Slarrow

"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

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Location: Ozarks, United States

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Thought Experiment for Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions. Since I'm 33 years old, today always has a certain significance to me; knowing that it was legal for my mother to end me if she had chosen gives the issue a certain resonance. (Thank heavens my mom knew better.) Even though it's been well over thirty years since the decision, the issue of abortion remains powerful. A piece by the late Father Richard John Newhaus examines the pro-life movement in the context of following the '60s model of citizen participation--the nuts and bolts, if you will--while Ed Whelan reprises his earlier testimony about the pressure-cooker impact the Roe v. Wade decision had on participatory democracy and how it short-circuited the mechanisms that allow for general consensus on legal issues. Both very interesting reads.

In a slightly different vein, consider this thought experiment. Imagine yourself to be a resident of Tennessee in 1857. Your uncle Henry from southern Mississippi dies. He leaves you some property. Part of that property includes Jim, a slave. There are taxes on the property and someone to run it. If you keep Jim as a slave, the property becomes profitable. If you grant him his freedom, the property is unprofitable and will cause you to lower your standard of living to account for it.

Your neighbor Louis also has an uncle in Alabama who dies and leaves him property. That property includes John, a slave. Likewise, there are taxes on the property and someone to run it. The same profit/loss calculation applies to Louis.

Now, John and Jim: are they people, or are they property? In order for you and Louis to have a legitimate choice, the law must support that they are both property. You can choose to free Jim and change him from property to person, just as Louis can choose to keep John as property. But the law must establish that they are property first, and the person who chooses to free his slave must do so deliberately through determined action.

Thus, John and Jim, who are otherwise similar, have the basic question of their humanness decided by another party who, indeed, has a vested interest in the answer. You choose property, Louis chooses person, and the law supports both decisions. That seem right to you?

Let's now engage in another thought experiment. You are pregnant, living in New York. You're two months along. You're married with no other children, and you and your husband get by okay, but having a child is going to be a real financial burden on the both of you. There is, as it happens, a Planned Parenthood clinic three blocks down around the corner. You've been to your doctor, and he tells you the fetus is progressing normally; you're young, and no complications with the pregnancy are expected.

You get a call from your twin sister Susan. Lo and behold, she too is eight weeks pregnant. Her husband and she are also currently childless and financially comfortable as-is, but having a baby changes everything, as they say. Her doctor also tells her that the fetus is progressing normally, and she's just as healthy as you are. She tells you that if it's a boy, they'll name him Edward; it it's a girl, she'll be Caroline. She lives six blocks from you; guess what's right in the middle?

That being in your womb and the being in hers: are they people, or are they property? In order for you and Susan to have a legitimate choice, the law must support that they are both property. You can choose to carry the fetus to term and give birth, changing her from property to person, just as Susan can change her mind, consider Edward/Caroline to belong to her body, and dispose of it. But the law must establish that they are property first. However, unlike the previous case, the person who decides that the property is a person just has to leave nature to take its course; the person who considers it property has to take deliberate action to carry out that decision.

Thus, the two fetuses in you and your twin sister, who are otherwise similar, have the basic question of their humanness decided by another party who, indeed, has a vested interest in the answer. You choose property, Susan chooses person, and the law supports both decisions. That seem right to you?

(I've had this in mind for a while, but a nod goes to Alfonzo Rachel who also expressed this sentiment the other day. Check it about 6:30-7:00 into the video)

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