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Roe v. Wade: A Nonpolitical Matter

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Last Saturday marked the 38th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade, which, amongst a plethora of other things, finally etched in stone the legality of a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy. One would imagine that such an event would be merely an afterthought in our nation’s political consciousness, as, after all, nobody ever really causes a commotion over the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education or Plessy v. Ferguson, whose outcomes were of far greater importance to American legal history.

Sadly, he or she would be very wrong. This year, both hardline supporters and foes of women’s reproductive rights did what they always do: shamelessly manipulated the residual effects of Roe v. Wade to suit their respective political agendas. On the so-called “Right,” newly elected Kentucky Senator Rand Paul used the occasion to promote legislation which would effectively criminalize usage of the morning-after pill as an assault on a human being, while those on the “Left” blamed the horrific actions of a Philadelphia abortion clinic operator on the notions of frugality held by a majority of taxpayers.

I honestly cannot fathom why it would be so difficult for us, as Americans, with our widely varying views on the ethics of pregnancy termination, to simply come together in the realization that Roe v. Wade is settled law. Each of us can agree or disagree with the idea of choosing to abort an embryo or a fetus, but to lewdly protest or vulgarly flaunt the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade is simply intolerable in a truly civilized society. For the sake of our nation’s public discourse, reproductive matters should simply be left out of the political process. Yes, several partisans and shock jocks might very well find themselves out of a job, but, as all rational thinkers can conclude, that would most certainly be for the better.

Then, maybe, just maybe, our nation could for the first time have a discussion of substance regarding Roe v. Wade.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Baronius

    Joseph, you raise several different issues here. First of all, as a matter of law, the Roe decision is weakly argued and an overreach of Court authority. We argue about wrongly-decided cases all the time, and sometimes the precedents they establish are later overturned. I note that you cite Plessy and Brown as examples of important law, but you fail to point out that Brown reversed Plessy, thus demonstrating that the Court’s decisions aren’t final.

    Secondly, you mention the politicizing of the issue. But why is that wrong? It’s only wrong to politicize abortion if you don’t believe it’s a legitimate issue. If you believe that millions of innocent children are dying under the government’s blind eye, or you believe that the government is trying to regulate your most personal decisions, the issue is very political. Both parties have a position on the issue, and elected officials have a say about the issue, so it is very much an issue in the realm of politics.

    Lastly, you state that both sides should just agree that you’re right. To do otherwise is unseemly. Sure, abortion is an uncomfortable subject, but so is unemployment, spousal abuse, and a host of other topics that find their way into political debate. As to all of us moving past the issue of abortion, that’s easy to say when you want us all to move past it and agree with you. Heck, I’d like everyone to move past it and agree with me. But that’s not how debate works.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    I really don’t understand why people get so riled up over this issue.

    Consider this…

    All those folks that think that abortion is a good form of birth control are just weeding out their next generation of voters. Leave them to their own peril.

  • Ruvy

    Baronius makes good points, Joe. Just because YOU think Roe vs. Wade should remain the law of your land without a lot of controversial screaming and hollering doesn’t mean everybody does. And very few decisions made by the Supreme Court are “etched in stone”. The Ten Commandments were etched in stone – but apply only to the Children of Israel.

  • Jeff

    Settled law by dictate of the Supreme Court? Is this the same body that imposed the settled law of Dred Scott?

    There is an objective truth that needs to be realized. Either the unborn is a human person or it is not. If you are not sure, then you err on the side of life. To do otherwise is a manifestation of homicidal intent. If the unborn is a human person, then that person is innocent and does not desire the punishment of death.

    The woman made her choice when she engaged in an action where a consequence could be pregnancy. What pro-abortionists want is to be able to control the consequences of a decision, even it if means that an innocent person has to die.

  • Baronius

    “If you are not sure, then you err on the side of life.”

    Yup, Jeff. The example I’ve heard is that you’re working at a demolition site, just before the explosives are about to take down a building. You see motion in a window. The building is supposedly empty, and the motion could just be a curtain, but it could be a person. Are you going to proceed with the demolition? Of course not. You’re going to double-check the building, because a human life – even a potential human life – is our highest priority.

