1 June 2003
Doctors 1, Activists 0
This Newsweek/MSNBC piece buries its hook in the middle, but it's a serious hook indeed:
No matter what legislators, activists, judges or even individual Americans decide about fetal rights, medicine has already granted unborn babies a unique form of personhood as patients.
Which perhaps suggests that legal definitions of "viability" are, or at least are on the way to becoming, obsolete. And if "viability" goes, what becomes of Roe v. Wade, which specifies the point of viability as the point at which states may ban abortion outright?
For the first thirty years after Roe, it was assumed by both proponents and opponents that the issue would ultimately be settled in the judicial arena: Roe would either be strengthened or scrapped. Now I'm not so sure. If the medical technology advances, the legal definitions will likely change as well; before long, Roe may actually bar more abortions than it permits. I don't expect the hardcore activists on either side to be satisfied with this predicament, which is reason enough to look forward to it.
Posted at 1:46 PM to Life and/or Death
What we should really hope for is that Roe is simply thrown out, with nothing to replace it by the courts.
Thus, the states can go back to deciding this issue via the normal political processes. Then, as a nation, we can finally settle the issue like we settle most of our other contentious issues--with our votes.
As The New Republic has pointed out a few times, the great travesty of Roe v. Wade was not that it made abortions legal, which they believed was a good thing anyway, but that it usurped the democratic process. Along the way, it helped create the so-called "religious right" movement that so many people are so paranoid about, and fractured our politics in a very unnatural way.
Medical technology has long been talked about as the great hope of the pro-life side, back when there was little hope of ever electing a President who would appoint Roe skeptics to the bench.
Now you can call it just one more plank that's falling out from under the most fanatical Roe supporters.
Well, to hear some people talk, there isn't much of it left. I read a piece this weekend from the Center for Reproductive Rights (it's here) which states that there were originally four Constitutional pillars supporting Roe, but that the Supreme Court knocked two of them out with its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey.
My biggest beef with the Roe decision is that it purports to establish a time-limited (by trimesters, more or less) Constitutional right, which strikes me as perverse: either the right exists or it does not, and abridgement of same has to be based on something other than mere chronology.