Children feel pain.
Broken hearts. A toy not beside the birthday cake. An unjust spanking by a parent who, let’s face it, always loved his siblings more. Those are the ones many of us remember.
I never knew the pain of hunger, though. I was never afraid to walk outside. I never flinched every time I heard anything that sounded like a gunshot. I never stayed home from school because no one had taught me to read and I was embarrassed to admit I could not. I never hid in my room while my father beat my mother. Well, once or twice on that last one, mostly loud shouting, a scratched cheek once (his).
A fetus feels pain too. Some say as early as 20 weeks of gestation. It is because of that, that reflexive recoiling, that Nikki Haley and the legislators in South Carolina have now banned abortions after 20 weeks.
The Supreme Court has said a woman may legally abort her pregnancy at any time before the baby could live on its own outside the womb. They drew the line there for practical reasons. “Viability,” as the standard is called, is as good a test as any for when an unborn child becomes a life worthy of the full protection of society.
There is a respectable case to be made for the proposition that life begins at conception. Or at the time the fertilized egg bonds implants on the uterus that will nurture it until birth. From the standpoint of logic, those are perfectly fine places to draw the line between life and not life. If left alone, a fertilized egg may well implant and grow to viability and then birth.
Pregnancy is often a blessing. Often not. If you have too many kids to take care of already, you may not want another. True, you could have assured that result by abstaining from sex, but we’re talking about human beings, here, not robots. People have sex and get pregnant and regret it. They want to take it back. Roe v Wade lets them, up to a point.
The right to abortion articulated by Roe was found to grow out of an implied constitutional right of privacy. Roe held that the mother’s right of privacy to do as she wanted with her unwanted fetus ended when the fetus, if born at that moment, could survive on its own.
That was an intuitively moral place to draw the line. None of us want to think the law makes it legal for a mother to kill her newly born baby. Roe merely gave that same baby protection in utero back to the time when it could be born alive to be killed. Before that, no viable baby, so no murder.
This is, as we have all seen, has been morally difficult and contentious issue. We cannot countenance murder, so we have put the issue in those terms—the right to life—and have, so far, drawn the line at a place, viability, that fits with that moral dictate.
This has not satisfied everyone. Many want to return to the pre-Roe blanket restriction on abortion. I can understand that. They believe that once the train of life gets started, no one should be putting boulders on the tracks.
The problem is that theirs is an absolutist view. It is morally unrelenting and unforgiving. It ignores—some say cruelly denies—the fact that we are driven hard, often to temporary madness, by our sexual passions. Mistakes happen. A new life is on the way to a woman who doesn't want it.
Maybe she can’t afford it. Maybe she wants to finish her education first. Whatever the reason, she doesn't want it. The Supreme Court has said she may fix her mistake until to do so would be murder. Now comes, courtesy of South Carolina, a rule that she may do so until the fetus would feel the pain of its elimination.
I sympathize with what they are trying to do. No one wants to hurt anything, least of all a baby, or even an almost baby. And when the argument is put that way, it’s hard to have an answer that does not seem callous.
But that is not the right way to look at what is gong on when a decision to abort is made. As we’ve all read in numerous personal accounts, it is a difficult personal choice. It is the same choice as whether to conceive, just made after a slip rather than before. As the pregnancy progresses, the choice gets messier, and more difficult, but it is essentially the same choice. I don’t want this baby.
I was talking to a friend about this, and she made the point that if people care so much about the life of the child, they should do more than just assure it is not aborted. If they insist that the child be carried to term and brought into the world by a mother who does not want it, they should take care of the baby if the mother can’t or won’t. They should make sure it has prenatal care and nutrition. They should make sure it has good food and an emotionally healthy childhood. Pre-school. Good elementary school. Warm clothes. Someone to come home to.
My friend’s observation puts a fine and practical point on the competing considerations inherent in the choice whether to abort. To Nikki Haley and her legislative friends in South Carolina, and to anyone who wants to limit a woman’s right to abortion beyond the Roe guarantees, perhaps we should say this: if you insist that a child be born to a parent who has said she cannot or is not ready to care for it, step up and support the social service programs that help support that child.