On Roe v Wade: Pro-Lifers Do Like Women -- Docile Women

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

It's Roe v. Wade Day, time for our annual check on the status of women in America. Are they property of the State yet? Not quite. Whew. Another year of freedom.

In my set -- you know: educated, amoral verging on Godless -- we're breaking out the good stuff tonight and toasting the persistence of reason. Too bad the right-to-lifers can't all come; they could use the sense of well-being that a good Bordeaux and a Frenchified chicken can provide. "Live and let live" -- it's not such a radical idea. Some people ought to try it.

Like, say, the 20-odd percent of Americans who reject abortion in all forms. (The same percentage -- and, I'll bet, the same people -- that thinks Saddam was Osama's college roommate and that the devil made any dinosaur bone that looks more than 6,000 years old. Funny how these things work, isn't it?) They hate abortion, but they don't seem to mind other forms of killing. You sure don't see them, for example, mourning the state-mandated murder of that woman in a Texas hospital not long ago. But then, that woman was not only terminal, she was poor and African; God had abandoned her long ago.

Roe was a great decision for women in the same way as the 13th Amendment was for blacks -- it conferred full personhood on them. I'm not sure if that's what infuriates the "pro-life" crowd, or if those holier-than-me folks really do think abortion is murder. They froth so, it's hard to make out what they're saying....

So I guess it falls to someone like me -- a serial husband, who helped raise a couple of kids and watched my current and final wife go through hell to produce one of our own -- to try to figure it out.

If Roe were just about abortion at the national level -- if abolishing Roe meant that each state could make its own laws about abortion -- I wouldn't be so absolute in my support. But the right has made such a big deal over Roe that it's become a symbol. Of what, I'm not quite sure, so greatly have the "right to lifers" -- the irony is so great this needs always to be in quotes -- fetishized the fetus.

The thing is, this belief that the fetus is a full-fledged person is quite recent. Surprised? Check this out:

In the early 7th Century, the Church began codifying what it considered sexual sins and abortion made the list, but was well behind the "sins" of birth control, oral sex, and anal sex. In fact, the punishment for oral sex was at least 7 years of penance, while the punishment for abortion was a mere 120 days.

In the centuries that followed, Popes came on the scene with widely varying viewpoints -- changing and re-changing the rules as the mitre passed on. Significantly, Pope Innocent III in the early 1200s ruled that the fetus had no soul until it was "animated" (the "quickening," when the mother can feel the fetus' movements, usually around the 24th week). In his ruling -- and this is significant -- a monk was found not guilty of homicide for aborting his lover's unborn child under this argument. Pope Sixtus V in 1588 made all abortions illegal, but was reversed again by Pope Gregory XIV, codifying abortions at up to 16 ½ weeks as not equivalent to the killing of a human being, as no soul was present. Even St. Thomas Aquinas -- arguably the most influential theologian in Roman Catholic Christianity -- did not consider a fetus human until the quickening.

This was the way it was for the most part until 1869. That's when Pope Pius IX declared all abortion to be homicide. That's right, for nearly the entire history of Christianity, the Catholic Church was officially tolerant of first-trimester abortion. The change was well after the Enlightenment, after the Civil War, and into the modern scientific era. In fact, it was only as recently as 1983 that all vestiges of the distinction between the "fetus animatus" and "fetus inanimatus" were quietly purged from Canon Law. (Yes, that was 1983... only 23 years ago.)

Well, you say, things change. Science, for example, helps us know more. Sorry, non-start there. The people who hate Roe also hate science. But not, I would wager, as much as they hate women.

For me, that's what this debate is all about. First it was the blacks, then it was the women. It's easy enough to play the real-estate game so blacks don't live in your neighborhood, but women, dammit -- they're everywhere. And you need them, not just to have your babies, but for recreational sex. (No women, you're gonna have to ride up 'Brokeback Mountain.')

Why these pro-lifers require women to be second-class citizens is beyond me, but it's quite clear they believe the only word they want to hear from women is "yes." (Well, maybe "thank you.") That's why returning abortion to the state level is not a great idea.

Consider the mood in Ohio, as reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer:

A Cincinnati legislator's bill to ban abortion in Ohio drew widespread support here Wednesday from a dozen groups eager to trigger a review of Roe v. Wade by what they see as an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

At a Statehouse news conference marking this week's 33rd anniversary of the landmark 1973 decision, opponents called on the Ohio General Assembly to debate a bill banning all abortions. Introduced nine months ago by Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, House Bill 228 would make it a felony to carry out abortions or transport a woman across state lines to have one. It would allow abortions only to save the life of a mother.

Get that? A woman's body is not her own. Once she is "with child," the State rules. Leave the state pregnant and come back skinny? Felony. (I don't know how they'd enforce this. Will women have to show their passports at airports, bus and train stations? Will there be checkpoints at border crossings between states? Or will the State simply insert a chip in its pregnant women that can't be removed until childbirth?)

How about a pregnant woman who smokes on the street? Or drinks in a bar? If the fetus is as sacred as some people seem to think, those are criminal acts. In which case, we ought to pass laws that define the fetus as a citizen. (But only the poor fetuses will have to pay taxes, of course.)

This sounds silly. But the thing about freedom is, it's an all-or-nothing proposition. A woman can't be just a bit unfree. Where I come from, a woman's body is her own. Period. What she chooses to do with it is between her and her doctor -- and between her and her God.

I can understand why a man might want to insert himself in that constellation. Why a man might even want to take the place of an Almighty God in a woman's eyes. What confounds me is the women who believe this stuff. How I wish they could come for dinner tonight. Twenty minutes of logic and a little wine, and they might see things differently.