Abortion’s legality is not a problem that should be addressed directly; there is an underlying problem that should to be solved instead.
At what point does a new human come into existence?
For any of you who aren’t familiar with the process, it goes like this:
- sperm and egg cells hang around, waiting to meet their opposite number
- sperm and egg meet, merge and form a new genetic entity
- this thing develops gradually for around 9 months
Somewhere in all that, we have to draw a line saying: before this point this is not a human being, but after this point it is.
Because the law needs this distinction.
Before that line, are several states of being that it would be nonsense to legally classify as a human being but after it there are states of being that must be legally human beings or the term loses all meaning.
The female body sheds egg cells naturally on a famously regular basis, and the male body disposes of sperm cells on its own even it they stay put where they’re made. There is no sensible or practical way for the law to treat these as human beings.
Equally, to not treat a born baby as a legal human being would indefensible and unworkable.
So the line must be drawn somewhere between conception and birth.
And here is the real problem in the arguments over abortion: where will we draw that line?
Before the line, the thing is just a thing and doesn’t impose any obligations on anyone; after the line it is legally a person and the State is obligated to protect its interests and compensate anyone whose rights are imposed on by that.
By leaving this up to the courts to decide on an ad hoc basis, by failing to actually draw that line in clear legal terms, the United States has turned what should have been a fraught but constrained issue into a social problem of Constitution-breaking scale.
Way to go, folks.
This is an epic failure of process: the courts should never have rendered judgement on any abortion case without articulating this standard. Even with the American courts’ demonstrated preference for making the smallest part of a decision that they can get away with in any situation, they should have addressed this to justify every abortion-related decision.
Now, I have my own preference on where that line should be drawn: viability outside the mother’s body, in the judgement of a physician board-certified on obstetrics.
I think that’s a reasonable standard that’s fairly simple to manage.
If the physician thinks the thing could not survive outside the mother, then it’s a thing and the abortion process is a simple medical procedure at the woman’s discretion; the woman should be responsible for any costs involved.
If the physician thinks the thing could survive outside the mother, then it’s a baby and must be removed surgically, treated medically and handled as a ward of the State; the State should be responsible for any costs involved.
I do not expect everyone to agree, of course.
I rarely do.
But that is the conversation we need to be having.