On Saturday I led a panel discussion on “Abortion Until Birth: What Happened in New York, What Almost Happened in Virginia, and What Lies Ahead in the Federal Courts.”
I was joined by Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Greg Schleppenbach of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat, and Jeff Caruso of the Virginia Catholic Conference.
The following are excerpts of my introductory remarks.
One of the most celebrated phony arguments for a right to abortion is the Famous Violinist.
It’s a thought experiment, by a supposed moral philosopher (Judith Jarvis Thomson), and it goes like this:
Imagine you wake up in a hospital bed, and discover that your circulatory system has been connected up to the circulatory system of an unconscious famous violinist, lying beside you.
The violinist has a serious kidney infection, and a rare blood type—and you are the only match.
The hospital director comes in and says:
- It was wrong for the Society of Music Lovers to kidnap you and place you in this difficult position.
- But without the use of your kidneys, this man will die.
- And, well, it’ll take 9 months for him to get well.
Are you morally obliged to make your kidneys available to this violinist for 9 months?
You’re supposed to conclude: no, you have the right to choose what happens in, and to, your body. You’re not obligated to put your body in service of another’s life, even that of a famous violinist.
The argument fails, of course. For many reasons. Chief among them is that mothers and children are natural allies, not enemies—not strangers on a hospital bed.
But this is what modern abortion politics has done to our thinking.
The first American feminists never saw the child as the enemy. Elizabeth Cady Stanton said women had been treated as property; how degrading that we should treat our own children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.
What would they say about our abortion culture today?
According to the Guttmacher Institute, founded by Planned Parenthood, approximately 4 percent of abortions are done for the mother’s health. And 3 percent for “possible problems affecting the health of the [baby].”
Taken together, that’s 7 percent.
That means 93 percent of abortions are done on healthy women with healthy babies.
What are the reasons for these abortions?
Well, the women told Guttmacher they couldn’t afford a baby, they didn’t feel ready, they were having relationship problems. Or their husbands, or boyfriends, or parents wanted them to have the abortion.
There’s a pattern here, if you look for it. Of women who needed financial help, but no one gave it to them. Who needed emotional support, but no one provided it.
Of women who may have wanted the baby, but were surrounded by people who wanted the baby gone.
Feminists for Life says abortion is a reflection that we have failed to meet the needs of women—that: Women Deserve Better Than Abortion.
They say the slogan “It’s my body, it’s my choice” has really become “it’s her problem.” The rest of us are off the hook.
The truth is, they know it’s a baby. And they’ve known it for a long time.
Even the Famous Violinist argument concedes there’s another person in the equation.
Planned Parenthood activist Amy Richards wrote an essay in the New York Times Magazine about being pregnant with triplets, and having two of her babies aborted.
After reciting a list of ways her life would change if she were to have triplets, she concluded, with a final lament, that she would have to “start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise.”
She recounted how Peter, her boyfriend, stared at the sonogram screen and said, “There are three heartbeats, and we’re about to make two disappear.”
If you’re a Planned Parenthood activist, why tell your story this way? Why the heartbeats? Why the mayonnaise?
Very clearly, she’s telling us that she knows they’re really babies.
But she’s also clearly telling us that she doesn’t have to have a good reason to abort them—she can, just because she wants to.
And legally speaking, she’s quite right.
Forty-six years ago, the Supreme Court took abortion policy-making out of the hands of the people, and made abortion-until-birth a constitutional right.
Roe v. Wade made abortion legal before but also after viability, until birth, for “health” reasons.
And then Doe v. Bolton, defined “health” as “all factors”—“physical, emotional, psychological, familial, [or] the woman’s age.”
That’s why pro-lifers speak of “abortion on demand.” That’s why Amy Richards speaks of big jars of mayonnaise.
Most people have no idea how extreme U.S. abortion law is.
If American law on abortion reflected Americans’ views on abortion, the law would look very different.
And that’s exactly what politicians in New York were afraid of: That the people would get to have a say, again, on abortion policy.