I tend to shy away from overtly political themes, even though bioethics often crosses over into politics. But it is an election year, and insofar authentic bioethics refers to sound reasoning on matters of human life and health, the bioethical positions of parties and their candidates can be quite telling.
The fact of the matter is, war and poverty (or at least the economy) are two exceedingly important issues facing politicians. Every two years, the political left attempts to stifle discussion of abortion because there are more important issues facing the country, such as the economy. The economy is always a problem. I bet it has been the number one issue on the minds of voters since Gerald Ford’s Whip Inflation Now buttons (WIN – get it?). Whether the economy is the most important issue, I have my doubts.
Yet the left is trying to drum up support this year using the abortion issue, and the right is accusing them of distracting from the war and the economy. A story from the Catholic News Agency, based on an Associated Press analysis, profiles two races where this is happening.
In New York, women are being warned that they will be treated like criminals if the Republican gets elected because he will outlaw abortion. I used to live in New York state and worked in Manhattan for quite a while. I can tell you, the women of New York are not that stupid regardless of their political persuasion. First of all, the probability of a pro-life governor being able to outlaw abortion is pretty much nil and everyone knows it. Pro-lifers dream of such a law being passes, to it can be challenged in courts and find its way to the Supreme Court, where we hope it will be upheld and Roe v Wade overturned. Still, the chances of such a law even passing in the state that elected Hillary as senator are pretty slim. It would be fitting, though, as New York was the first state to legalize abortion on demand.
Secondly, the restrictions on abortions prior to Roe universally punished the health professionals who provided the procedure, but not always the women who procured it. After all, doctors are not mere technicians who act mindlessly at the behest of their patients. Although some laws also punished the women, there is no reason to think that a contemporary law would. A law could make it illegal to provide an abortion while not speaking to the issue of procuring one.
Meanwhile in Colorado, women are being told that if the pro-life candidate wins, women will lose control of their bodies. (One supposes that they mean only with respect to reproduction.) This is also preposterous. If women have a right to use or not use their reproductive abilities, then abortion simply represents a means. The illegalization of abortion would not violate the right but only eliminate a particular means, and abortion would take its rightful place next to infanticide, exposure, and selling one’s baby on the "right not to have children" side, and to buying or stealing children on the "right to have children" side.
A right does not justify every means to exercise that right. My right to free speech does not give me a right to the front page of the New York Times or even to a spot in the Letters section, even though my ability to reach people is certainly restricted thereby. In fact, it is the right of the NYT to freedom of the press that restricts my freedom of speech and prevents me from forcing them to give me space. In abortion, it is the right to life of the child that restricts the woman’s right to reproductive freedom.
The bioethical reasoning on this issue reveals the clarity of thought of the parties involved. I personally believe that as important as the war and the economy are, abortion is far more important.
Why? The abandonment of the most innocent and vulnerable among us undermines any kind of assertion about the tragedy of the death and suffering of innocent people in combat zones or places hardest hit by the economy. I simply do not believe a politician whose heart bleeds for these admittedly tragic circumstances when it turns to ice with respect to the unborn. While callousness to the plight of the poor or of innocent victims in war also undermines a candidate’s position on abortion, I do not know of a candidate who takes a stand of heartlessness on those issues, except as spun by his rivals.
So, whoever refuses to protect innocent life lacks the wisdom to lead and the moral authority to address war and poverty.