Pro-life advocates are riding the crest of a wave. Their self-assurance is palpable, but their program, if we consider only J. D. Vance’s recent comments, is dubious and, frankly, dangerous.
No abortion in the case of rape or incest, Vance says, because “two wrongs don’t make a right,” rape being the first, presumably; abortion the second. But many Ohioans believe forcing a grown woman (or, in many cases, a barely pubescent girl) to carry her victimizer’s child to term is the greater wrong.
Vance equates abortion with convenience. Consider the low-income mother of four struggling to provide for the children she already has; the thirty-five-year-old married couple who never wanted children but whose birth control fails; the couple who desperately want a child but whose fetus has a rare genetic disorder that precludes a meaningful life if it even survives to breathe on its own; the teenager who, being a teenager, screws up (so to speak), and so on. Vance can call decisions to abort “convenience,” but it is not his judgment to make. Making such a judgment at the level of public policy is commonly known as tyranny.
Vance admonishes us to see children as “blessings to cherish.” Indeed, children (including embryos and fetuses), in their dependence, have a special moral claim over us adults. But children grow into adults, and when they do, they do not give up a right to respect, even care. Laws that force decisions onto adult women deny them moral autonomy. If we are to cherish children, we must also cherish–or, better, respect–the adults they become.
Vance pulls out a third shibboleth: the pro-life movement is the anti-slavery movement of our time. Yet, unlike the nineteenth century slaveholder, who claimed a right of property over another morally autonomous human being, a woman’s right of bodily integrity and moral autonomy legitimately conflicts with the rights of her embryo or fetus, which is the size somewhere between a grain of rice and a small chicken egg, and exists only because of her own sexual acts, in the first place, and the life-sustaining properties of her womb, in the second. Abortion is morally confounding; pretending otherwise, by imposing legally simplified “solutions,” is counterproductive.
The state laws I have read about recently are strikingly mean-spirited, punitive, and over-reaching. They have all the hallmarks of a power grab. The sponsor of Ohio House Bill 704, says Ohio must “recognize the personhood, and protect the constitutional rights, of all unborn human individuals from the moment of conception.” Yet, the Founders never considered the rights of the unborn in their constitutional discussions. House Bill 704 is plainly unconstitutional and would require an amendment.
Because I am not a Democratic officeholder or Planned Parenthood caseworker, I can admit the thought of abortion brings pangs of moral qualm. This supports, rather than negates, what I have said above. The essence of moral decision-making is the weighing of competing goods, knowing that you can never be sure if your actions will be the right ones, and living with the consequences.
If Roe was a judicial overreach in 1973, we should avoid making legislative overreach now that that decision has been overturned. Laws that a majority support engender civic trust, the converse also being true. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost did not inspire trust in the new abortion law when he backpedaled recently to the press: “Ohio’s heartbeat law has a medical emergency exception broader than just the life of the mother. [The ten-year-old rape victim]…did not have to leave Ohio to find treatment.” Is this the case? Or does the law box us in by having been written too narrowly, too self-assuredly, too self-righteously?
The majority of Americans and, by a narrower margin, Ohioans favor abortion access with reasonable restrictions. J. D. Vance, and other Ohio politicians, should be less concerned with moral purity and more concerned with constitutional integrity, democratic legitimacy, and, yes, moral soundness.