November 4, 1999
Once in a
while a phrase will stick in my mind because of its odd
implications. A few weeks ago I read a book that remarked in passing that
the U.S. Supreme Courts ruling in Roe v. Wade had made
women the arbiters of their own pregnancies.
The more I think of it, the stranger it
seems. Before Roe, there was no such thing as an
arbiter of a pregnancy, any more than there were arbiters
of the lives of newborns. Nobody made a life-and-death decision about
any childs life at least not legally.
What is especially weird about the
phrase is that arbiter means an impartial judge, not an interested
party. When a man is on trial for a capital crime, his fate is decided by a
judge and jury with no stake in the outcome. The process would be
corrupted if the judge or any juror went into the trial hoping to profit by
And of course even the most brutal
murderer is entitled to legal representation. His claims and interests, as
well as those of his victim, are taken fully into account. If he is sentenced
to death, it is only after a thorough (and usually lengthy) process, usually
including reviews of his case by other courts. No single person decides his
The child who is sentenced to die by
abortion enjoys no such protections. Far from being determined by an
impartial arbiter, its fate is decided by the party who has a
material interest in its death: its mother. If she and an abortionist can
agree on a price, the child is doomed. Then its body and organs may be sold
to laboratories an indignity that even executed criminals are
So every legal safeguard extended to
the accused murderer is denied to the innocent child. Its life is at the
mercy of one persons will. Nobody speaks for it; its interests are
unrepresented. No neutral party has a share in the decision. Arbiter
is about the most inappropriate word one could choose to describe the
woman who decides to have it killed.
In real life, the woman rarely makes
the decision in a vacuum. The women who file into abortion clinics are
rarely mature, independent women asserting their sovereignty over their
own bodies; more often they are just losers in the cruel game of love
immature girls who are bullied into getting abortions by
boyfriends who refuse to support their own children. Young women are
often dominated by men who are a few years older and physically much
stronger, with more force of personality than they have. So they often
abort in deference to the insistence of men, who may abandon them or
threaten to do so.
But one of the unintended
consequences of Roe v. Wade has been to empower such males. After
all, if a woman cant be forced to bear an unwanted child, why
should any man be forced to support one? If the mother has the sole legal
authority to say whether the child is brought to term, why, by the
heartless logic of Roe, should she be allowed to impose
responsibility on the father? Whats sauce for the goose ...
If you want it, he can
say, you support it. Im sure as hell not going to!
Young pregnant women must often hear these words, which make a
mockery of their supposed independence. Legal abortion, by
making children disposable, has relieved men of their former duty to
protect their own flesh and blood.
So the real arbiter of
the childs life may not be the mother, but the father. And the
abortion may be more in his interest than hers. The law may not recognize
his interest any more than it recognizes the childs, but he is far
from helpless to apply crushing pressure on a pregnant young woman.
How many women would choose
abortion if the father were eager to support and raise the child? Rather
few, I suppose. But few have the strength to choose the child over the
father who doesnt want it. The Supreme Court has created a bitter
dilemma for many of the women it thought it was helping.
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