Have You Considered the False Implications of Your View?
At the end of a recent post on Snopes.com addressing the veracity of claims that abortion is now the number one cause of death in the world, the author of the article excerpted a New York Times (NYT) editorial raising concerns about the implications of pro-life legal advocacy in an effort to undermine the legitimacy of laws that treat unborn life as fully human and worthy of moral protection. From the original NYT piece:
You might be surprised to learn that in the United States a woman coping with the heartbreak of losing her pregnancy might also find herself facing jail time. Say she got in a car accident in New York or gave birth to a stillborn in Indiana: In such cases, women have been charged with manslaughter.
In fact, a fetus need not die for the state to charge a pregnant woman with a crime. Women who fell down the stairs, who ate a poppy seed bagel and failed a drug test or who took legal drugs during pregnancy — drugs prescribed by their doctors — all have been accused of endangering their children.
So what motivates these prosecutions? The reality is that, in many cases, these women are collateral damage in the fight over abortion. As the legal debate over a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy has intensified, so too has the insistence of anti-abortion groups that fertilized eggs and fetuses be granted full rights and the protection of the law — an extreme legal argument with little precedent in American law before the 1970s.
The NYT editorial board is asking a legitimate question. Have we considered the implications of our view that the unborn ought to be treated as full members of the human family? In rare cases, they allege, women face intrusive prosecution while enduring the personal tragedy of losing an unborn child. These are the kinds of things, admittedly rarely per the editorial board, which can happen when my personal views about life are implemented into law.
But first let’s do something I advise every young person I work with to do when evaluating current events and online dialogues; follow the links. If those situations are as they have been characterized then I need to answer for them. But are they? Does this list represent genuine injustices that exist by the extension of my views on the unborn? When asking if I have considered the implications of my view, it is necessary that those scenarios honestly represent a logical end of accepting my view.
In two short paragraphs the NYT editorial board offers two examples of criminal charges being filed and three examples of women being suspected of and investigated for wrong doing. I would argue that four of the five examples clearly fail to support the case the editorial board attempts to make. In fact, referencing those incidents represents either a failure of the NYT editorial board to understand legitimate connections or the practice of outright dishonesty in framing them as implications of the view that unborn life has value.
Was the woman who lost her child in a car accident the victim of overly intrusive laws? I read the dismissal linked in the article and the details offer a different story. The woman in question crossed a double line causing a head on collision that killed two people in the other car. Her child, with which she 34 weeks pregnant, was delivered via emergency c-section and later died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The woman appears to have NOT been wearing a seatbelt and charges were filed that she was driving under the influence of prescription drugs and alcohol. The prosecutors also indicted her for speeding and using her mobile phone at the time of accident. This is not meant to indict the woman but to clarify that this situation went a bit beyond a simple car accident with tragic results. Even if we don’t agree with her sole conviction being on the count of recklessly endangering her unborn child by failing to wear a seatbelt (a conviction later overturned on appeal), it is not a wild act of governmental intrusion to consider the child among the victims when legally sorting out this mess. This fact is supported by the dissenting judge’s opinion on the appeals court.
How about the woman who gave birth to a stillborn in Indiana? She admitted to abusing methamphetamines, fentanyl, clonazepam, and diphenhydramine while pregnant. She said she knew she was pregnant for a month while continuing to abuse drugs. You may personally not like criminal prosecutions of this sort, but it isn’t a simple case of overzealous prosecution after a miscarriage.
The poppy seed bagel incident is related to absurdly low thresholds of morphine in the blood triggering investigations during childbirth because some hospitals have failed to move their thresholds up in accordance with federal government standards that would preclude poppy seed bagels impacting the results. Her born child was kept for observations, and she was cleared of wrongdoing. It is so unrelated to abortion that the article linked features another anecdote about a male corrections facility officer who lost his job because of the same failed test due to poppy seed bagel contamination. This is a problem, but not one that stems from laws protecting the unborn.
The woman mentioned with the doctor prescribed drugs was accused of using methamphetamines after a positive test during the birth of her son apparently caused by albuterol. Her newborn was tested and found negative for meth, the nurses were jerks, the CPS worker assured her he didn’t think she was a drug abuser and then a few weeks later, during which time no one contacted or harassed her, she received a phone call that she was cleared. Considering the entire incident took place during and after birth, I fail to see how this involves pro-life views of the unborn. The hospital was concerned her born child would suffer the consequences of possible meth abuse during pregnancy and her breast-feeding as a meth abuser. There was nothing at all mentioned about feticide or fetal abuse.
Not a single one of those is a simple case of intrusive laws generated through a legal over concern for the unborn
The woman who fell down the stairs was investigated because after falling down the stairs she told the nurse attending her that she was getting a divorce and ambivalent about the unborn child. The nurse interpreted this as an indication that the fall down the stairs was intentional, and the woman was arrested for attempted feticide. This one case correctly falls into the category as an implication for my view. The NYT editorial board labels these cases admittedly rare; so rare, in fact, that only one of the five they specifically mentioned was actually relevant. Lest someone argue that these abuses would multiply I must emphasize that these are already rare where laws respecting the value of unborn are actively in place.
In his wonderful book Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity, Leon Kass discusses the idea that all ethical systems create messy areas when applied to society as actual law; all of them. There are strange cases, hard questions, and legal abuses no matter what view of life we champion. Is it possible that an overzealous nurse could trigger a series of events where a woman is treated unjustly in a system that values the lives of the unborn? Yes. Just as any system that values any other priority will be open to a different type of problem.
Is the NYT editorial board suggesting that deliberately acting in a manner that harms or kills our offspring through things like drug abuse or reckless endangerment is just a choice we are allowed to make without additional consequences as long as it is minimally one second before birth that the fatal injury occurs? Would they suggest we go such lengths to stop what they characterize as rare cases? As Francis Beckwith says, we craft law from the norms not the exceptions. There may be a time to run a red light, but that doesn’t mean that we should get rid of stop lights altogether.
Let’s balance this rare injustice against the implications for being wrong on the most important question, “What is the unborn?” If they are fully human, then we include them in our moral considerations while recognizing no ethical system can be applied to a society without some hard questions and outlier cases. The argument that we must be free to terminate the lives of more than a million unborn humans a year in the United Sates in order to protect a small number of women from rare abuses of prosecutorial authority is clearly flawed. In fact, if the best arguments inform us that the unborn are like us in morally important ways, that argument isn’t laudable empathy for women. It is monstrous inhumanity.