I didn’t think I was going to write another column on abortion, at least not so soon. But I find that I have to, because I see too many people of various persuasions acting as if abortion is an easy matter, and it is not.
For me, and for many others, what makes the question difficult is the recognition that at some point in pregnancy we are talking about two lives, not one.
There is of course the future mother. And then there is the unborn child. But when does a fertilized egg become a child, a residing human being but a separate life from the woman who carries it?
This is the difficult part. I acknowledge and respect the view that “life begins at conception” (more on that below). But I don’t share it, nor apparently (if the polls are at all reliable) most Americans. Most of us believe that there is a window of time after conception during which the fetus is not advanced enough for its removal to take a human life, and therefore abortion should be allowed.
But when does this window close? Tennessee passed a law a few years ago banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, six to eight weeks after conception. It’s a defensible position, but I’m not sure it’s the best reference. At around 20 weeks, the fetus, according to studies, may experience pain, and modern ultrasound technology shows that soon after, the developing child appears “human”. At that point, I’m convinced. We are talking about two lives, not one.
A related question is whether there should be exceptions to the deadline. What to do if a pregnant woman has been raped? What if pregnancy is the product of incest? And if such exceptions are provided, how long do they last? Another 10 weeks? Twenty? Until birth? In cases where the pregnancy endangers the life of the future mother, even the last date seems appropriate.
These are difficult questions. But their very difficulty demands that they be addressed, debated if necessary, and the reasons for the provisions dealing with them explained. If the Supreme Court acts on the leaked draft opinion that overturns Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, these issues will be referred to the state legislatures, which, as I explained in a recent column, are the best place to resolve them. than the federal courts.
Tennessee has already addressed them. In 2020, the legislature passed a “trigger law” which provides that, 30 days after the publication of a notice revoking Roe and Casey, the law will take effect. The law makes performing an abortion a Class C felony in all cases, except when necessary to save the life or physical health of the pregnant woman.
There are no other exceptions. There is no “choice window”. No provision for cases of rape or incest. The law endorses the idea that life begins at conception without reservation. And I think that’s going too far.
Now, no one has hidden the law of 2020. Its passage has been duly reported. But I don’t think most of us paid much attention to it. I confess that I was not. Frankly, no one expected a Casey and Roe overthrow. But if we get that result from the Supreme Court, I think the law should be reviewed.
Now let’s look at the other extreme. Just last week, 49 U.S. senators, including all Democrats except Joe Manchin, voted for a bill that went far beyond Roe and Casey’s actual holdings.
Under the pretext of protecting women’s health, it would have prohibited any regulation of abortion during the first two trimesters, with exceptions so broad that abortion would be protected until the moment of birth. This would have made it a crime for a doctor to refuse to perform an abortion for reasons of conscience. The law would have been imposed on the whole nation.
And it’s too extreme too. In the photographs of the protests against the Supreme Court’s ruling, I saw signs saying, “Abortion is health care.” This is usually not the case. Studies show that most abortions in this country are not related to health problems, but “elective”.
We are often told to “follow the science”. Science tells us that abortion affects two lives, not one, at any given time. That determining this point is difficult does not mean that we do not have to.