Mere O neighbor and friend Richard Radcliffe has done the dirty work of extracting the choice quotations from the Supreme Court’s recent opinion upholding the Partial Birth Abortion ban, while also providing helpful commentary.  Radcliffe maintains the only law blog I read regularly, and is entering a Ph.D. program in theology in the fall.

His conclusion:

To abortion opponents, the decision is good news because, taking an incremental approach, it expands Casey by underscoring government’s legitimate interests in preserving fetal life and authorizing restrictions of abortion pursuant to a less stringent “rational basis” rubric.

To abortion proponents, Justice’s Ginsburg’s heated rhetoric tells the story: “[T]he notion that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act furthers any legitimate governmental interest is, quite simply, irrational. The Court’s defense of the statute provides no saving explanation. In candor, the Act, and the Court’s defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court….” (p. 24.)

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

11 Comments

  1. Might I ask why it would be a good idea to criminalize abortion in a country where half of all pregnancies are unplanned and the weakness of the social safety net forces many young women to decide between their future and the life of their child? The decision to abort should, in all cases, be an agonizing decision but a ban is not the answer.

    The solution is a society that upholds a consistent life ethic. One that takes care of its citizens, does not execute its prisoners, does not deny basic human rights to terror suspects, and does not go to war under false pretenses. The goal is to reduce the need for abortion by reinforcing the social safety net and applying a consistent ethic of life.

    If it is acceptable to execute the mentally retarded in our country, what respect should be accorded the unborn?

    Reply

  2. makelovehappen May 9, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    Social safety nets should not be providing mothers with the support they need. Fathers should be providing mothers with the support they need. Social handouts are another way of saying, “Government sanctioned stealing”.

    Governments may be able to provide mothers with money (allbeit other people’s money), but they can do nothing to love the mother. No system of any kind can.

    Another thing: to suggest the value of a person’s future is limited by having a child is a great villany. Praise God that He values the lives of children more than any career or college education.

    Your assertions are based on the surface considerations that drive people to suicide. Get out while there is still time!

    Reply

  3. Prufrock,

    Good questions.

    “Might I ask why it would be a good idea to criminalize abortion in a country where half of all pregnancies are unplanned and the weakness of the social safety net forces many young women to decide between their future and the life of their child? The decision to abort should, in all cases, be an agonizing decision but a ban is not the answer.”

    I’m all for improving the social safety net for single mothers (though not necessarily strictly through the government). At the same time, I think you assume too much when you say young women are “forced to decide between their future and the life of the child.” Of course they aren’t. They’re forced to decide between the future they want, and the future that they might have to accept and make the best of. Really, I don’t think that’s a different decision than we all have to make at some point in our lives–reality, after all, has its own demands and necessities. They won’t have the future they envisioned, but almost no one does, and the value and presence of a child will make that future glorious indeed (even if they can’t go to college, etc). I’ve heard it said, and I agree, that children are one of the only good things to come out of extra-marital sex.

    “The solution is a society that upholds a consistent life ethic. One that takes care of its citizens, does not execute its prisoners, does not deny basic human rights to terror suspects, and does not go to war under false pretenses. The goal is to reduce the need for abortion by reinforcing the social safety net and applying a consistent ethic of life.”
    I’m with you here, though I think we’d probably disagree over what gets in to that “consistent life ethic.” I just don’t see it as an either-or (especially when the ban under question is a practice as abhorrent as partial-birth abortion).

    “If it is acceptable to execute the mentally retarded in our country, what respect should be accorded the unborn?”

    I must have missed a news story. It’s acceptable to execute the mentally retarded? I don’t get it.

    Thanks again!

    Reply

  4. makelovehappen,

    The breakdown of the family is indeed startling but the reason for this is primarily economic, not moral, as your tone suggests. Government handouts are not what I’m prescribing either; the government should empower its citizens with the means to contribute to our society through education and, yes, financial assistance.

    I’m sure there is a lot of empirical evidence underlying your moralistic assertions and prescriptions for other people’s lives but, as MatthewLee notes in the post following yours, “reality, after all, has its own demands and necessities.” We can’t let the moral force overwhelm the facts.

    Reply

  5. MatthewLee,

    Although the 2002 Supreme Court case Atkins v. Virginia held that the execution of those with mental retardation violated the Eighth Amendment, few states have made any changes in their statutes to comply with this ruling. I admit that point was not particularly relevant to my argument.

    I agree with you that partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure and the ban on it does not bother me. It is the idea that it is a success on the path to the eventual outright ban on abortion, a change that would force millions into poverty.

    The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level. I know that statistics are easily massaged to reflect the reality we would like to see but this particular statistic indicates the impact that poverty has on the unborn.

    One should not let the conclusions of stark moral arguments force impossible expectations on the imperfect world in which we live.

    Reply

  6. Prufrock,

    In your reply to makelovehappen, you claim that the primary reason for the breakdown of the family is economic, not moral. You then marshall my quote in support of your idea that “We can’t let the moral force overwhelm the facts.” I would like to point out that while I think the economic facts need to be considered, I do consider the moral truths to be facts as well, and hence of equal or even more weighty consideration.

