Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beckwith #4: Roe, Part 2 [SK]

Previous posts on Beckwith's Defending Life:

#1: Overview of major themes
#2: The nature of moral reasoning
#3: What Roe v. Wade said and did

In my last post, I outlined Frank's initial critique of Roe v. Wade--namely, that Justice Blackmun relied on a faulty reading of U.S. abortion history to find Constitutional support for abortion-on demand through all nine months of pregnancy.

Admittedly, I'm tired after a day of speaking, so I'll stick to summarizing a couple of points from chapter two that should not be missed.

First, Blackmun's claim that the unborn are not persons under the 14th amendment is flawed. He essentially argues from silence: "The Constitution does not define 'person' in so many words" and in those instances where the word is used--for example, in describing who qualifies for Congress and other public offices--it always applies to born people, not the unborn. But this begs the question because nowhere does the Constitution define what is meant by 'person;" thus, the 14th amendment cited by Blackmun can't be used to exclude the unborn. Put simply, the passages in question tell us which existing persons qualify for certain public positions, not who counts as a person with rights in the first place. The requirements for Congress, for example, dictate you must be 25 to serve in the House and 30 in the Senate. Clearly the Court can't be saying that because a fetus can't hold these public offices he or she is not a person--for this would mean that 20 year-olds are not persons either. Hence, Balckmun's argument is absurd.

Second, Blackmun stated that the right to an abortion was contingent on the status of the unborn. That is, if the personhood of the fetus is established, the case for abortion rights collapses, for the right to life of the fetus would then be guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. He then justified his case for abortion by saying the personhood of the unborn was disputed because no one knows when life begins. As Beckwith explains, this undermines his case for abortion rights completely:

"But if we are to accept the Supreme Court's holding in Roe and agree with Justice Blackmun that the right to an abortion is contingent upon the status of the unborn, then the allegedly disputed fact about life's beginning means that the right to abortion is disputed as well...So, the Court's admission that abortion choice is based on a widely disputed fact, far from establishing a right to an abortion, entails that it not only does not know when life begins, but it does not know when if ever the right to abortion begins."

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