Every now and then I get a comment that requires so much time and research to respond to that I decide, what the hell, I might as well write a post. Well, folks, the “Chao-Chou’s Dog Has Puppies” post attracted such comments, beginning with #72:
I could only read the post and about 1/3rd of the comments before getting depressed at the lack of liberal understanding in regards to the pro-life position. Yes, the exact point that a fertilized egg becomes “Fred” is ambiguous, and the morality of destroying that fertilized egg is hazy, and that’s why we had a large myriad of nuanced laws dealing with different aspects of abortion in different parts of the country before Roe v. Wade came along and wiped all of them out and said, in effect, that as long as the baby’s head hasn’t been exposed to air, then vacuuming his or her brains out is fair game. This shouldn’t be an either/or situation, where you either have complete restriction on abortion or no real restrictions at all. Let the states decide.
I answered this comment (#73) but I want to add a bit to the answer. In particular, I want to address the “let the states decide” nonsense.
In the United States, we have these things called “rights” that all levels of government (since the 14th Amendment, anyway) must respect. For example, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. This means Alabama can’t reinstate slavery even if 100 percent of the state legislature votes for it. And the 4th Amendment protects a “right of the people to be secure in their persons,” meaning state governments cannot dictate to a citizen (say, a pregnant woman) what medical procedures she may or may not have (for example, abortion or childbirth) without some kind of court order. The legislature cannot circumvent the 4th by writing a law that says the state can search and seize personal property whenever it wants to, for example. Such matters are off limits no matter how big a majority of the voters might want such laws passed.
I have already posted arguments (here, for example) why I think the Constitution does protect a right of privacy that includes the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion. I am not going to repeat those arguments now. If you want more arguments, head on over to Lawyers, Guns & Money. Scott Lemieux of L, G & M (whom I have met; in person he’s so intensely bright he makes me feel dim) has accumulated a substantial opus of Roe v. Wade posts. See, for example, “Roe Was Right (Part I)” and “Roe Was Right (Part II)“. If you enjoy those, you might also like “Roe Was Right (Part III).”
Now, as for the “myriad of [sic] nuanced laws” about abortion that allegedly graced the states before Roe, I refer you to this Alan Guttmacher report, “Lessons from Before Roe: Will Past be Prologue?” In a nutshell, the “nuance” was as follows: In 33 states, abortion was illegal in all circumstances. In 13 states, various provisions had been made for medical necessity. It had been legalized in 4 states.
As I wrote in my comments, “nuanced, my ass.”
As for “This shouldn’t be an either/or situation, where you either have complete restriction on abortion or no real restrictions at all,” in fact Roe v. Wade provides for a number of restrictions, including a complete ban on elective post-viability abortions.
Now, also in my response to the post above, I provided a link to this post, which refers to the Alan Guttmacher report linked above, which says,
Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. One analysis, extrapolating from data from North Carolina, concluded that an estimated 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions occurred in 1967.
(Now, the Guttmacher Institute is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, which I realize to some people is a partisan organization. However, both the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control use Guttmacher data in their reports and consider it to be as reliable as anybody else’s data.)
The commenter responded,
I did some googling, and it seems like your stats in the other post are way off. “1.2 million illegal abortions” a year before Roe v. Wade is at the extreme high-end of the possible estimates, and it includes miscarriages. I found an abstract for a paper called “An objective model for estimating criminal abortions and its implications for public policy” here:
. . . and, from what I can gather, it seems like a scholarly work that estimates that there were between “a low of 39,000 [illegal abortions] in 1950 to a high of 210,000 in 1961, or an average of 98,000 a year” and that, after Roe v. Wade, the total number of abortions increased six to eleven times, and that, strangely enough, the number of illegal abortions only dipped a little bit.
The “scholarly work” is an abstract of a paper written in 1981 by people I’ve never heard of. Without seeing the entire work I have no idea where they got their numbers, but I suspect they counted only illegal abortions that were actually documented as such at the time they were performed. Meaning, they were only counting a tiny part of the actual abortions going on at the time.
[Update: Alert reader Jeffrey Rowland discovered the “scholarly work” was sponsored by “Americans United for Life.” So much for that.]
Any number anyone comes up with is an estimate. But when you consider that that in 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for incomplete abortions — just one hospital, and no doubt those were only a fraction of the women who aborted in the area served by the hospital — then a “high” of 210,000 abortions nationwide seems a tad low. (Women in more affluent neighborhoods got safer abortions and were less likely to turn up in hospital emergency rooms.)
As for, “strangely enough, the number of illegal abortions only dipped a little bit” — strangely enough, after Roe, the number of women who turned up in emergency rooms with complications from back-alley abortions just about stopped. And which abortions were “illegal” after Roe, pray tell? I think someone is confused.
The total number of abortions per year did go up after Roe v. Wade (although not “six to eleven times”). This is a phenomenon that seems to nearly always happen when abortions are legalized; the rate goes up for a time, and then settles back down again in a few years. (See “Sharing Responsibility: Women, Society and Abortion Worldwide [PDF] Report on unplanned pregnancy and abortion around the world” [Alan Guttmacher, June 1999] pp.28-29.) This happened in the U.S.; rates began to come down around 1990 and declined steadily through the 1990s.
The fact remains that making abortion illegal doesn’t stop abortion. We see this in nations throughout the world; there is no correlation between abortion law and abortion rate. I wrote about this at length here. And the fact remains that where abortion is illegal women will, in desperation, abort themselves or submit to back-alley abortions that are enormously dangerous. And some of them will suffer permanent injury. And some of them will die.
Finally, we get this brilliant argument:
Honestly, I have more animosity towards Roe v. Wade than I do towards abortion. And my animosity stems from the fact that it was an authoritarian, anti-democratic decision that has polarized this country in a terrible way.
Look at it this way — Christians probably think abortion and prostitution are about equally bad. I mean, one of the ten commandments is about adultery. However, do you see hundreds of thousands of people marching to Nevada every year to protest legalized prostitution? No. I posit that the reason why is that prostitution hasn’t been forced on the entire country, and that the only areas that have legalized it are those communities that are okay with it.
That’s exactly what people said about Brown v. Board of Education, you know. Are you old enough to remember the years in which school desegregation had the whole nation up in arms? I am. I believe it was a worse conflagration than what was caused by Roe. (See also “The Long Tentacles of Conservative Revisionism” by Scott Lemieux.) By your logic, we should have maintained Jim Crow laws because declaring them unconstitutional got so many people riled up (and hollering about “states’ rights”).
Sometimes liberty and justice get messy. Deal with it.
Update: See also August J. Pollak.