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Roe v. Wade

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Today is the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. I have a lot of mixed feelings on the subject of abortion, but I am pro-choice in the sense that I do not want to see abortion be illegal. Among my fairly close relatives, there are women who have had an abortion; women who have placed a child for adoption–in pretty much every permutation: closed adoption but reunited with the child later, closed adoption but never (to date) reunited with the child, somewhat open adoption, completely open adoption; women who have raised their child alone. We also have family members who are adopted (not just my kids).

I have an abortion story, but it is not mine. However, I have told it once before, to a limited audience, and I think it’s time to tell it again.
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She was 15 years old. She lived in a small Midwestern town, in a Catholic family, in the days before Roe v. Wade. The only sex education she ever had was what she saw on the farm. When she had her first period, a couple or three years before, she had no idea what it was and thought she was dying; when she turned to an older girl for help, she learned what it meant and how to take care of it.

When the cute older guy at school asked her out, she was flattered. When he said, “This is what people do on dates,” she went along. When she didn’t get her next period, she was terrified.

She couldn’t tell her parents. The boy never spoke to her after that first date. She had nowhere to go.

I don’t know who told her about someone in town who took care of this problem for unmarried women (and, I’m sure, for some married women whose health or finances couldn’t withstand another child). She didn’t tell anyone about her problem, but that name undoubtedly was whispered among the girls and young women of the town, as such names were in small towns and big cities throughout the country. Fortunately, this name belonged to a real doctor. And so she had a safe, but highly illegal, abortion.

Later she married and had children. She always felt guilt, but she never felt regret, for the abortion. “What else could I have done? What would have become of me?” Certainly she would not have married the man she did, and therefore she would not have had the children she had.

She never, in her whole life, told anyone this story–except me. She’s gone now. Everyone who knew her then is gone. I’m not sure there is no one who will judge her, if they read this story. But [before the one time I shared it] I kept this confidence for nearly forty years, and it’s time the story was told.

She was my mother.

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What I really want is changes in society so that–just for starters (not in order of priority): (1) no woman or girl (because I don’t care if she can physically get pregnant, most 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds are still “girls,” and some who are older as well) is stigmatized because she is pregnant; (2) families are more fluid, so that open adoption is common; (3) resources are available for a woman or girl to raise a child on her own, and to continue her education if she chooses; (4) birth control is easily available, and its use is the norm among sexually active people; (5) people with disabilities are fully accepted members of society, and families with a child with a disability get the help and support they need. Those changes would go a long way in reducing the number of abortions.

When Does Life Begin?

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When does life begin? It sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? Certainly it is a question to which one could give at least one’s personal opinion.

Not so fast. At least when asked in regard to abortion issues, “When does life begin?” is a smokescreen, a red herring, a trick question. It’s a “gotcha” waiting to happen.

Even scientists do not fully agree on what constitutes “life.” But by most definitions I can find, a single sperm cell or a single ovum, qualifies, as do most other single cells in the human body. Is that what the questioner means? Probably not.

Rephrase it perhaps, to “When does human life begin?” Not very helpful, as too general. OK, then, how about “When does a discrete human life begin?” Better.

Let’s posit that a discrete human life begins when sperm and ovum join. But wait! What if that entity later splits into two, producing identical twins? Did two discrete human lives begin when a single sperm and ovum joined? Did that single entity possess two lives? Or is one the original life, and the other just a copy? If so, which is which?

But that doesn’t really matter for abortion discussions, because it still isn’t the question that is actually being asked. That question is “When does a human life begin that is entitled not to be ended by another’s deliberate action?”* And that is the question on which people differ. Some say when the sperm and ovum unite, some say when the embryo is implanted, some say when life outside the womb is technically possible, some say at birth. Some say only when the life is wanted by the woman incubating it. Some at the radical ends argue either for the life-sacredness of the individual sperm and ovum or for the “right to life” not beginning until some period of time after birth.

It is a question that has occupied years of thought on the part of philosophers, theologians, and legal scholars. It is a question on which not all of them have decided on an answer, and of those who have, their answers do not agree. Small wonder, then, if the occasional person not able to devote their life to the question has not decided on an answer.

And then: it is a question regarding which some people are willing to impose their answer on everyone, and others are not.

*The obvious corollary is “When does a human life cease being entitled not to be ended by another’s deliberate action?” but this essay is not about war, self-defense, removing life support, capital punishment, etc.

The Hobby Lobby SCOTUS Decision

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The corporate structure separates the business entity from the human owners, among other things protecting them from personal liability. That’s the reason the structure exists. I cannot make sense of a viewpoint that says the owners are not the corporation and so have no personal liability under the law, but that allows the corporation to¬† enforce their personal religious viewpoints in ways that evade the law.

If this evasion is allowed, where does it end? It isn’t just the extension of this in other areas of medicine. There are, for example, religious beliefs that oppose payment of taxes. There are religious beliefs that once a woman is married, or a married woman has her first child, she should stay at home and not be in the workplace. What will now prevent corporations whose owners have such religious beliefs from declining to pay their taxes or from refusing to hire married women?

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