alive by emerging from the womb as a human being unless the abortionist vacuums it out first.
Abortion is killing, but this doesn’t dispose of the matter. All societies, religious societies included, authorize individuals, sometimes classes of individuals, to kill for certain reasons. Judges, parents, police officers, ship’s captains, inquisitors, soldiers, executioners and others have been entitled to terminate human lives, provided they did so for compelling reasons and under lawful circumstances.
In our times feminists contend that social equality is a compelling reason. They interpret it as women having no burdens imposed on them that aren’t also imposed on men. Since nature imposes pregnancy only on women, in order to even the scales, women should be entitled to an absolute license to terminate their pregnancies on demand.
This is the essence of the feminist argument, though it’s seldom put so bluntly. The matriarchy needs popular support to achieve its ambitions, and while members of the Me Generation are ready to pull the plug on anybody for selfish reasons, few face the logic of their position. They can’t quite bring themselves to grant women a licence to kill, like 007. This is why the debate is filled with pious rhetoric about women controlling their own bodies, or lives aborted not being “life.” Ironically, the pro-choice crowd usually oppose capital punishment — except for the crime of inconveniencing a woman.
Inconveniencing men is okay. Fathers can’t opt out of child-support if the mother decides to keep the baby, no matter how “inconvenient” fatherhood may be for them. Nor could a father save his child’s life even by assuming sole responsibility for its maintenance.
Men and women are supposed to be equal. What’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose. Yet fatherhood is compelled by law, while motherhood is a matter of choice. How do lawmakers get around this hurdle? In the same way they get around any question for which there’s no answer in logic or equity. They ignore it.