Unspun Logo

Roe v. McGroarty

Posted by Rick · August 6th, 2004 · 10 Comments

Periodically, while reviewing log files, something will catch my eye. Typically, it’s something like the number of visits a particular post is getting from the Department of Justice or someone on the “fbi.gov” website. Once in awhile, it’s another blogger.

Such was the case yesterday, when I ran across the intriquing domain name of McGroarty.net.

Now, I’ve no idea who McGroarty is, or how he or she came to find my blog. McGroarty most likely found me the way I find most other blogs I read: via the improperly-coded and not entirely-aptly-named “Recently Updated” list over at MovableType’s website. (Where they guarantee they will ignore any support requests you submit, even if it’s a simple request to return functionality to the “Recently Updated” list that it had before the also-inaptly-named “upgrade” to the site.)

At any rate, the question “Who’s McGroarty?” is partially answered in the McGroarty.net post “Who’s John Kerry?” From reading this post, McGroarty appears to be possibly “on the fence” and somewhat uncomfortable about voting for Kerry, as opposed to The Man Who Would Be World Dictator (i.e., Bush, for the naive).

In the post, McGroarty notes,

He’s said that he believes life begins at conception, but he won’t say he’s against abortion. His stated reasoning is that he can’t force religious views on people, and religions are against abortion. A doesn’t follow B. If you believe murder is murder, it doesn’t matter whether some religions agree with you. I want to hear him say that if he believes abortion is murder, he’ll work to stop it. If he’s changed his mind and it isn’t murder, let’s hear that too.

And that’s when he/she/they/it got my attention. For as anyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows, I, too, am against abortion. (I’m for forced sterilization in some situations, though, so don’t get too excited.) I don’t, however, consider it “murder.”

Nevertheless, I thought McGroarty’s comment was very interesting. McGroarty seems to think that “A doesn’t follow B” and, given the context, I think it’s safe to assume McGroarty means “Not forcing your views about abortion on people doesn’t follow from the thought that religions are against abortion.” For the moment, at least, we can ignore that not all religions have been shown to be against abortion.

The interesting thing is that McGroarty correctly recognizes that “A doesn’t follow B” here, while simultaneously making the mistake of believing that “A does follow B” when making the jump from “[Kerry] said he believes life begins at conception” to “if he’s changed his mind and it isn’t murder . . . .” Following Gricean principles of conversational implicature, it seems to me that McGroarty clearly believes that not calling abortion “murder,” would indicate that Kerry has “changed his mind” and now thinks that life does not “start at conception.”

But as McGroarty might say, “A doesn’t follow B.” It would be entirely possible to believe that “life” — even human life — begins at conception without believing that ending such life constitutes “murder.”

The now-famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) case of Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113 [93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147] (1973) contains a fairly detailed history of abortion — and views about abortion — running from the time of the Greek physician who is often called “the Father of Medicine,” Hippocrates. Not surprisingly, abortion has been something of a divisive issue from that time until now. The reason? Different religions have taken different views. Also not unsurprisingly — since the majority of Christian beliefs are “heathen” in origin — Hippocrates’ view, considered radical even in ancient Greece and Rome, is the one adopted by the most radical of Christians. Right alongside the oath not to take any life is the oath not to give anyone a medication that will result in an abortion.

Many of you will, however, probably be surprised to learn that abortion was almost never illegal before “quickening” and even after “quickening” was generally not a serious crime, even during times when it was considered a crime at all. “Quickening” was that point at which life began and was usually determined by the movement of the fetus, following the apparent determination by Aquinas that this is when the spirit took up residence in the earthly body which, as all good, but scientifically-ignorant, Christians know, is just a shell we “inhabit.”

