OPINION by J.D. Hutchinson
There are libertarian arguments on both sides of the abortion debate. Those describing themselves as pro-choice oppose the government interfering with a choice a person makes about their body. Those describing themselves as pro-life oppose aggression against a human life even if that human life has not yet been born. Both of these positions have merit, and are held by people with good intentions.
Roe v. Wade legalized abortion across the United States, but it created a vitriolic debate in which supporters and opponents of the decision are forced into absolutist positions. It removed the debate from the public discourse, because the Supreme Court found in the penumbras and emanations of the Constitution a protection for abortion. The United States is the only country where legal abortion was imposed by the court, rather than by legislation or plebiscite, as such state legislatures test the limits of public and court acceptance through laws that allow abortion through almost the end of pregnancy (in New York and Virginia) or prohibit it from almost the beginning (in Georgia, Alabama, etc.).
By staking out extreme positions, and labeling ourselves pro-life or pro-choice, we dance around the real debate, which is when do we, as a society, agree that life begins. Once you view the debate through this lens, all parts of the debate come into focus. Everyone can agree that a baby, outside of its mother’s body, is alive. Most people would also probably say than an hour before birth there is nothing substantially different about that fetus from a live baby.
People can probably stipulate that a day before delivery there is nothing substantially different, but, at some point, there is something that makes sperm and an unfertilized egg different from a baby. Maybe it happens at fertilization, or at implantation, or when there is a heartbeat, or at viability outside of the womb. Maybe it happens at birth. This is ultimately a metaphysical question that every person has to answer for himself or herself, but we, as a society, can make the determination when we grant that the developing fetus is a separate human life, worthy of the same protections as other human beings living in this country. We already engage in similar practices when we set the age at which people may drive, smoke, drink and vote. The Constitution even establishes age requirements for running for federal office.
Establishing a beginning of life does not change when life actually begins, just as changing the age of consent does not change the age at which someone becomes an adult, capable of giving consent, but it does establish, for legal purposes when we, as a society, can agree by consensus that life begins. It would not preclude states from imposing penalties for crimes committed against pregnant persons that kill or maim the developing fetus, prior to that stage of development. It would not prevent doctors from performing procedures that may result in the death of the developing child after that point, in the event that the mother’s and the child’s lives are in danger, though it would require the child’s life be given equal consideration.
This is a solution that will probably not satisfy either side of the current abortion debate, but it may satisfy a plurality of the public, and allow us all to move on. This should be decided on a state-by-state basis, as the values of California or Alabama are not necessarily the values of North Carolina, and a law that makes sense for Alaska may not make sense for Rhode Island. By federalizing the issue and by polarizing it, Roe v. Wade has created a situation that profits lobbyists and advocacy groups at the expense of the lives, and physical and mental health of the citizens of the United States. The euphemisms of pro-choice and pro-life allow us to mask the true gravity of what we are really debating.
Let us dispense with these impediments to real progress in the debate. Let us engage with each other in a meaningful debate that moves towards a resolution that is acceptable to a plurality of people. Let us decide it in the smallest practical governmental unit.