I must confess to being almost militantly ambivalent about the matter of abortion as discussed in the United States. I cannot passionately take a side one way or another, being suspicious of both sides’ arguments. Pro-lifers strike me as all too invested in the kind of collective morality/sanctifcation that Jakob Kaplan described as being the essence of the confessional polity — the community that fails to see a distinction between church and state — that seeks to avoid God’s wrath on the community by punishing or forbidding sinfulness. (This, I believe, is the motive for most of the Protestant pro-life movement.) I also understand that, law or not, people have limited family size by killing or abandoning unborns and newborns (abandoned babies were one of the major sources of slaves in the Greco-Roman world). It is one of the horrible realities of human existence that will not change this side of Eden or the eschaton, no matter how much we want it to. God’s love is infinite. Human love is significantly more finite.
Every argument on behalf of state-imposed population control rejects the concept of individual self-ownership and assumes that human lives – individually and in the aggregate – are a resource to be managed by society’s supervisors on behalf of the “common good.” And, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg correctly intuited in 1973, the Roe vs. Wade decision was a triumph, albeit an incomplete one, for the cause of eugenicist population control.
Although it was swaddled in the language of individual empowerment, the Roe decision was a dramatic victory for collectivism: It enshrined, in what our rulers are pleased to call the “law,” the assumption that a human individual is a “person” only when that status is conferred by the government.
While Harry Blackmun’s opinion in Roe pointedly avoided the question of when “personhood” begins, it emphatically made it clear that, for purposes of “law,” that the term doesn’t apply to any human individual in his or her pre-natal stage of development. This, not the liberty to procure an abortion, is the real gravamen, or central legal finding, in the Roedecision: It put the government in charge of defining who is, and isn’t a person.