Even in the United States of America, it wasn’t until around the 1950s that abortions became generally illegal in the United States. Even then, there were exceptions. (For more, if still a brief, history on abortion, check out the Roe v. Wade decision.) As the Supreme Court noted there,

It perhaps is not generally appreciated that the restrictive criminal abortion laws in effect in a majority of States today are of relatively recent vintage. Those laws, generally proscribing abortion or its attempt at any time during pregnancy except when necessary to preserve the pregnant woman’s life, are not of ancient or even of common-law origin. Instead, they derive from statutory changes effected, for the most part, in the latter half of the 19th century. (Roe v. Wade, supra, 410 U.S. 113, 130.)

The reason for this is that a fetus has almost never been considered to have all the attendant rights of ordinary persons. The Constitution of the United States, in keeping with the thinking of the time, recognizes a “person” only after birth. Thus, for example, citizens are described as a “Person” who is “a natural born Citizen.” (U.S. Const., Art. II, ? 1, Cl 5.)

Praying & Hoping
The radical religious right-wingers who approve at least praying for and hoping for these deaths should recognize a couple of things. Firstly, Matthew 7:5 notes that you should “judge not, that you be not judged.”

This King James Version is actually a misinterpretation. The original meaning of this phrase, somewhat better drawn out by subsequent verses, essentially means that the approach you take to judging another is the same approach that will be taken towards you. Someone else’s opinion doesn’t jive with yours, so you hope and pray for his or her death. And when your view doesn’t match with that of some vocal minority, should that same measure be applied to you?

If you’ll recall, in Jesus’ time, adulterous women (not men) were stoned according to the law G-d gave to Moses. In John, chapter 8, the Pharisees, well aware of this, brought such a woman to Jesus and asked, “What should we do with her?” For those who more often use the Bible as a weapon than read it, John 8:7 reports that Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (Nowhere in the law G-d gave to Moses did he indicate this requirement, by the way, yet I don’t think most Americans would accept the idea that G-d wants us stoning people for adultery. How ironic that the man credited with starting Christianity did so by changing what G-d had said to suit his own philosophy!)

At any rate, what applies to the prostitute must surely apply to those who work in abortion clinics. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a bomb at them”; or beat, shoot, harass, or otherwise create difficult for them for not living according to your interpretation of G-d’s rules.

Many people who have no problem whatsoever arguing that abortion doctors or other already living humans who work in clinics should die, nevertheless insist that a mass of cells constituting a potential human must be protected — even to the point of murdering adult humans. What they fail to recognize is that it’s not okay to work for — it’s not even okay to pray and hope for — the death of adult humans merely because they don’t share our beliefs.

Recognizing this, the United States Supreme Court began its discussion of abortion in Roe v. Wade. by quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:

[The Constitution] is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States. (Roe v. Wade, supra, 410 U.S. 113, 117.)

What many people don’t realize is that in accommodating these disparate views within an appropriate constitutional framework, Roe v. Wade, so reviled among anti-abortionists today, does not provide carte blanche to those who desire abortions; it does not forbid governmental regulation of abortion. In fact, Roe is more correctly seen as another of many arguments concerning the right of individual human beings to privacy and the control of their own freedom to live — that same freedom that, abrogated in other countries, allows radical Christianity to flourish in the United States.

After the Supreme Court noted that “at the time of the adoption of our Constitution, and throughout the major portion of the 19th century, abortion was viewed with less disfavor than under most American statutes” in effect in the early 1970s and after saying that “a woman enjoyed a substantially broader right to terminate a pregnancy than she does in most States” at the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, the Court discussed the reasons advanced for the change in approach. One of the reasons considered was “the State’s interest — some phrase it in terms of duty — in protecting prenatal life.” (Roe v. Wade, supra, 410 U.S. 113, 140, 150.)

The Court said that it didn’t really matter when life “begins” in deciding whether or not the State had an interest in protecting the unborn.

In assessing the State’s interest, recognition may be given to the less rigid claim that as long as at least potential life is involved, the State may assert interests beyond the protection of the pregnant woman alone. (Roe v. Wade, supra, 410 U.S. 113, 150; emphasis in the original.)

