Commentary Magazine


An Absurd Abortion Argument

On his blog, Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times writes, “Abortion is legal. It is a safe medical procedure. And it is rare. That’s exactly how it should be. Government has no business violating women’s privacy rights and making decisions about their reproductive rights. It is the worst kind of ‘big government’ imaginable.”

On the claim that abortion is a “safe” medical procedure: it isn’t a particularly safe medical procedure for the unborn child being aborted. As for abortion being rare, there are roughly 1.2 million abortions performed in the United States each year, meaning more than 3,000 per day, and approximately 50 million since the legalization of abortion in 1973. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and about four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion.

But let’s focus most of our attention on the claim that conservatives who believe a society should protect life, including innocent, unborn life, are acting in a profoundly un-conservative way by supporting “the worst kind of ‘big government.’”

To begin with: Does Rosenthal believe government should take a stand against abortion when it comes to children in their eighth month in utero and/or children who were marked for abortion but were delivered alive? If Rosenthal believes government should be neutral on such matters, his views are monstrous and radical. If, on the other hand, Rosenthal believes government should say “no” to some abortion procedures, he is acknowledging that at some point the protection of the unborn is, in fact, a state interest. The difference he therefore has with those in the pro-life movement is where he draws the line, not that a line needs to be drawn.

Which brings me to the matter of line drawing. Where does Rosenthal propose to draw it? What objective criteria should we use when it comes to the point at which unborn life should be protected? Brain waves and brain activity? Substantial development of the nervous system? When the unborn child feels pain? When organs, arms and legs develop? Heartbeat and blood flow? Sentience? Rationality? Viability outside the womb? In the second trimester? The third? And then ask yourself this: What medical or moral basis is there to say the state should protect unborn life during the second (or third) trimester but not during the first? The answer is: There is none.

Critics of the pro-life movement, when pressed on the matter, simply throw a dart on the board and decide, for entirely arbitrary reasons, when human life has sufficient value to warrant protection from the state.

It’s worth pointing out as well that on the matter of abortion, we’re dealing with human life. That’s not a “religious” judgment; it’s a scientific one. The fetus is indisputably alive and, if it comes to full term, it won’t be a giraffe or a coyote; it will be a human child. Infants are released from the hospital to go to a home, not a zoo. The question, of course, is at what point in the developmental stage one ascribes moral significance and the protection of the law to unborn life. Intelligent and honorable people disagree on this matter. But even liberals writing for the New York Times must acknowledge, at least to themselves, if not
publicly, that at some point the entity in question has a legitimate moral and legal claim on society; that at some point puncturing the skull of an unborn child and sucking out her brain is an act a decent society should oppose. And even Andrew Rosenthal, if he can escape for just a moment from his left-wing catechism, would see how misguided it is to insist that having government protect the most defenseless members of the human community is not the “worst
kind of ‘big government’ imaginable.” There are, in fact, horrors even worse than defending unborn children.