The Georgia Legislature is again drawing up a bill to bypass the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that declared state anti-abortion laws unconstitutional. The rationale? Because they violate a woman’s right to the privacy of her own body.
But if life begins at conception as the pro-life people insist, there is more involved here than simply the privacy of a woman’s own body.
The 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision did not legalize abortion because it couldn’t. That question is one for the states to decide. Roe’s reversal would outlaw abortion only in states having anti-abortion laws. But to me the overriding question is, when does life begin? At conception, as antiabortion people believe, or sometime later?
It is difficult to grasp that at the very moment the male sperm cell contacts the female one-celled ovum a little person with a mind and a soul is instantly created. Some medical people say that at this early stage the organism lacks the cellular differentiation and neural organization to be considered a being of any kind yet. But if we are going to reach a responsible decision on this sensitive and complex issue, we should first convene our very best legal, theological and medical minds to arrive at a conclusion objectively, impartially and, yes, prayerfully as to exactly when human life begins.
Some have suggested a national referendum on the question, but our Constitution does not provide for plebiscites as do some parliamentary systems. And a constitutional amendment on a controversial matter such as this would be difficult to accomplish and could take many years. But how do the American people themselves feel about this touchy question?
Recent Gallup, PEW and other broadly-based public opinion surveys indicate a slight majority of Americans reject the absolutist position that abortion is wrong in every case. And some even suggest it might sometimes be the moral thing to do, even some Catholics. But, of course, not the Church.
My own beliefs? I reject abortion as an alternative to contraception and think it should be considered only after all other solutions have been exhausted. But until we reach a responsible decision concerning the beginning of human life, I must remain pro-life, but with reservations.
When I was in high school in the 1940s abortion was illegal everywhere. But pregnant teenage girls back then were not “relegated to back-alley butchers,” as some pro-choice proponents tell us today. It was “unofficially” known that there were certain physicians who would abort an unwanted pregnancy. But the word “abortion” was never used. The procedure was called a “modified d&c” or some other innocuous term. The procedure was neither difficult nor prohibitively expensive and was generally available. It was usually a question of money.
The ultimate solution? Shouldn’t we strive to make abortion as unnecessary as possible through more readily accessible contraception and more realistic sex education? But probably not in the public school systems where controversy (and ignorance!) on this subject already abound. Recent research data indicates that abstinence-only sex education as favored by many educators and parents is largely ineffective in lowering teenage pregnancy rates. What does this all mean? It means we need to keep on searching.