The Court then embarked on a discussion of privacy rights under the Constitution. (I urge you to read this. It has significant impact on your rights today; it’s not just about pregnant women seeking abortions.)

And during that discussion, the Court — more than once — said:

[I]t is reasonable and appropriate for a State to decide that at some point in time another interest, that of health of the mother or that of potential human life, becomes significantly involved. The woman’s privacy is no longer sole and any right of privacy she possesses must be measured accordingly. (Roe v. Wade, supra, 410 U.S. 113, 159.)

Rather than fighting tooth and nail to overturn Roe, which protects the rights of radical Christians even more than it protects the right to an abortion, this energy would be better spent in considering an appropriate response to limiting abortions in a pluralistic society which does have a rightful interest in protecting potential humans — at least according to Roe v. Wade.

What began this look at Roe was the consideration of whether “A follows B,” as put by McGroarty. If John Kerry — or anyone else — supports the privacy rights and the rights to control over one’s own body and destiny, does it follow from this that they’ve decided murder is okay? The real answer turns out to be that this is the wrong question. Nevertheless, the answer is “no.” It’s no more a murder to abort a fetus than it is a murder to send criminals to the gas chamber (and certainly no more a murder than killing abortion clinic doctors, workers and patients — particularly those carrying the very unborn children anti-abortionists claim to be protecting!). In both cases, the State’s interests must be weighed against the interest of the individual. In the first case, we weigh against the mother’s privacy interests and her right to decide; in the second case, we weigh against a criminal’s right to life under the Constitution.

This recognition leads to the better question: Regardless of who is right and who is wrong about “when life starts,” the real question is “What interest does the State have in regulating abortions?” Clearly — and, again, a good discussion of this occurs in Roe v. Wade — the State has some interest, and some right, in regulating abortion.

In the end, I would submit to fence-sitters — both actual and potential — that whatever your views on abortion, supporting a candidate who doesn’t condone abortion, but wouldn’t restrict it, is a whole lot better than supporting a candidate who is against abortion, but finds it entirely appropriate to trick you into sending your actual sons and daughters to die in the attempt to kill numerous other actual human beings in another country.

Categories: Social Issues


10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark // Aug 6, 2004 at 9:24 am

    Who isn’t “against” abortion? I am about as liberal as they come, and I have never met one person who thinks an abortion is a good idea. I have never met any woman who wanted to get pregnant for the purpose of having an abortion.

    When I was a young man, I sold television advertising for a living. One of my clients back east was an OB/GYN who happened to perform abortions on occasion. Protesters regularly picketed his office. The fact was he delivered dozens, if not more than a hundred, healthy babies for every abortion he performed. This particular man thought abortion was a terrible thing — but something that, at times, was the lesser of two evils. I invited him to speak at my Rotary club, and he told the audience, “I think abortion is terrible. That being said, when a 14-year-old girl comes to me and she is pregnant — what do you want me to do?”

    Those who support a woman’s right to choose support just that — a woman’s right to choose. They are not “for” abortion. They realize, though, that sometimes an abortion may be the lesser of two evils.

    On the other hand, those who call themselves “Right-to-Life” aren’t really concerned about the children. I have never known any of these people to adopt any crack babies. They appear to express no concern over the fact that many children in this country are malnourished, have poor or no health care, and are often in horrendously under-funded schools. Their disregard for the welfare of children in this country is put to shame by their blissful ignorance of the agonies suffered by children in third world countries. In fact, they regularly seek to make sure our government doesn’t educate persons in third world countries about birth control. It’s almost as if they WANT to perpetuate suffering among those already born.

    You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to observe that those who get the most worked-up over what happens between conception and birth typically don’t give a flying flip over what happens between birth and death.

    Those who get worked up about abortion don’t care about the children. Their agenda is about controlling women. They would like to go back to the days when women were considered chattel property. Ask Supreme Court Justice Scalia about the “good old days,” and he’ll talk your ear off about the 1600s.