    The fact that poverty increases the likelihood of abortion suggests that, if nothing else, we value money more than humans. Such a position is intolerable. Better to live in abject poverty with a child than kill him. Especially if the moral facts are given their proper consideration.

    All this to say, if Roe is ever overturned, it must be done so with an eye to the very real social problems that will arise. At the same time, as our institution would be adhering more closely legally to the moral facts, I have no doubt that we would have a renewed energy to address such problems. I hope that’s clear–I typed it in a hurry! : )

    Fun conversation–thanks for joining us, and do keep it going.

    Reply

  7. I would like to note that is very easy for you to say it is “better to live in abject poverty with a child than to kill him” when you will likely never experience abject poverty. While I acknowledge that money is too highly valued in our society, shouldn’t quality of life be a consideration for the mother? I expect you to retort that the child will not get to live at all but how do you determine the value of a life not lived?

    Concerning my appropriation of your quote, it was to underscore makelovehappen’s laser-focus on the moral and ideological and disregard for the empirical and actual.

    How about something that brings up the topic of the separation of church and state? That would spark some lively debate, I think.

    Reply

  8. makelovehappen May 10, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Hi Proofrock,

    These internet exchanges can be informal and distant. This makes it easy to label each other, and I do apologize if I put you hastily into a category you strive to avoid.

    That being said, I am not advocating any ideology. I think I share your disgust in preferring the possibility of the realm of ideas over the actual, concrete, existing world.

    My laser focus is on making love happen, for love is the one true metric in which one may determine the quality of one’s life. Do the poor have less access to love than the rich?

    As I said, love is the basis of all quality in life, and it has no basis in empricism whatsoever. If one wishes to learn how to love someone in the way God loves sinners he must learn how to close his eyes to all worldly distinctions- whether a person is rich or poor, educated or uneducated, etc. The command is required of all to love all. This explicitly unscientific act is the beginning of finding quality in life.

    Reply

  9. The deep skepticism about government that you expressed in your first comment is clearly a reflection of your political beliefs so there is an element of ideology there. The best measure of love is how one treats everyone because, as you say, all are required to love all. Love in the abstract sounds beautiful but is useless unless put into practice.

    Could you define love as you are using the term here? This is not a facetious question. I would like to understand your point more clearly.

    Reply

  10. makelovehappen May 11, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    As you say, there is an element of ideology in my views, though it is a nonideological ideology. My skepticism is not directed at government, but at the view that government gives people meaning in life.

    If love were physical we could define it in empirical terms … its properties, physical characteristics, nature, etc. Love is spiritual so it must be understood in terms of its priorities.

    Love is patient.
    Love is kind.
    It is not jealous. It does not boast. It is not proud.

    The sense that one may not be loved or perhaps may even be despised, the perception that one is treated unfairly, the observation that another may have an unbecoming appearance … love places all these issues after the essential question of, “How would I want to be treated?” And, “How indebted to God am I?”.

    The external questions (the ones that can be treated empirically) are secondary to the internal questions which regard that which is invisible. It is only when a person finds this perspective of love that he can find quality in life. Every one else is already dead, even if he keeps breathing and his heart keeps beating.

    That is my unsocratic definition of love. Love refuses to be defined in words. It can only be understood between the words.

    I share your concern about love remaining abstract. Who lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl? Love is the means and the end. It is useful when it leads to more love, and it can only be commissioned by love.

    Reply

  11. Prufrock,

    Sorry for the delay. I thought I had had the last word, but then realized I hadn’t. And as you know, I always have to have the last word!!!

    You write:
    “I would like to note that is very easy for you to say it is “better to live in abject poverty with a child than to kill him” when you will likely never experience abject poverty. While I acknowledge that money is too highly valued in our society, shouldn’t quality of life be a consideration for the mother? I expect you to retort that the child will not get to live at all but how do you determine the value of a life not lived?”

    1) It’s not clear that I will never live in abject poverty. I’m a freelance editor, after all! : )
    2) I don’t think one needs to experience abject poverty to make the claim that living in it is still better than aborting a child. Your expectation for my retort is right on, but then I don’t understand the force of your question. It seems like lives have an inherent value, regardless of their quality. Your question seems to presume that we can determine who should live and die based on the “value” of their lives (otherwise, the question is nonsensical–it only makes sense if such a judgment is possible). To set us up as determiners of human value in that fashion is, I think, a step down the road to eugenics. Otherwise, what’s to stop us from determining the value of lives already lived according to our pre-set standard of value?

    “Concerning my appropriation of your quote, it was to underscore makelovehappen’s laser-focus on the moral and ideological and disregard for the empirical and actual.”

    My concern is that you are reducing the moral to the empirical, which seems problematic. While in determining social policy, it seems we should take into account empirical data, it seems social policy should be aimed at the promotion of the moral. Whether that is incremental or all at once is a strategic question (I’m for incremental changes), but ultimately a different question.

    I should point out that I have in the recent past advocated improving tax laws for single mothers and promoting other social benefits for them in order to ease their work load, etc. I am for a comprehensive pro-life policy, which also includes restrictions on abortions (since such legal restrictions actually reduce the number of abortions).

    “How about something that brings up the topic of the separation of church and state? That would spark some lively debate, I think.”

    Hah! I don’t know that I have time for that right now. : ) Maybe over the summer……

    Reply

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