Monday, September 17, 2007

Beckwith #5: Roe Part 3 [SK]

Previous posts on Defending Life:

#1 Overview of major themes
#2 The nature of moral reasoning
#3 What Roe said and did, part 1
#4 Roe, part 2

(Also, Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason interviews Frank about the book here--registration may be required, but is painless.)

So far, Frank has shown that Blackmun's key premises in Roe are problematic. First, abortion was not a common law liberty, but was restricted from the point life was known to exist. Prior to the mid-19th century, that point was "quickening." However, as scientific discoveries established conception as the beginning of life, state laws were changed to protect unborn humans throughout pregnancy. Second, the primary purpose of these new laws (beginning in the late 1860s) was not to protect women from unsafe surgical procedures, as claimed by Blackmun, but to protect unborn human life from unwarranted destruction. Third, Blackmun's claim that no one knows when life begins undermines the right to abortion. That is, he stated the right to an abortion is contingent on the status of the unborn. Thus, if the status of the unborn is disputed, so is the right to abort. As Frank points out, "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."

Frank next discusses Blackmun's use of "viability," which appears circular. The relevant portion from Roe reads:
"With respect to the state's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the 'compelling' point is at viability. This is so because the fetus presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb."
Assuming Blackmun is using "meaningful life" to mean "independent life," his circular argument amounts to this: Viability is justified as the time when the state's interest in the fetus becomes compelling because at that time the fetus is an independent life, or is viable.

Blackmun never tells us how undergoing an accidental change from dependent being to independent one changes the essential nature of the fetus. Christopher Reeve, for example, did not change his identity or become less human because his accident left him dependent on others. Moreover, he seems to confuse physical independence with ontological independence. That is, he asserts that because the fetus depends on the mother, it's not an independent being, a 'meaningful life.' Blackmun is mistaken. Although the fetus depends on the mother, he's still a separate being from her.

Frank sums things up by quoting Hadley Arkes: "Once again, the Court fell into the fallacy of drawing a moral conclusion (the right to take a life) from a fact utterly without moral significance (the weakness or dependence of the child)."

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