Conservative Credo: Abortion, Conclusion

Conservative Credo: Abortion, Conclusion by • July 15, 2010 • Printer-friendly

If the state is to protect life at any cost, doesn’t this imply a financial obligation to preserve the life of any child, no matter how deformed or hopeless, no matter what it takes?  That means a considerable outlay of tax money, and in parallel cases, when the state assumes the burden, it also lays down the law.  The routine justification for anti-smoking laws and seatbelt regulations is the cost imposed on the public.  It does not take too much imagination to foresee the time when couples will have to submit to genetic screening if they wish to receive a permit to conceive.  Couples who defied the law would be compelled to abort the illegal (and therefore rightless) child.

Because we are not yet entirely crazy, this stark scenario might not be played out to the last act, but the underlying logic is inescapable.  Whenever the state discovers or redefines a right, the implementation of that right is subject to state control.  Government, and not families, would have to decide cases of conflicting rights.  Every day the courts intrude farther and farther into domestic life.  In 1990 , a judge decided that even though child custody was granted to a divorced mother, she could not rear the child as a Catholic.  When the mother persisted in taking the child to Mass, she was even given a jail sentence.  The sentence was suspended, but there was no doubt that she would  go to jail if she attempted to exercise her freedom of religion.

In the years since the Court decided to intrude itself into the most difficult and private decisions a family can make, it has by its subsequent decisions added to the ethical and political confusion surrounding issues of life and death.  Upholding parental consent for abortion in Minnesota and Ohio, while at the same time upholding Missouri’s refusal to allow a young woman to die might seem to reflect a consistent states rights outlook, but it has been many years since the Supreme Court has been a supporter of states rights except in cases where a decision strengthens the hand either of the Court itself or of government in general.

The debate over abortion and euthanasia has been cast in the predictable form of conflicting rights: the right to die v. the right to life in Missouri, where the parents of Nancy Cruzan–lying hopelessly in a coma–decided to put an end to the medical profession’s arrogation of the power of life and death; in the Minnesota and Ohio parental consent cases, a woman’s right to an abortion v. the parents’ right v. the rights of the unborn.  However, neither ruling took much account of the family per se as a basic social institution.   For the Court, it is individuals that matter, and when a person is incapable of making rational decisions (because of age or condition), responsibility may be delegated to family members or friends.  The contested point in Missouri was not over who had the power–state or family–to make the decision to cut off life supports, but over how explicitly Miss Cruzan had stated her wishes.  In the parental consent decisions a great deal of time was wasted–as Justice Scalia pointed out–in discussing, whether it was possible or preferable, where a pregnant minor’s parents were divorced, to require two-parent as opposed to one-parent notification.

But while the family is a legal institution, it cannot be made or unmade by law. That responsibility lies in the hands of nature, which compells us to mate and rear children, and of God, who has given us clear instructions in Scripture and in the teachings of the Church.  A friend, no matter how dear, is not the same thing as a parent, and while it might be useful to permit us in some cases to delegate a life and death decision to some trusted friend, the presumptive human authority must always reside in the family, the ultimate basis both for human society and for government.

What is at stake in these cases is really family autonomy.  Who better than family can decide on a question like abortion or the removal of life support?  Judges?  Social workers?  Policemen?  In fact, neither the Minnesota nor Ohio laws go far enough: neither actually gave families an absolute veto power over abortions; they only required parental notification, and even then, it was possible to get around this minimal requirement, if a girl could show some plausible reason why her parents should not be informed.

The main question facing the Court was not the sanctity of life or individual rights but the liberty of the family to make its own decisions without interference.   A similar point lies at the heart of the cases of parents who, out of religious scruples, refuse to seek professional medical attention for their sick children.  No one would want to countenance child neglect, but no one in his right mind would want to turn over life-and-death decisions to the American Medical Association.  What are the odds, today, of surving to 70 for people who don’t go to doctors as opposed to people who do?  In individual cases, of course, physicians save countless lives, but if one can believe the physicians themselves, a large proportion of life-threatening operations performed are absolutely unnecessary.  We do know that when doctors and hospitals go on strike, the death rate falls.

Still, what if it could be established that the child mortality rate is much higher among religious groups that eschew medical treatment?  Then we might attack the problem directly by discouraging the spread of religions that sacrifice children.  The Romans outlawed the Druids, because they practiced human sacrifice, and it is time for the United States to do something about Santeria.  If–and I do say if–a plausible case can be made to include Christian Science or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, then it is better to outlaw a religious sect than to allow the state to intrude further into the family and to seize control over the power of life and death.

To conclude, it seems to me completely obvious that whatever tack is taken by the anti-abortion movement in the future, it has, for the most part, done far more harm than good in teaching Christian Americans not only to look to the government for salvation but, even worse, to worry more about what bad mothers pagan women are than about what good mothers they ought to be.

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