In exchanges between the two, you would often think that they have no respect for one another, or at least that each thinks the other disrespects their position. When one looks further however, both “sides” are not that far apart. Each one simply places more weight upon one value, life or choice, than the other. If you ask the supporters of each movement, I have no doubt that a great many pro-life supporters believe strongly in freedom of choice. Likewise, many pro-choice supporters believe in a person’s “right-to-life.” What is in question has never really been whether persons should have a right to choose or whether they have a right to life, but instead the argument has always been about the definition of a “person.”
If you asked a room-full of pro-choice folk if it was acceptable to murder kindergarten aged children, I doubt very much that you would find a single person in agreement. Similarly, if you asked a group of pro-life folks if it would be acceptable for the police to forcibly give all women over 15 years old monthly pregnancy tests, there would be a similar lack of support. The question isn’t whether or not people have a right to privacy, or a right to choose, or a right to life. We all do, and few, if anyone, would argue that we do not. The root of our argument is in “who” has those rights. Does a fetus, an unborn child, have the same rights as its mother and if so, when does it have them? When does an infant become a person? And this is where the problem gets complicated. The problem, when framed this way, is far more complicated, and this is exactly why Roe-v.-Wade ended up before the Supreme Court.
As I considered this, I wanted to understand more about what the Supreme Court thought and what they decided in Roe v. Wade. Without wanting to read through the entirety of their decision I instead found a case summary on lawnix.com, a site designed for use by law students and attorneys. I learned that three of the main questions considered by the court in Roe-v.-Wade were these: 1) Do abortion laws that outlaw all abortions, except those required on medical advice to save the life of the mother, violate the Constitution of the United States? 2) Does the Constitution protect a person’s right to privacy, and does that right include the right to an abortion? 3) Are there conditions under which states can pass laws that prohibit abortion? (Specifically, you can find the lawnix summary of Roe-v.-Wade here.)
What the Supreme Court decided was not that the pro-choice position was right and that the pro-life position was wrong, but that both groups were right… and wrong. The Supreme Court decided that an unborn child, at some point can, legally, be decided to be a person and from that point forward can be protected under the law. Prior to that point however, when it seemed unclear as to whether or not a fetus could be defined as “alive,” then the mother’s right to privacy would be the supreme and deciding factor. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court said that a woman clearly has a Constitutional right to privacy, but also said that there is a point at which the infant’s right to life becomes the stronger right and supersedes the right of privacy.
In other words, the Supreme Court decided that both sides were right.
Presently, people from both “sides” would like to see the Supreme Court review their decision on Roe v. Wade but many others hope they do not. Based on my reading of the original decision, I think that if this ever happens, once again both sides will lose. But you will have to read my next blog to find out why.