A Texas heartbeat law went into effect Sept. 1, and the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 against blocking implementation. Thus, pending legal appeals, in Texas no elective abortions are currently allowed once a fetus has a detectable heartbeat.
Of the questions that arise, some were proposed by Elayne Clift. (“Saving Roe v. Wade suddenly feels urgent,” Aug. 12, 2021) I would speak to the broadest of these, offering a counter opinion. Why is our public “so ready to give up on a fundamental human right that can touch all of us?” That is, as I interpret Clift’s question, why are not more people fighting for unhindered choice for all possible legal avenues for obtaining abortions?
To me, the principles go deep but the gist is simple. General favorability toward Roe v. Wade notwithstanding, everyone knows and feels that our initial human existence in the womb is quite personal. We know fundamentally “it” is a human life, even before we recognize it as a baby; we intuit that some right to life needs to start somewhere, not only in the laws of a nation but in the consciousness of society.
Years of throwing around Latin words — as if fetus translated not human — and medical jargon — someone who has seen a 3D ultrasound can’t not reinterpret what terminating a pregnancy means — have not alleviated the moral anxiety that arises when every individual’s existence in the womb gets legally labeled as a potential threat to our utopias of absolute choice.
When in 1973 Roe actually envisioned that some abortion choices would be outlawed by individual states, particularly, elective third trimester abortions, shall we not dwell a little longer on that philosophy of having laws that must not only impact, but somehow support and protect, those human beings that most people wish to label, at some point, babies in the womb?
The most distressing occasions of pregnancy are always described here as justification for unlimited abortion access. Those situations are rare, but all too real. Regarding them, the naiveté of thinking our legal landscape is as simple as Roe standing or falling whole cloth, deserves to be criticized.
For example, Doe v. Bolton was handed down as an adjoining decision to Roe. It meant to keep legal abortions available in such cases, even where generally outlawed.
At least we shall not quarrel with the intention of having legal consideration of the hardest cases. Granted depression and suicide — complicated by any distressing pregnancy or birth — are terrible problems to grapple with, and granted this will come up with the horrible cases of sexual assault (about 1 percent of current abortions), one’s philosophy of life and society are all the more important to sort out here.
It is a stretch to call folks in society either insane or irresponsible when they start to think that the happiest solution for everyone involved might include some kinds of legal recognition for each baby in the womb. Standards of morality are always being tested for logical consistency just as much as immediate emotional satisfaction.
As a spokesperson for Christianity’s oldest tradition, I may be widely criticized for promoting misogyny under the pretext of outdated Judeo-Christian morality. But when the proposed utopias of choice, such as our current Vermont law, Act 47, and Vermont’s proposed reproductive liberty constitutional amendment, sound to me nearly synonymous with the philosophy of Nietzsche, I do not wonder at increasing doubts about the arbitrary power expressed by granting legal status only to those human beings who happen to have been born.
And it is arbitrary. The line drawn by Roe allowed compelling state interests to outlaw elective abortions after viability, on the philosophical presumption that an unborn fetus capable of surviving extra utero, “has the capability of meaningful life.”
Then, for decades, it seemed the official abortion rights position was that no meaningful life should be acknowledged until the minute after a baby’s birth. Except, in practice, most abortion rights people really don’t believe that. I would say most Vermonters probably don’t believe that, regardless of what our lawmakers legislate. No one should be surprised if the pendulum starts swinging the other way.
That near universal intuition, that nascent human life in the womb is personal, rubs hard against self-serving definitions. That is a challenge to myself in the direction of supporting all lives, just as much as it should be a challenge to those advocating unhindered choice for all possible abortions.
Regardless of what does result from all the upcoming legislative, executive or judicial happenings in our country, I invite all to apply the litmus test, starting with our own experience, truly to consider each life as meaningful. No matter what difficulties or societal problems confront us, I think happiness shall flower when we finally act accordingly.
Rev. Timothy Naples is pastor of St. John Vianney Catholic Parish in South Burlington.