  • John Lake

    Andy Marsh doesn’t see why people get “so riled up” over this issue.
    In response to both Mr. Mack, and Mr. Cotto:
    We have now reached 38 years with the decision of Roe vs Wade the definitive law on the difficult and important issue of abortion. Oddly, the decision by the courts was made within the context of privacy; the right of privacy between a woman, and her abortionist. Since America is founded at the very core, “under God”, the courts may have seen themselves at a disadvantage. In later years, the majority of Americans see the issue as having to do with a woman’s right to prevail in matters of her body.
    I, as a self-styled liberal, have long taken the stand that the question involved here is of utmost importance to one of the parties to the proposed intervention, the innocent fetus. I refer to myself as a liberal, but my cause is not with the rights of the mother, who stands to undergo a great deal of inconvenience if the birth is mandated, but rather with the rights of the unborn child who on conception has before him, whether or not we hold a belief in God, the full prospect of a life. He is from the moment of conception going to see the world. He is in a position to meet the people, see the trees, the stars, get an education, drive at fifty-five, and someday know the love of another person, and have children of his or her own. This outlook is fairly well locked in. It goes without saying that if abortion is employed to our fetal friend, all of that is gone. Again, what I have said is true, God, or no God. When we consider the numbers of families seeking to adopt an unwanted infant, the matter becomes clearer still. I call to the reader’s attention all of which he would have lost, had his parents chosen to abort.
    It seems strange that the Republicans, devoted to corporate matters and economic pursuits would side with the child, while the liberal Democrats, who by definition are for the greater rights of the people, side with the mother over the child. I have said that our President may be forced by his political ties to opt for the women’s rights, this in view of the fact he has two lovely daughters.
    If Rand Paul has, as Joseph Cotto writing for BlogCritics indicates, opposition to the ‘morning after’ pill, we must wonder as to the man’s thinking. We wonder as to his motivation.

  • Baronius

    “the liberal Democrats, who by definition are for the greater rights of the people, side with the mother over the child”

    More specifically, liberals tend to support the rights of the most helpless people. The logical position for them is for protection of the unborn. I’ve known a few liberals like you who do see that.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    This ought to be the case if the question as to when a fetus is a human being were uncontroversial.

  • Clavos

    But, Roger, is it controversial because those who would defend abortion insist that life does not begin at conception despite what we all learned in elementary high school biology, that at the moment the egg is fertilized and begins to divide and replicate it is a living being, albeit at cellular level at that point. But as John points out above, left alone, that cell will continue to divide and grow.

    So, a case can be made that the “controversy” is artificial and contradictory to what we know from biology.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    Well, let’s say that life begins with conception, I have no problem here. But then again, we have a term “fetus” to mark a distinction of sorts. And it was coined, I’m willing to bet, prior to the controversy surrounding the abortion question.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    And here I thought life begins at 50.

  • M

    Thus a woman should be able to abort her offspring until then…

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    John Lake,

    I admire such respect for life. However, we can never, ever presume to control another person’s body. And besides that, many unwanted children do not get to live to do the things you propose. The live to get beatings or be molested or forgotten in a system or turned into drug addicts and then jailed. The romantic picture you paint just isn’t so in the world of unwanted children. Which is why I really don’t understand why the bastards (and I am not referring to you here) who want to control womens bodies, don’t instead provide all children with secure homes.

    Clav,

    A zygote (which you have described) cannot live if left alone. It needs a body to live in.

    M,

    My mom is due to arrive soon…I just made it out of the danger zone…whew.

  • http://loftypremise.blogspot.com/ Tommy Mack

    Thanks for teeing up the ball. Too bad your swing whiffed. The Roe ball is all political.

    100% of all dead humans do not breathe.

    Check it out.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/joseph-cotto/ Joseph Cotto

    Baronius,

    Brown v. Board of Education’s ultimate reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson bears no relevance to the current standing of Roe v. Wade for many reasons, the chief of which is that it was indisputable many living American citizens were receiving grossly inferior government services. This, needless to say, was and is in clear violation of our Constitution. In the scientific community, the jury is still out on exactly when life begins, so an argument of a similar nature cannot be made for Roe v. Wade. This, mind you, does not provide moral justification for the action of choosing to terminate one’s pregnancy, but it most certainly creates a legal basis for it. As for keeping reproductive rights out of politics, that is, as stated in the article, purely my opinion, but we all can more than likely agree that it would indeed create a more civil political atmosphere, something which is sorely needed in these times.

    Andy,

    Interesting analogy. Looking at this issue in the long term, it is more than likely to play itself out.

