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The Abortion Cave
Reexamining the shadows
I assume you’re familiar with the allegory of Plato's Cave, but for those of you who aren't, it goes something like this: a person (let's call him Bob) has been sitting in a cave his entire life with a fire in the middle and his back to the entrance. As people walk by the entrance, their shadows are cast against the wall, and because of how Bob is situated, those two-dimensional shadows are his reality. One day, Bob thinks, "sitting in this cave sucks; let’s see what's outside.” Once he leaves, he realizes that the shadows were being created by the people outside, but it was the only way he could perceive them, given his prior situation. Then Bob realizes that the more you expand your breadth of information, the closer you get to reality. I now know I come from someplace similar.
I grew up in one of America's most liberal (and wealthiest) places. The dogma was everywhere, both in school and out, and in the pre-internet days, there was limited exposure to others’ ways of thinking. I was never explicitly told that we were the good guys and the dumb rubes from anywhere else were the bad guys because it was so obvious it didn't need to be said. However, I grew up differently from my peers - I was from a single-parent household, lived in section five housing, and was on welfare and food stamps (both, for a time). So even though I was among the people in that environment, I was never of it. That said, I didn't care about current events particularly, so I accepted it all unquestioningly. After all, as I said, we were the good guys. Good enough for me.
You could question nearly any Liberal issue and likely get a pat on the head for being an ignorant child. I even remember questioning a teacher in high school about a disparaging comment he made about the second amendment...not that I particularly cared. Still, it was in the Bill of Rights, and I knew that the founders were more intelligent than this guy. However, there was one issue I never once heard questioned in my adolescence...abortion.
That issue, above all others, was what MADE us the good guys. Nearly everyone was for taxing the wealthy, universal healthcare, etc., but it could be debated (if one was so inclined). However, even questioning abortion was the unforgivable sin. Even my mother, who was more moderate (and generally apolitical), was extremely pro-choice, and I knew it. And I loved my mom, so pro-choice was it...there was no other option.
This belief went on for my entire life without much thought, except for one which came to me in college and I kept buried...if it came to abortion at any time or never abortion, I would have to choose never abortion because how could someone justify killing a baby being born? Of course, that didn't matter because the issue would never come to that, "safe, legal, and rare" was the mantra, so I had a détente in my mind, and détente it would stay. Safe, legal, and on-demand would never come to pass, so I thought.
I was in my thirties when Donald Trump won the Presidency, and the world seemingly imploded. By this time in my life, I had made a political shift and was much more right-libertarian (no I didn’t vote for Trump in 2016). Even though my views on almost everything had changed, my views on abortion had not. And frankly, it seemed they wouldn't because, on the abortion issue, Trump seemed like a basically run-of-the-mill Conservative, at best. I assumed his wink-and-nod on being pro-life was just to secure his bone fides with the Evangelical right but had no real substance behind it. After all, he had been a Liberal all his life.
In a Fox News debate, Trump said he would appoint pro-life judges, but when asked about Roe, Chris Wallace asked Trump repeatedly if he wanted to see it overturned and he simply responded "I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination." Clearly not wanting to state explicitly he wanted it overturned...or if he actually wanted it overturned at all, but it would just be an outgrowth of the judges he would nominate. This seemed to be no more right-wing, and maybe less so than the previous GOP nominees of my lifetime.
However, the left saw things much differently. They saw Trump as an existential threat to the abortion movement, and in that same debate, I heard something that made me wonder if my all-or-nothing theory would have to be put to the test. Hilary Clinton made the argument for, what was called at the time, partial-birth abortion (Liberals now call it, more euphemistically, "late-term" abortion), "I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy." At this point, I've never heard a mainstream candidate on any level of politics argue for partial-birth abortion...never mind a presidential candidate in the general election.
Then things started to spiral on the topic… There are literally dozens of examples I could note, but I will go through what made the biggest impact on my thinking.
Kathy Tran, a legislator in the Virginia House of Delegates, proposed HB 2491 to eliminate certain abortion requirements. The key part of that bill states that it "...eliminates the requirement that two other physicians certify that a third-trimester abortion is necessary to prevent the woman's death or impairment of her mental or physical health, as well as the need to find that any such impairment to the woman's health would be substantial and irremediable"
So a woman can shop around for a doctor who is willing to do an abortion as late in the pregnancy as she wishes? Even the current law, which makes any accommodation for this procedure and allows for an abortion this late in pregnancy, is a non-starter in my mind...but this essentially makes it almost casual.
To make matters worse, when later asked if a mother, who was in the process of giving birth, could still request an abortion, Tran responded "My bill would allow that, yes”. She later tried to backtrack by explaining that infanticide is illegal in Virginia, but, the damage was done...her original answer was what she wanted to be the case, not what the law was. If given the chance, I was sure she would lessen the restrictions on infanticide to make room for what she really wanted in the proposed law. But, maybe that was just one loony representative? Surely the Governor, who is the standard-bearer for the state party, wouldn't sign on to something that looney.
However, when the Governor, Ralph Northam was asked about the proposed bill he tried to justify it by explaining that third-trimester abortions are "done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that's nonviable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."
