Sex, violence, and Roe v. Wade

I’ll just come out and say it: I’m not really that keen to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

It’s not that I’m wavering in my belief in the humanity of the unborn child, or the injustice of committing violence against her. It’s that the movement to overturn Roe isn’t about the unborn at all.

Let me explain, lest I come across as one of those people who claims to know other people’s “true”, sinister motivations (I hate that). I am well aware that most people who favor overturning Roe believe in and are concerned about the humanity of the unborn child. But what is the going legal strategy for overturning it? Appointing judges to the Supreme Court who would rule that there is no Constitutional right to privacy.

Now, if abortion is an issue of sexual morality, this makes perfect sense. In that case, the real problem with the current state of the law is that the government is constrained from regulating the private lives of individuals, including who they sleep with and when, and whether they should be allowed to attempt to separate sex from reproduction.

But if you believe that abortion is an issue of violence, as I would bet most of the people reading this do, then privacy has nothing to do with it. Violent acts aren’t private, even when they take place in one’s own home or one’s own body, if there is a non-consenting person involved. They are something the public has not only a right but a responsibility to stop.

This is why I say we need to move forward to end abortion instead of backward. Overturning Roe v. Wade on privacy grounds would put us right back to the state of the law in 1973 — and in so many ways, that wasn’t pro-life. Restrictions on abortion weren’t based on human rights (though a belief in the human rights of the unborn animated many supporters of the restrictions). How could they have been, when the unborn child wasn’t legally recognized as a human being? They were based on the power of the government to tell people what to do in their personal lives — the same unjust power that allowed the government to arrest doctors for dispensing contraception and gay couples for having consensual sex in their own homes.

Overturning Roe on anti-privacy grounds would not end the injustice of an entire segment of humanity being classed as non-persons. It wouldn’t establish that a human being has human rights over his/her entire lifespan. It wouldn’t establish grounds for opposing the destruction of embryos in IVF clinics or research labs. In short, it wouldn’t do a single thing to address what is really wrong with abortion — that it is the destruction of a human being. And yet, somehow, support for this strategy is considered the most important litmus test for being pro-life.

When was the last time you heard of a court nominee being asked if s/he believes that the word “person” in the Fourteenth Amendment applies to all human beings? I can’t recall this ever happening, but that’s the kind of justice (in both senses of the word) we should be looking for.

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