Since our Constitution forbids the establishment of an official government religion, and guarantees the right of personal decision-making regardless of one’s actual choices, it’s clear that government has no authority to criminalize abortion.
If the religion you choose to follow forbids you from having an abortion, don’t have one. If you feel upset that other people have abortions, you have the right to comfort yourself with any private behaviors you wish, religious or material.
Of course, this being a country that guarantees freedom of expression, everyone has the right to try to persuade others not to have an abortion.
The Supreme Court recently upheld the right of states to criminalize certain types of abortion. The reasoning of the 5-4 majority included its desire to protect adult women from making choices they might later regret, placing the Court squarely in the mainstream of 19th-century thinking.
Many people were outraged at this theft of the basic American right to control one’s destiny free of government interference (something Conservatives claim they desire). And I still read opinions resenting a group of men (the five male justices) telling women what they can do with their own bodies—as if the judges’ maleness interfered with their reasoning, or as if women needed some special sympathy in order to secure their rights as Americans.
I cringe at any suggestion that male judges have less wisdom, or less right, to rule on abortion. The idea that these Justices might have decided differently if they’d ever been pregnant is bad for our courts. The right to an abortion should not depend on compassion for women whose lives are destroyed by government interference. It should derive, instead, from the recognition that the American covenant gives each adult enormous privileges, and that everyone’s rights depend on each of us tolerating everyone else’s private decisions, whether we like them or not. That’s one of the things we need government for—guaranteeing everyone’s rights by making sure that everyone tolerates everyone else’s private decisions.
The anti-choice movement knows that abortion isn’t a “woman’s issue.” They see it as a moral issue—which is fundamentally wrong—but as such, they perceive the issue as affecting men and women equally. Not only is that concept intellectually richer, it’s more powerful politically.
Unwanted pregnancy obviously affects millions of women every year, and is a heart-breaking cry for comprehensive education about sexuality, and cultural acceptance of what sex is like in real people’s lives.
But unwanted pregnancy dramatically affects millions of men every year. Shotgun weddings, forced parenting obligations, loss of relationships, destroyed dreams—these are the common results. American men also need the option of terminating their unwanted pregnancies. The question of what to do when a couple disagree about whether to have an abortion is complex—and not the point. Every couple has the right to the option, whether they choose it or not.
Responsible adults know that contraception isn’t just a woman’s responsibility. And it’s now fashionable to say “we’re pregnant” instead of “I’m pregnant” or “she’s pregnant.”
Similarly, the availability of abortion is not just a woman’s right. It’s the right of every American involved with a pregnancy that she or he wishes to terminate.
Thinking of abortion as a “woman’s issue” helps obscure the Constitutional issue involved. It trivializes the sexual behavior that creates the need for an abortion, and vastly understates the consequences of depriving people of this medical care. It suggests that people who are old, infertile, gay, or asexual have no stake in the issue. And it accepts the idea that reasonable people would care more about rights we might ourselves exercise than about our other rights.
Whether you have an abortion or not, that idea is bad for democracy.