When Good People Make Bad Arguments

A new look and feel here at Alter Ego! What do you think? I like reading in dark mode, I hope you do too.

And now for something completely different.

In most circumstances killing a post-natal human being is wrong. Everyone knows this. With notable exceptions, if you kill someone you’re in a lot of trouble under common law. Legally speaking, it’s called homicide. Here’s something else: If you assault a pregnant woman, say she’s 20-weeks pregnant, and cause the death of the fetus you’re guilty of a separate crime, though not necessarily homicide. In Connecticut, for example, as I understand it you would not be charged with homicide of the fetus. However, you may be charged (barring unusual circumstances) with a class A felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison. I don’t know the relevant law well enough to say if the same assault on a woman would get you the same charge in every state. I do, however, think it’s safe to say that regardless of where the assault occurred, very few people would argue the assailant should be found guilty of anything less than a class A felony for causing the death of the fetus. And I wouldn’t expect an ideological divide on this matter, between men and women or between pro-choice versus pro-life people. If I were on a state grand jury (as I once was) and the DA brought this indictment for felony A crime, I’d vote True Bill.

Accepting all this as true, why is it that otherwise smart and reasonable people who decry the imminent overturn of Roe v. Wade continue to assert that what this is really about is the government wanting to control women’s bodies? Trying to demonize your adversaries as conspiratorial misogynists usually doesn’t work to win arguments. Again, if you accept that the fetus deserves the protection of the law in cases where the mother is assaulted, then why not when the assailant is the mother herself? One could try to squirm out of this logic, equivocate on the definition of “assailant,” but I don’t think that would get you very far with the justices of the court. After all, even when it comes to your own person, if another person kills you he may be guilty of homicide. But he is also criminal when you try to kill you with his help; assisted suicide is illegal in most states. Tyrannical maybe. But this is the world we live in.

My point is this: If you accept the premise that the law does and should protect human life, including the protection of you from yourself, then don’t become indignant when the SCOTUS concludes there is no support in law for abortion. Which is what the current decision actually entails. It does not make abortion illegal, it kicks that can down the road to the state legislatures so far as I can tell. Rather, it removes federal protection for abortion, arguing (rather persuasively I thought) that the legal arguments for Roe v. Wade in 1971 were flawed, and thus so was the decision. This isn’t about old white men trying to animate the nightmare of the Handmaids Tale. No, this is just what the SCOTUS does, it tries to get law right. Surely even the most permissive pro-choice advocates understand this.

Of course all this leaves the obvious question unanswered: when is the fetus a human life? Clearly the law can only protect a real life. Unfortunately, opinions here vary widely. Given what I know about human developmental biology, I would call life starting sometime after eight weeks, certainly after twelve weeks. Prior to that, the incipient fetus is a mass of largely disorganized, rapidly dividing cells. I know many people cringe to hear a “baby” referred to as merely a mass or “clump” of cells. But it is what it is, fetuses don’t suddenly appear in the womb fully formed. So terminating a pregnancy during this time is not killing a human life if you ask me. Which is why, in part, I consider myself pro-choice. The other part is because I think that the vast majority of woman who have an abortion don’t make the choice lightly. Even when and where it’s lawful. But then, the difficult choice is her’s to make. As a political matter it seems to me a majority of my fellow citizens are roughly of the same opinion. For women’s sake, I hope most state legislatures are too. Time will tell.