Resuscitated if that's what the mother wants? So the life of a baby, born alive, can now be murdered if the mother doesn't want it? Ok, one state, but the national candidates who are looking to be our next President wouldn't support that, right?
There have been numerous situations between then and now which shocked me with how far the Left has gone on this issue, but the last straw for me was what occurred after the leak of the proposed Dobbs case.
Since the leak, there has been an aggressive push to codify Roe and the Democrats introduced a bill that does just that, or so they say. However the bill put forth doesn't codify Roe, it expands it dramatically. In fact, it opens the possibility of abortion all the way up to the time of birth.
The relevant part of the bill is in section 3, subsection 9, where the bill reads:
(a) General Rule.—A health care provider has a statutory right under this Act to provide abortion services and may provide abortion services, and that provider’s patient has a corresponding right to receive such services, without any of the following limitations or requirements: [emphasis added]
(9) A prohibition on abortion after fetal viability when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.
For the Democrats, at the federal level to push this type of expansion of abortion vastly oversteps anything I would feel comfortable with and has forced me to completely rethink my stance on abortion. And now, after having thought about the issue more deeply in the past several years, I have realized that I am fully pro-life. Here is a summary of my thought process to show why I believe arguments in favor of abortion lack moral clarity or any sense of logical consistency.
When I considered the arguments made in favor of abortion, there are four that are the most common and typically most resonated with me:
1) A woman's body, a woman's choice
2) A fetus is not a life
3) A woman will get an abortion anyway
4) What about interracial marriage, gay marriage, contraception, etc
Let's take them in order:
The first argument goes, no one should make laws about what a woman can do with her body, especially men.
Superficially this seems to make sense. But then again, think about criminal justice law. Every law is based around the acknowledgment that a person has the ability to do a thing, but since it invades someone else's liberty, we don't allow it as a liberal society.
I could physically kill someone, I could rob someone, and I could pass bad checks, but we are not allowed to do so because that would invade someone else's right to life, liberty, and/or property. What's different about abortion? Only that the person whose liberty is being violated has (and never had) an ability to speak for themselves.
On the flip side, is there a law instructing us that we are not allowed to flap our arms too fast in case we fly into the air and collide with an airplane? Of course not because we only make laws about what humans are capable of…therefore the very nature of a law being in place tells us that humans are capable of committing these acts.
A fetus is not a life.
This one is an eye-of-the-beholder situation which we have decided to arbitrarily use pregnancy trimesters to resolve (should abortion be allowed only during the first trimester? How about one day before, or one day after, etc). This is one with which I continue to struggle, but where I have landed is with this key question: where is the dividing line between where killing a living thing is acceptable and becomes morally reprehensible? I doubt anyone who isn't a complete sociopath would agree that killing a five-year-old is acceptable. How about a five-month-old? How about a five-month fetus? How about a five-week fetus? Some people say it is about viability, but that standard is changing all the time. A baby was born and survived after only 23 weeks and three days, weighing 8.5oz. And, why does that matter anyway? Should we be allowed to walk around a hospital unplugging all the life-saving equipment from the patients who rely on it for survival because they "aren't viable" without it?
Further, why is it considered murder if a pregnant woman is attacked and the baby dies, but not if she chooses to have an abortion? Isn't the only difference that in one instance the woman wanted the baby and in the other, they didn't? What kind of standard is that for society at large? Should I be allowed to kill someone if I confirm that no one cares about them? No, of course not, because all sane people know human life has inherent value...why would that be different for a fetus?
A woman will get an abortion anyway
This could very well be true, though it seems the statistics for "back ally abortions" from the pre-Roe days are greatly overstated, as Glenn Kessler found in a 2019 fact check. Even if the large numbers were the case, would that matter? We have many activities that must necessarily be illegal, but since some people are going to commit those crimes, does that justify ridding ourselves of those laws? Should murder, theft, and rape be legal because people are going to do them regardless of their legal status? I think the question answers itself. Why should the answer be any different for abortion?
I intentionally put the above title in quotes because I believe abortion stands by itself, apart from any other issue. Gay marriage, interracial marriage, and contraception (all of which I vociferously support) are acts between two consenting parties, and have no consequences outside those parties (aside from it just being the right thing to allow those actions to occur). The same can not be said about abortion. Abortion is one party making a decision on behalf of another party that can not, and has never been able to speak for itself. As a matter of fact, I think it is likely (to say the least) that if we were able to ask a fetus if it would prefer to be killed, it would not.
So when people ask the question "well, what about...", there simply is no comparison, period.
In the end
I think the ultimate lesson here is that Newton's third law of motion "to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction" is not just a law of physics, but also of politics. If the status quo had simply been observed, I would have moved happily through my life, never taking the time to seriously reconsider my stance on abortion. However, once the Rubicon was crossed, and I was forced to examine my position, I realized there was the only one that was morally defensible.
I do wonder if there are others out there like me? Maybe not, and that's ok, because I feel good about where I have ended up, and think it is the best place for me, and for the world at large.