    When I hear the “Right-to-Lifers” using their rabble-rousing tactics to work for a living wage for working parents, universal health care for children, and better schools — THEN I might be able to take them at their word regarding their supposed concern over the lives of children. Until then, I will continue to see their true agenda for precisely what it is.

  • 2 Rick // Aug 6, 2004 at 9:29 am

    The point about “controlling women” is an interesting one. When I told my wife about the history of abortion in America — particularly noting that it didn’t become the “hot-button” issue that it is today until about the late 1960s/early 1970s — she said, “Hmmmm…that would be about the time of the ‘women’s liberation’ movement, yes?”

  • 3 McGroarty // Aug 7, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    You seem to be missing the forest for the trees here.

    My issue with Kerry is that if he believes that abortion is murder, he should have the conviction to be against that murder. Period.

    The reversals I would be comfortable with would be for him to:

    a) say that he no longer believes that abortion is murder, and that this is why he will not speak out against it

    b) say that he is against abortion as he believes it is murder

    To take a middle position denotes a weakness of character to a degree where I wouldn’t be comfortable with him leading. A leader can give and take, but he cannot create meaningless compromise of being against it, but not against it. This is similar to Kerry responding to questions of how he would handle the war from here on out by saying he’s for a world where the war didn’t happen. It’s a sing-song non-answer that only placates those who aren’t paying attention.

    Moving on… Mark’s logic, in his comment above, isn’t clear to me. I’m against abortion because I don’t believe in murder. Because I believe that a baby is a baby from somewhere in the first few months onward, I believe abortion to be murder.

    This isn’t about controlling women. I believe a woman who doesn’t want babies is fully capable of keeping her legs together, just as I believe a man who doesn’t want to be a father is capable of holding back from procreative acts. To suggest less would be an insult to either. We aren’t dumb animals.

    To address the initial curiosity — I had to ask around to find out how my domain came to be listed in the unspun logs. The answer is that one of my users, who uses my web proxy, was viewing the unspun weblog in order to fix some sort of a weblog change index character encoding issue. (Don’t ask me — I don’t know Greek.)

  • 4 Rick // Aug 8, 2004 at 8:50 am

    Brian, I hope you weren’t offended by my bouncing off your article! It provided a nice opportunity to discuss an important issue without (in my opinion) having to “take on” someone. After all, like you, I’m against abortion.

    The difference between us is that I don’t call it “murder” and I think the choice isn’t mine — or society’s — to make in all situations.

    As I noted, however, Roe doesn’t say that government can never regulate abortion. That was another reason I wanted to write the article: Too many people seem to stand against Roe because it “legalized abortion.” My problem with those opposing Roe is that it’s more accurately thought of as balancing the rights of private citizens against the government and is not limited, in that respect, to the question of abortion. Thus, it’s an important case for reasons not related solely to abortion.

    From your response, I’m wondering if Kerry said something I missed — entirely possible since I haven’t been an avid supporter and thus I haven’t followed him that closely. I don’t recall Kerry saying “abortion is murder.” And so when your post implied that he must have thought it was murder, because he said he was against it, and that now he appears to have changed his mind because he is supporting choice, that didn’t seem to me to follow.

    The other thing is that after growing tired of discussing political issues in a “normal” fashion — that is, just writing purely political articles like so many other blogs carry — I had decided to try to start tying in cases, such as I did here with Roe v. Wade.

    At any rate, I don’t believe I missed the forest for the trees, as you said. I think, at most, I must have missed Kerry saying that abortion is murder. I suppose I’d have to agree with you that if Kerry equated abortion with murder, then he ought to take a firmer stand against it. If, on the other hand, his attitude was similar to the historical attitude towards it that I outlined in the discussion of Roe v. Wade, then I don’t see a problem.

    It’s entirely possible to be against abortion without thinking that abortion is murder. (I suppose it’s also possible to accept that it’s some kind of justifiable homicide, but that strikes me as genuinely odd; I don’t personally know if anyone thinks that way.)

