There are opinions, and there are facts. First, some facts.
It used to be that pregnancies were divided into trimesters and the state could not regulate abortion in that first trimester, could regulate it in the second only to protect the health of the mother, and could regulate or limit it in the third to protect the welfare of the fetus. That was the holding in Roe v. Wade.
Then, Pennsylvania became the battleground in the abortion debate with Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the Supreme Court eliminated the trimester framework, finding it flawed. It reiterated a woman’s right to choose, but made this important distinction, which was missing from the sterile posture of Roe: “The very notion that the state has a substantial interest in potential life leads to the conclusion that not all regulations must be deemed unwarranted.”
And so was born the concept of viability. For the first time, even though it continued to agree that a pregnant woman had a “liberty” interest in not being pregnant, the law gave dignity to the fetus and started to establish parameters by which this dignity — this “life” — should be recognized and protected by the government.
So these are facts: Women can have abortions, with some legal restrictions. While my opinion is that they should be legally prevented from aborting a child; my opinion is not a fact.
But if we acknowledge that women can have abortions in some circumstances, we also have to accept that they can be prevented from having them in others. And that is what brings us back to Pennsylvania, and our beautiful state Capitol.
This week, the state House of Representatives fast-tracked a bill that would ban abortions based on a diagnosis or suspicion that the fetus has Down syndrome. The bill was moved out of the chamber’s Health Committee on Monday, and the full House will likely vote on it next week.
Abortion rights groups are apoplectic. The Philadelphia Daily News has published op-eds opposing the bill as a grotesque infringement on the “woman’s right to choose,” as if no one had ever read Planned Parenthood v. Casey or understands the “fact” that women do not have unlimited choices when it comes to being “un-pregnant.”
Planned Parenthood has, predictably, come out full force in opposition to the bill. But I think the saddest part is that some parents of Down children have actually come out publicly against the bill, too, which strikes me as supremely inhumane. Just my opinion, of course. Here are some more of them:
To hear that a woman who has given birth to a child with Down is still willing to allow other children to be denied a future because she doesn’t want to infringe on another mother’s “choice” is a perfect example of the way society has dehumanized unborn life. It is the same principle at play when someone says, “I am personally against abortion but I don’t want to deny another woman that right.” Sorry to shatter your carefully crafted illusion, my open-minded friend, but you are not then personally against abortion. You just won’t have one yourself.
Those who try to turn the mother into a victim by lamenting society’s lack of resources for the disabled are so breathtakingly hypocritical, or naive, that I have to wonder if they even believe their own words, or are simply spouting a script prepared for them generations ago by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote the majority decision in Buck v. Bell, the case that authorized the sterilization of the “mentally impaired.” He stated in one chilling passage, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
For the woman or man who thinks it’s OK to abort a fetus that would grow into what we once called “Mongoloid,” Holmes’ reasoning makes sense.
I believe the real reason people oppose this bill is because they are afraid to open Pandora’s Box. Once the lid comes off, it will reveal the stark barbarity of abortion taken to the extreme: a desire to eliminate the random imperfections and inconveniences of life. Just like Justice Holmes and his fear of imbeciles.
My friend Kurt Kondrich shares that opinion. He is the father to beautiful Chloe, who was diagnosed with Down in utero. He observes, “It is time to stop the ultimate form of bigotry: terminating individuals who do not meet the cultural mandate for perfection.”
I am thrilled that Pennsylvania is poised to turn our opinions into incontrovertible fact.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at [email protected].