    Ruvy,

    As we are discussing an American legal matter, naturally a decision of the Supreme Court applies only to its jurisdiction. I am not calling for an end to debate on the subject by any means, but would rather not see it take away from far more relevant political issues. If anything, opponents and proponents of Roe v. Wade should challenge each other in the arena of human biology, not electoral partisanship.

    Jeff,

    Let us tone down the rhetoric for a moment and look at the facts. Roe v. Wade has been used as a precedent for many other rulings made by the Supreme Court, a great deal of which have absolutely nothing to do with reproductive matters. For this reason alone, it would be practically impossible to repeal. Putting that aside, there is no pertinent reason to concerning federal law.

    John,

    That is a very interesting opinion, especially coming from someone on the other side of the political spectrum. It is highly idealistic, but an excellent take on the subject matter nonetheless.

    Roger,

    The topic of wether or not abortions are immoral will not come close to being settled, in my opinion, until a broad based consensus has been reached on the exact instance in which life begins. Which, of course, will almost definitely never happen.

    Clavos,

    That case can easily be made, but so can numerous others countering it from virtually every direction imaginable. So the debate rolls on.

    Cindy,

    Your concerns of one’s body being controlled by others were the backbone of the ruling which came to fruition in Roe v. Wade. You are, very sadly, quite correct about what happens to children born into unfortunate environments. Needless to say, the government cannot provide them with individual residences, so either orphanages or foster homes become the sites of their upbringings. Truly heartbreaking.

    M,

    Roe v. Wade, as I am sure you know, provides no age brackets for eligibility with regards to having an abortion. However, I am quite certain that women over 50 have far, far less of a need for one than their younger counterparts do.

  • Clavos

    Cindy (@#13),

    I’m disappointed. Surely you know what I meant by “left alone,” yet you deliberately chose to misinterpret it.

    Cheap shot, TC.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    16 – I was half er (joking isn’t a good word for it)..Anyway I was using your point as a launching point to make a new point, in a weird ironical way (that isn’t really ‘joking’, because of the serious nature of the topic, but it’s similar.)

    Yes, I did understand what you meant. But I made my point because I don’t necessarily think all others would understand it and some might need to have it spelled out for them. No offense intended.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    In Clavos’s case, Cindy, you ought to be more thoughtful, especially when he’s in earnest.

  • Baronius

    Since liberalism is supposed to involve care for the helpless, shouldn’t the fetus be *more* protected on the basis of it not being able to survive on its own?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    You’re being evasive again, Baronius. So yes, I say, if fetus is a human being.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    How about this solution: Everyone who is pro-life sees to it that every child has a loving home. Take in all the children to demonstrate how you actually really do care about life (more than merely theoretically by paying lip service to the idea and trying to control other people). That way, women will have a viable option to abortion.

    If you see a problem, you have the choice to solve the problem yourself. You don’t have the option to control people’s bodies. Mouthing off is not pro-life, it is pro-control. Taking in children because you love them, that is pro-life.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    18 I agree, Roger. I am regretful.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    I’m sorry, Clav.

  • Arch Conservative

    Cindy’s logic: If I believe it is wrong to take the life of another human being I automatically become obligated to provide a lifetime of welfare for that person?

    That’s no kind of logic at all.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/an roger nowosielski

    But that’s what they used to do, Arch, in ancient Rome. If baby girls were put to death, it was because they were regarded as economic deficit. The offspring, however, that was kept alive, because it was viewed as an asset, was fed, clothed and provided with all the necessary amenities so it could contribute to family’s welfare.

  • Michele

    I agree with the author, that this is something that should be decided by biologists and theologists, not politicians.
    We’re in America, where we have freedom of religion. While my religion has decided that life begins at conception, so far there is no absolute proof that this is so. For the govt to accept and legislate religious doctrine over science is contrary to what our founding fathers, the constitution, our very republic is about.
    While the question is still unanswered, about when life truly begins, Cindy is correct, let’s create a world into which every parent WANTS their child to be born; but we should not be legislating regarding when life begins until we know.

  • Baronius

    Michele, in what sense does like not begin at conception? The Encyclopedia Britannica science section defines life as “matter characterized by the ability to metabolize nutrients (process materials for energy and tissue building), grow, reproduce, and respond and adapt to environmental stimuli”. That first cell qualifies.