    P.S. I don’t think the comment about “controlling women” was meant to indicate that anyone thinks that is your motivation. My wife just made that comment based on my telling her something about the historical evolution of attitudes toward abortion. Mark, I think, was making general comments about abortion; not necessarily addressing your post particularly.

  • 5 Mark // Aug 8, 2004 at 11:07 am


    You present only two sides of an issue and insist that Kerry choose one.

    Kerry is intelligent and thoughtful enough to know that not all issues have only two sides, and that many issues are too complicated to have answers that can be put on 3×5 cards so that some intellectually-challenged politicians can memorize them.

    I believe that if you consider it carefully, you will be able to see that the abortion issue is very complex and that there are many more than two sides to this particular issue.

  • 6 Mike // Mar 23, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    I think that the very idea that there seems to be an expectation that politicians should choose one of two extremes is a very bad expectation to say the least. In essence, it implies a preference towards extremists, when the Constitution itself was by its very nature a compromise between the founding citizens that drafted it.
    If abortion were a simple issue, then addressing it with extreme A or B stances would be appropriate. I personally think however that any issue that cannot simply be derived down such a simplistic analysis of two sides warrants discussion, analysis, and careful progression.
    I think that the most important component of Rick’s analysis it to point out that Roe v. Wade is not a case/decision that is limited to abortion, and that in fact is what the issue is really about. It is no coincidence that this case happened around the time of women’s liberation, and it should not be restricted to a “women’s lib” issue, especially when reflecting on a time period that saw a massive amount of social change in other ways as well. The case of Roe v. Wade has everything to do with the role of government in the life of individuals. To overturn it would be to severely cripple the rights of the individual versus the goverment.
    It is unwise to look for polarization of ideology in a free country. That is the kind of thinking that creates civil wars. Each individual, as a responsibility of citizenship, should research issues from as many perspectives as they can, and reach the conclusion that the resulting journey of discovery would yield rather than seeking quick decisions from extremist leaders.
    Personally, I want a president that can understand and represent a view that they do not share. That is the sign of a mature person capable of leading a diverse nation.

  • 7 Rick Horowitz // Mar 23, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    Mike, I agree with most of what you said…except for this one thing:

    Although you’re (also) correct that the Constitution was the result of debates and, ultimately, some compromise, I don’t think that justifies going on to say that we should follow that example and “compromise” on certain constitutional issues. In fact, quite the opposite.

    The very reason the Constitution was written was to say, “here are certain rules that delineate how the government will be comprised, which branch will have which powers and what their limits will be.” There’s no question that the Founders compromised with one another in deciding how the government would function and what its limits would be. The result of their compromise, however, was a set of rules that are to be followed.

    Think of it like this: Maybe you decide to play baseball with your friends. Maybe you don’t have enough people to play baseball by the regular “official” rules of baseball. So you agree with each other (compromise) to follow a modified set of rules.

    Once the game has started, however, if someone on one of the teams doesn’t like how a particular rule impacts him, other players will say, “Well, dude, those are the rules we agreed to.”

    The difference is that in the baseball example, we’re not talking life or death, and some people may agree to alter the rules again “mid-game.” But the Constitution only allows that if you follow certain other rules, e.g., the rules for amending the Constitution. And they make it deliberately very hard to change the rules, because, after all, we’re not just talking about a baseball game here — we’re talking about how an entire country functions, including its culture, politics and laws.

