Curtis Harris
September 14, 2003
Solving real problems -- Abortion
By Curtis Harris

In the original column on Solving Real Problems, I identified the abortion issue as the best example of the failure of our entrenched political leaders to do the hard work of civil society. In this column, I want to show that reasonable people can resolve the abortion issue by remaining faithful to the principles of our founding documents, natural law and common sense.

Abortion is a controversial and divisive issue in American society. Entrenched politicians use the abortion issue to ensure the support of many of their constituents. Some voters make decisions solely on the abortion question. Unqualified and unfit candidates, solely due to their position on this issue, win elections. Meanwhile the politicians are content to let the issue fester. Allowing Roe v. Wade to remain "settled law" guarantees an on-going issue politicians use to manipulate voters. If our political leaders did their jobs by leading our society to a solution, they would eliminate a permanent source of political support. They put political self-interest before the health of our civil society.

Roe v. Wade is a result of the failure of our civil society to cope with social progress. Unplanned pregnancies did not begin during the 1960s sexual revolution. Nor did abortions. However, old coping methods, however inadequate, broke down as our society became more sexually permissive and less inhibited about openly discussing sexual issues. I was a hormone-addled teenager at the time, resulting in a skewed memory of the situation, but I do think our society missed an opportunity to deal constructively with the changes. Lack of proper action by leaders in American government, religion and education resulted in the Supreme Court decision, as well as the ensuing years of controversy and dysfunctional politics. At any time before or after Roe v. Wade, our political leaders could have solved the problem. They have not.

Resolving the abortion issue would not have been easy. Neither was putting a man on the Moon or defeating global communism. However, it was and is still possible. We need leaders on both sides of the issue, and those in-between, to put aside political self-interest and do the hard work necessary to heal our civil society.

Imagine, for a moment, that we have genuine leaders in the Congress of the United States. They recognize two facts. First, the Supreme Court violated its constitutional role by making new law in the Roe v. Wade decision. Second, it is their responsibility to legislate the resolution of the abortion question in order to create a more healthy civil society. As a result, they form a commission to draft the legislation. The commission is composed of responsible people representing all sides of the issue. They understand the importance of their mission and that compromise will be necessary to accomplish it.

What follows is my idea for the imaginary commission's conclusions that form the basis for the draft legislation:

  1. As stated in the Declaration of Independence, the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" establish the principles that guide all legitimate human law, including any abortion law. The human reproductive process is an expression of natural law and, therefore, is a result of God's design. People perform the physical act that triggers the reproductive process, but it is God's process. Natural law theory says life begins at conception because the "nature" of the embryo is human. That is, left to run its course in the reproductive process, the embryo/fetus will grow to be a child. The embryo/fetus is not able to live independent of the mother, but the mother's natural role is part of God's design and of the reproductive process.

  2. The prevention of unplanned pregnancy is in the best interest of individuals, families and societies. In the general case, American society has all the resources necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Parents have the first opportunity to make sure their children have a solid moral foundation, know the facts of their sexuality and understand their responsibilities when they choose to become sexually active. Schools, community groups and religious organizations can support parents by providing sound moral guidance and factual education.

  3. God designed people to be intelligent beings with free will and responsibility for their actions. In the general case, individual people decide to engage in the act that can trigger the reproductive process. When there is a pregnancy, the father and mother, in keeping with their natural roles, are responsible to God for the embryo/fetus/child. Within human society, the parents and the embryo/fetus/child have rights and responsibilities defined by the laws of the society. As with all aspects of family life, and especially with the abortion question, the issue is properly framed as 'In a free society, when is it appropriate for society to impose its laws over the freedom and judgment of parents?' In determining the answer to that question, society must recognize the practical limits on the regulation of human behavior. When laws go beyond those limits, even for good reasons, the problems and unintended consequences that result outweigh any benefit of the regulation. Therefore, for the first three months of a pregnancy, any decisions regarding the embryo/fetus/child are between the parents, their families, and their God.

  4. Society does have a positive role to play during the first three months of an unplanned pregnancy. Society can promote adoption as the first option and, wherever possible, eliminate the practical and financial obstacles to it. Both parents must be involved in any decision. When either one of the parents is a minor, his or her parents, or properly appointed guardians, must be notified and have a role in any decision.

  5. After three months, the natural rights of the child, and the society's responsibility to protect those rights, take precedence over the family's freedom. Beyond this point, abortion is illegal. The only exception is to prevent consequential (permanent) damage to the physical health of the mother. However, by banning abortion, society assumes additional responsibility for the child. In cases where the parents are unfit or unable, the child has disabilities, or the child is the result of rape or incest, society must provide for the child so that the child has as equal an opportunity for a good life as any child of similar ability does in a traditional family.

  6. There is a difference between mistakes and irresponsible or criminal behavior. People who create repeated unwanted pregnancies by failing to use good judgment and available contraceptive methods should suffer appropriate legal penalties, including sterilization. The penalties for rape and incest should be so severe that there is no possibility of repeat offenders.

My imaginary conclusions are probably incomplete. They are probably somewhat different from the real result from a real commission. However, I do think they demonstrate the possibility for a resolution of the abortion issue in American society. All we lack is the leadership. Replacing career politicians with citizen legislators is a great place to start.

© Curtis Harris

 

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