In the almost-50 years between Roe v. Wade (1973) and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), pro-life and pro-choice camps shouted at one another across a river with no bridge. Pro-life people shouted that a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception, pro-choice people shouted that a fetus is not; and neither side could prove its position or disprove the position of the other. And so the battle went on, and on, and on.
The issue of the propriety of the legality or illegality of abortion is still unresolved. The battle continues; and, so long as each side simply tries to shout the other down, it will remain unresolved. Happily, there is another way.
Whether a fetus is a human being, a person with Constitutional rights worthy of protection, is not a scientific question, but a metaphysical one. Whether you say that it is or say that it isn’t, it’s still a position that cannot be proven or disproven objectively. When you are seeking the proper course of action based on a question that cannot be answered, it’s the question that’s wrong. Thus, the proper question isn’t whether or not the fetus is a human being, but what the law should be given that the question of the humanity of the fetus cannot be answered.
Although the question cannot be answered, I think it’s good to examine the implications of each position. If the fetus is not a human being, then, of course, abortion should not be illegal, based on the mother’s right to self-determination. However, if the fetus is a human being, then its Constitutional rights are equal to those of the mother. You can base this on the 14th Amendment; but it’s also clear from the values espoused in the Declaration of Independence, i.e., “all men are created equal.” Fundamental rights exist in a hierarchy, with the right to life being the most fundamental, since, without it, no other right has meaning. The right to life is a precondition to every other right. And, since the rights of the mother and the rights of the assumedly human fetus would be equal, the fetus’ right to life, being more fundamental, would trump the mother’s right to self-determination. Only in the situation where the mother is going to lose her life if the pregnancy continues would their respective rights be equal; thus, only in that situation could the mother assert a right to abort, since no one may be required by law to sacrifice their life for another’s.
But we don’t know which standard applies. How do we proceed?
Suppose you are forced to hunt deer to feed your family. You go hunting with a friend and become separated. Some time later, you see what may be a deer in the bushes; on the other hand, it may be your friend. You honestly don’t know, but your children are hungry. Do you shoot?
Society is faced with the same dilemma regarding abortion-on-demand. The pro-life position is: “We don’t know whether the fetus is a human being or not; it reasonably could be. So, rather than risk murdering a human being and violating a right more fundamental than the mother’s right to self-determination, we must err on the side of caution.” The pro-choice position is: “We don’t know whether the fetus is a human being or not; it reasonably could be. But it doesn’t matter if we would be murdering a human being and violating a right more fundamental than the mother’s right to self-determination. The mother’s right to self-determination is supreme.”
There are two things worthy of note about the pro-choice position. The first is that it is illogical. Since the right to life is more fundamental than the right to self-determination, if the fetus is a human being the mother’s right cannot be supreme. The second is that it disrespects human life, because it doesn’t care whether the fetus is a human being or not.
It is obvious that abortion-on-demand is inconsistent with the principles upon which our political system in the US is based. It is unconstitutional by its very nature.
It should be noted that there is another layer of harm in permitting abortion-on-demand. Abortion-on-demand is an expression of the principle of disrespect toward human life; and, in adopting the practice, you necessarily adopt the principle, as well. And, by adopting the principle, you have opened the door to many other manifestations of disrespect to human life. Euthanasia is only one; the principle will also manifest in how we treat the homeless, the weak, the infirm in our society. Once abortion-on-demand becomes acceptable, the principle is established; and, like a termite infestation, it will eat its way through the house of our society, weakening its structure, hastening its downfall. As abortion-on-demand has been legal for nearly 50 years, this has undoubtedly already taken place.