  • 8 Mike // Mar 24, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    That really wasn’t my intent, and I agree with you that the Constitution shouldn’t be altered without a very complex process. That is why I strongly oppose Bush’s attempt to ammend the Constitution to deny marriage based on sexual preference. The only point that I was trying to make is that in the political system, extremism should not be the way to drive change. My reference to the Constitution was intended to show that people with differences of opinion can agree to something in the middle, and that the middle ground is generally the best practice. That is why I am disturbed by voters who want politicians that take extreme positions on important social issues. The extreme position is seldom the best course of action, and never represents the group as a whole. When people say that they do not support a politician simply because the politician does not share their extreme views, that bothers me. A person’s ability to lead our country certainly has little to do with their stand on abortion.
    The difficulty with issues like abortion is that people apply reductionism to the issue based only on their own perspective. Mr. McGroarty seems to think that the causative factors that drive abortion are the inability for women to keep their legs closed and for men to keep their equipment put away. This is evidence that he has attempted to reduce the issue of abortion into simpler issues, but the larger issue is not limited to what he has reduced it to. Aside from the fact that I believe that it is dangerous to allow our government to have too much power over our bodies, I am also concerned about the simple fact that there are many reasons why a woman might need an abortion.
    I once knew a woman who was in an abusive marriage. Her husband was the only source of income, and he would not pay for birth control pills or condoms. As a result, she kept getting pregnant and was effectively being raped by her own husband. Did she have a problem keeping her legs closed? Hardly. The real issue is indeed about controlling women. There is a line in the movie “Contact” that I really like. In preparing for her mission, an attendent gives her a cyanide pill to take with her. When he gives it to her, he says, “There are a thousand reasons I can think of why you might need this pill. I’m giving it to you for the thousands of reasons that I can’t think of”. Sure, we can attempt to reduce the issue of abortion to smaller sized chunks, but the reality is that there are going to be situations that a blanket ban cannot handle.
    Strong leadership doesn’t require extremist views. Good leadership requires the ability to choose a course of action that benefits the entire group as much as possible and not catering to extremists.

  • 9 Rick Horowitz // Mar 24, 2005 at 3:56 pm

    Although we haven’t defined the term that’s been used here — “extremist” views — I’ve no doubt that we’re largely in agreement.

    And to add to your point, one reason the drive for leaders who will support the “extremist” views is a BadThing™ is that, by any definition, an “extremist” view is unlikely to be the view of any majority.

    The country should be managed, or administered, if you will, by an Administration that looks out for the interests of the majority. That’s why we’ve tried to construct a system in which they are elected (the reality of Diebold notwithstanding) by the majority.

    And the Constitution is there as a kind of insurance policy so that when the Administration is doing that, the interests of the majority cannot trump every interest of the minority.

    That’s why, in at least one other article, I’ve pointed out that the Constitution is an anti-majoritarian document.

  • 10 Mike // Apr 15, 2005 at 11:58 am

    I have been reading your blog for a while now, and I wanted to thank you
    for writing it. I’m really feeling lately like blogs are getting
    journalism back to its roots (at least its significance). It seems to me
    like news is often bound to financial commitments (i.e. we can’t say this
    or that because our sponsor will be angry). You present a balanced blog,
    and I find the links that you provide very helpful in forming opinions of
    my own. I tend to consider myself pretty liberal on some things and
    somewhat conservative on others – a position that neither party can seem
    to represent.

    One thing that you really got me to think about recently had to do
    this particular thread (Roe v. McGroarty). You actually
    reminded me that the Constitution and Bill of Rights actually exist to
    prevent the majority from pounding everyone else. The Bill of Rights
    provides me with the right to my own opinion and with the right to present
    that opinion if I choose to do so, regardless of what the majority of the
    country may believe. It seems like this sort of enlightenment is at least
    partly your goal, so you should know that it was effective.

    The news has really been freaking me out lately – like the issue with the
    pharmacists not dispensing birth control (i.e.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5490-2005Mar27.html). It
    seems like individual freedom is really taking a hit right now. I think
    what bothers me the most is that as a citizen, I feel totally powerless.
    If the election results were a sham, what can I really do? If the Patriot
    Act violates the Bill of Rights (which it obviously does – I read it),
    what can I really do?

    Anyway, thanks again for the blog. I hope that your studies are going well.
    We need lawyers that view law as it is governed by the Bill of Rights
    rather than those who would use law and legal precedence to undermine
    the very foundation of law in our country.

Leave a Comment