Imagine, if you will, that Roe v Wade had resulted in a punt by the Supreme Court, ruling that state laws apply to abortion laws and that the issue was best addressed in legislatures — as opposed to finding that the Constitution somehow protected abortion as a right with nary a mention of health care, let alone abortion, in the document. Instead of having to debate the issue in courts over the last 40 years, we would have had robust political debate in a number of forums with plenty of room for individual states to act in concert with their own electorates. What might that debate have looked like?
We could get a good look at that from Ireland. The traditionally Catholic nation still outlaws the practice of abortion, but has recently come under pressure from the EU to “clarify” the legal status. The Fine Gael party won a resounding victory in the last election in part by promising to remain firm on the ban, but have now floated a legislative proposal legalizing abortion under limited circumstances — and are reaping the political consequences of that betrayal:
In 2011, members of Fine Gael, now Ireland’s ruling party, made a pre-election promise that they would not legislate for abortion. They were subsequently elected with a landslide victory. A little over a year later, the party broke its promise by bringing forward legislation to allow for abortion where there is a risk to the woman’s life, including the risk of suicide.
At the government’s own public hearings on how to “clarify” the meaning of Ireland’s abortion law — as the European Court of Human Rights has requested — every single obstetrician present testified that not a single woman has died because of our ban on abortion. Every single psychiatrist present testified that abortion is not a treatment for the condition of suicidality.
On the cold, dark, wet winter’s evening of Jan. 19, without any media promotion and with little notice, an estimated 35,000 Irish people gathered in Dublin to oppose the government’s proposed legislation. In American terms, this would be equivalent to 3 million people attending Friday’s March for Life. The event was described as “extraordinary” and “a master class production” by the mainstream press. Reporters commented that the sheer numbers present should give the government “pause for thought” before implementing any abortion legislation.
Interestingly, columnist Dr.Eoghan de Faoite notes that Ireland actually has “one of the lowest rates of maternal mortality in the entire world — far lower than in the United States or United Kingdom.” The doctor attributes that to a culture and political system focused on saving human life rather than treating it as disposable. Whether or not that’s a fair causation or just correlation, it’s clear that abortion didn’t provide that outcome, and that banning abortion didn’t prevent Ireland from leading the world in that category.
One could argue, of course, that Irish women simply left the country to get their abortions. However, the most likely place to travel for that purpose would have been the UK. As de Faoite notes, the outcomes for maternal care in the UK turned out to be inferior to that of Ireland. Again, that could be correlation rather than causation, but the same conclusion applies to that argument as well; abortion may not have made that worse in the UK, but it certainly isn’t making it any better.
Perhaps Ireland’s success in this area is an outcome of treating women holistically as women, rather than as androgynous humans who happen to be cursed at the moment by fertility. That’s certainly Dr. de Foite’s argument, which was bolstered by Pat Gohn, who celebrated her innate maternal nature in the Washington Post this week (via Deacon Greg):
A woman’s womb, her uterus, signals that she is made for something and someone more than herself. This reality touches a woman at her very core — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The womb’s raison d’etre illuminates this gift that welcomes and receives the life of a child, sheltering and nurturing it, until finally, a woman gives birth. We even use the expression — giving birth — denoting the gift that it is. The maternal gift ought to be honored and celebrated.
What’s more, a pregnant mother is entrusted with carrying an immortal soul besides her own — a soul that is destined for eternity. That’s why a woman really needs to be aware of the dignity of her feminine creation, and the sublime gift of her maternity, so she can confer that dignity on her child, and upon others through her love of life.
The gift of maternity is inherent in all women. They are predisposed to motherhood by their design. Yet, as we know, not all women bear children. Even if a woman never gives birth, a woman’s life is still inclined toward mothering. All women are entrusted with the call to care for the people within their sphere of influence. This broadens our ideas of maternity beyond gestation and lactation.
A woman’s relationships with others, even though they may not be fruitful biologically, can be fruitful spiritually. Therefore a woman’s life–her feminine genius–is characterized by physical and/or spiritual motherhood.
When the gift of a woman’s fertility and maternity are devalued, they are misinterpreted as liabilities or threats to a woman’s potential happiness, or earning power, or freedom.
That brings me to MK’s post yesterday on the abhorrent-yet-clarifying missive published at Salon this week. Mary Elizabeth Williams put aside the “clump of cells” charade and acknowledged what is scientific reality — a child is a human being from the moment of conception, and it’s absurd and ignorant of modern science to acknowledge it as anything other than human life. Williams ultimately makes the basic argument for abortion, which is that if a human life that is dependent on another is inconvenient or unwanted, then the stronger has the right to dispose of the weaker. That’s also the argument for euthanasia, by the way, or for Peter Singer’s oft-cited support for infanticide.
It’s an abhorrent argument, for two reasons. First, many if not most people consider human life sacred to at least some degree. Second, our entire basis of laws and natural rights are predicated on the belief that human beings have the right to life equal to all others, and that right can only be forfeit based on his or her own actions. If we lose sight of either, then life becomes nothing but a competition on the material plane between the strong and the weak, and there is almost literally no restriction on using that power to whatever ends the strong seek. As I wrote earlier this week, that’s the utilitarian and materialistic viewpoint taken to their logical conclusions, and the basis for natural rights entirely evaporates.
And that’s why I find Williams’ piece clarifying, and very helpful to strip off the rhetorical nonsense that abortion equates to freedom. In the end, it equates to a tyranny of privilege.
Now Ireland has to face its own Roe moment. Let’s hope they choose more wisely than we did, as the 55 million human lives lost here to the principle of abortion-on-demand should attest.