A needed national debate

“If a man loses reverence for any part of life, he will lose reverence for all life.” Albert Schweitzer.

Dennis Petrucelli

The term pro-choice continues to evolve after the landmark case of Roe v Wade (circa 1973) wherein the Supreme Court ruled (7-2) that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extends to a woman’s right to an abortion.  The Court, weighed this right against the state’s interests in regulating abortion.  Hence the Court resolved to apply a balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.

Since that time there have been a multitude of legal opinions and studies as to fetal rights. moral and legal, when personhood begins, wrongful death tort relating to a fetus, etc.  We can encapsulate all of this by saying that despite 46 years of effort, legalized abortion is an issue which divides this nation deeply.     

The abortion issue became a prominent intersecting issue during the feminist movement of the 1970’s.    Proponents of abortion invoked a right claiming that “a woman had the right to choose.” The pro-choice proponents sought to legalize their position and found their opportunity in Roe v. Wade. Ironically the plaintiff in that lawsuit, Norma McCorvey, later lamented claiming she was the victim of two ambitious lawyers. Norma McCorvey spent the remainder of her life in the pro-life cause. In 2005 she petitioned the Supreme Court to rehear this case and to reverse it. The Supreme court declined.

Early proponents of abortion made claim that abortion should be necessary safe and rare.  The number of abortions performed since the Roe v Wade case is up for argument but some approximate 54 million abortions following this landmark case.  It is fair to say that since that time abortion has moved from necessary, safe and rare to simply on demand.

On January 22, 2019 New York enacted the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) expanding the legality of abortion and removing a number of restrictions. Prior to its passage abortion was illegal after 24 weeks, except to save a woman’s life.  RHA also allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions.  It has repealed the criminality for harming the unborn.

New York codified RHA as a state right in the event Roe v Wade is overturned.  Opponents argue that since RHA legalizes abortion up until the moment of birth it legalizes the same criminal acts that sent abortionist Kermit Gosnell to prison.  It is also argued that at minimum RHA removes abortion broadly from the criminal code such that an attack on a pregnant woman who loses her fetus in the assault results in no prosecution.  Interestingly Governor Cuomo in defending RHA openly expressed a desire to have it incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. It had not escaped me that the pro-choice advocates claimed it was a constitutional right at the time they petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the Roe case.  Yet, here we have a governor 46 years later admitting that this was never a constitutional right but a right based on opinion. 

Again, the abortion debate is very broad, complex and emotional, and after 46 years has left this nation deeply divided. It is said that truth has one color but a lie many. Ostensibly, this wide division, is indicative of the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision did not ring true for many Americans.  A call for a national debate and referendum is in order because this issue has unresolved moral and legal implications for our society.

Where shall wisdom be found?  And, where is the place of understanding? (Job Chapter 28).  Is the unresolved issue of personhood the starting point?  Medical experts’ opinions run the gambit as to the endpoint for an abortion.  Like any discipline medical experts can and do disagree.   Consider just some of the complicated factors to be reconciled beginning with fertilization to the development of an embryo and then to a fetus as relates to organ and cognitive development.   The medical community is in agreement in detecting a heartbeat six weeks after conception.  Some medical experts claim sensitivity through the skin after 12 weeks.  Some advocate that since we define death when brain waves cease, we should define life when brain waves are first detected. Factors that cause some deviating stages of development include genetics, nutrition, drug or alcohol use, nicotine, stress, and environmental toxins.

Then again, perhaps the starting point is in the claim of a woman’s right to choose.  Breast feeding is a woman’s choice and getting pregnant or not is a woman’s choice, but when pregnant, what is a woman’s moral obligation? Can the morality of abortion be divorced from the development of the fetus? Or, when does life begin?  Does an unborn have moral value?  If so, does a mother have a right to extinguish her unborn’s moral right? Is her right confined to a choice to forgo motherhood until later or perhaps never?  And why isn’t the father accorded legal rights in the say so of his progeny?  Clearly a father is labeled irresponsible and morally deficit if he impregnates a woman and then walks away. 

Women in all walks of life have given birth and continued to succeed in their chosen careers.  Such a woman is Anjali Sud CEO of Vimeo Corporation. Thumb through any magazine, newspaper, etc. and you will find a plethora of successful women (mothers) in top positions at major corporation, in public service and in the United States Military. And say what you will about Sarah Palin but she demonstrated her commitment to her pro-life choice by giving birth to a Down Syndrome child.

American society is impassioned and thoughtful enough to enact the Endangered Species Act?  So how does this society which feels compelled to take punitive measures against violators that destroy eggs of various endangered species of sea turtles, reconcile itself to not demonstrating the same compassion and concern for our unborn?  Shouldn’t our unborn be accorded as much consideration as any animal listed as endangered? Can one conclude that our society holds a turtle’s eggs moral value above that of human embryo or fetus? Is giving birth a gift or a disease? 

Experts claim the fertility rate needed to sustain a productive population is approximately 2.7.   It reached 3.7 following WWII and provided the impetus for this nation’s greatest advancements.  America’s declining fertility rate in 2017 was 1.7 and its quantitative affect, given the appropriate lag time, is said to be a decline in future GDP. Additionally, the qualitative aspect of abortion is in the loss of prospective achievers in all walks of life that would construct great advances that would be valuable to our society.  The psychological component can be expressed in manner and extent that continued expansion of abortion has on the nurturing and life value instincts in our society. 

If Albert Schweitzer’s admonishment holds true then what is in store for our society?  We have all heard the retelling of accounts of allegations of inhumane breaches as respects the current criminal laws concerning abortion.  We have heard stories of fetal body parts be sold and shipped.  Arguing whether these allegations are true or untrue does not matter because we all know the potential for such abuse is ever present.  We now have one state that has advanced the legality of abortion to just a moment before birth ignoring the balance test set forth in Roe v Wade, and more states are on the horizon.  What is the political potential for continuing to move our “reverence for all life”, red line?  Where do we stop?  The scientific and moral answers concerning the legality of abortion were never resolved in the political theater.  We have 46 years of proof to underscore that observation.  This issue has to be removed from politics.  We should agree that a prospective political candidate’s personal opinion on this subject is moot. We should resolve to agree to allow the medical and scientific community to come to a mutual decision as to when life begins.  Then and only then should we have experts debate the qualitative, legal and moral implications of abortion. I opine others can decide.

Dennis Petrucelli is a resident of the Village of Bonnybrook.