A Woman’s Right to Choose



By Nick Gier (Jan. 20, 2006)


See Gier’s full abortion
discussion at this link



During his confirmation hearings many Americans
were relieved to hear that John Roberts believes that the Constitution contains
a right to privacy.  He also considers Roe vs. Wade to be "settled law." 
In recent hearings to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, Samuel
Alito agreed with Roberts on the first point but not on the second.


O’Connor is the author of the significant proviso
"no undue burden," which
limits the state’s power to restrict a woman’s right to choose.  In one decision
O’Connor ruled that it was indeed an "undue burden" that a woman must get her
husband’s permission to have an abortion.  In a dissent in the
Third District Court of Appeals Judge Alito argued
that any state has a right to require a woman to do just that.


right of privacy is not specifically granted in the Constitution, but it is
strongly implied therein.  Americans have an inalienable right to hold their own
beliefs, to act according to the dictates of their own consciences, and the
"right . . . to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. . ." (Fourth
Amendment). The right of privacy follows from the basic American belief that
people are autonomous beings, which means that they have a right to determine
their own lives without government interference.


During the Alito hearings there was grandstanding from both sides of the aisle,
but the worst offender was Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.  Coburn repeatedly
said that facts about the fetus should compel the Supreme Court to
overturn Roe vs. Wade. To bolster his argument Coburn added he had
delivered 4,000 babies in his career as an obstetrician.


I’ve taught over 6,000 students and I hope that they have better reasoning
skills than the good senator.  Coburn stated that the early fetus has brain
waves and a heart beat, but animal fetuses have these as well.  What makes
humans morally and legally different from animals is that they are persons, not
just biological entities. 
Our moral, religious, and legal tradition has held that persons are rational
beings, who are able to determine their own lives significantly different from
the ways they guide their children or control their animals.  Several footnotes
to Roe vs. Wade reference this long tradition, and I believe that
the justices had sufficient reason to rule that the early fetus is not a person.


At the beginning of the third trimester, the fetal brain undergoes explosive
brain development. At 25 weeks the brain cells are very poorly connected and the
neocortex, the center of higher brain function, is undeveloped.  At 33 weeks
those same cells have thousands of connections and the neocortex has the six
layers of the mature brain. 
The fetal brain at 33 weeks is significantly different from most animal brains, which can form
the physical basis for protecting the legal rights of a "beginning person," a
being with a serious moral right to life but not the duties
of an adult person.


This argument is far superior to
fetal viability, a criterion that, as Senator Coburn pointed out, is vulnerable
to technological advances in preserving the lives of premature fetuses. Fetal
brain development will not change except for major and immoral genetic
engineering. A critic might say
that this focus on brain power would make those with mental deficiencies
non-persons.  Even though the average IQ for microcephalics is 10, they still have a
mental life greater than the late term fetus. Those with
Down Syndrome have an
average IQ of 50, but their problems are
due to brain metabolism not the amount of neo-cortex
they have
. Many of these people are conscientious
employees and some of them get
married, taking on the duties of full fledged adults.


My argument gives
expectant mothers the same six months’ freedom from
state interference but with a stronger legal foundation. There is also a nice
logical symmetry between starting a person’s life at this point and then legally
ending it when the brain no longer functions. It’s also imperative to note that
88 percent of all American abortions occur within 13 weeks of conception, long
before any major elements of a person’s life develop. 
Only 1.4 percent of all abortions occur after 20 weeks.

Many claim that
abortions cause health problems for women who choose them.  A 2003 study done
by the National Cancer Institute found that there was no connection between
abortion and the incidence of breast cancer.  In 1989 the American Psychological
Association published a study that concluded that there was no such thing as
"post-abortion syndrome."  Nada Stotland, former president of the Association of
Women Psychiatrists, states that "the incidence of diagnosed psychiatric illness
and hospitalization is considerably lower following abortion than following

Abortion opponents
do very little to support the social services and accurate information that
would make abortions safer, earlier, and rarer, as is the case in most other
industrialized countries.  For example, in Belgium and the Netherlands there are
7 abortions per 1,000 women in 1995 as opposed to 23 per 1,000 in the U.S.  Our
legislators also do very little to improve the socio-economic conditions that
would allow single mothers to raise their babies successfully.
A recent survey demonstrated that anti-abortion states lag far behind others in
supporting foster care, education, welfare, and the child adoption.


The most horrendous
effects on female health are found in countries that do not allow reproductive
freedom, and the Bush administration’s restrictions on family planning in
foreign aid are making this problem worse.  With a little over half the
population, Brazilian women have more abortions than American women do.
"Columbia averages . . . more than one abortion per woman
over all of her fertile years. In Peru the average is nearly two abortions per
woman . . . (New York Times Editorial, 1/6/06). In
countries where abortion is illegal there were an average 35 abortions per 1,000
women in 1995.


There are also
examples of irresponsible reproductive freedom.   Current and former Communist
states encouraged abortion rather than contraception and effective sex
education.  In the 1995 there were 78 abortions per 1,000 in Cuba and 90 per
1,000 in Eastern Europe. Except for these countries, the rate of abortion
appears to be directly proportional to the restrictions placed on sex education
and reproductive freedom.


Roe vs. Wade
turned 33 on January 22, and we should heed the results of a recent Harris Poll:
70 percent said that they would oppose Alito if he intends to overturn this
landmark decision. The choice for America is clear.  We can continue to protect
a woman’s right to determine her own life, or we can deny her this right and
force her to face unhealthy and sometimes deadly alternatives to safe, legal


Nick Gier taught
religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years.  For more on
the topic see www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/abortion.htm.


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