Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Abortion and anti-abortion

It is getting tiresome hearing congressmen say that people who are morally opposed to abortion shouldn't have to pay for someone's abortion. This sounds nice and considerate, but it's humbug because it is not the way a secular democracy works.

For a number of years my wife and I actively opposed the war in Vietnam, which we considered murderous, illegal and immoral (we still feel that way). We withheld some of our taxes -- those which were obviously earmarked for the war, such as the telephone excise tax -- and helped with draft counseling etc. We fully understood that what we were doing was civil disobediance and were prepared to pay the consequences -- which we did, financially, on several occasions. Although it never came to that, I also planned to refuse to serve should I be drafted, and was prepared to go to jail as a consequence. We and most of our friends understood that this was the nature of protest. If we had had the votes, we could have stopped the war by cutting off funds, say. But, the peace movement never had "the votes". We never expected out opponents -- who had the votes -- to grant us a dispensation because of our moral beliefs.

Those who believe that abortion is murder have a religious belief about when life starts. Some day they may have the votes to amend the Constitution or, in some other legislative way or judicial way, make abortion once again illegal. But until such time, it remains legal and they have no right whatsoever to prevent their tax money from paying for it. All they can do is refuse to pay taxes, as we did in protesting the war, and take the consequences. That's the way it works. If they, as we, think that our tax money should not be bailing out A.I.G. and hedge funds and risk-taking banks that make millionaires out of their CEO's, then they can find some means of protest, but they can't expect the government to pass laws exempting them from paying their taxes. Neither can they expect those of us who view abortion differently to cave in to their views, no matter how earnestly they hold them.

In fact, the case against abortion is even weaker than the case against speculative banks, since it rests solely on religious belief. In this country we have a separation between church and state. Folks can't expect to be exempted from taxes solely because they have moral objections to some of the uses to which these taxes are put. If that were the case there would be tax anarchy, since there are hundreds of causes that people could claim objection to, from saving (or killing) whales to using (or not using) fossil fuels, to plural (or monogamous) marriage, to maintaining armies, to helping (or not helping) the less fortunate. Anyone can cook up a moral or religious principle to justify opposing something they don't like. Should Jews be allowed to withhold that portion of their taxes that is used to prepare pork dishes for heads-of-state banquets?

Because politicians are afraid of one-issue zealots -- and here I mean the hard-core anti-abortionists -- they let this minority push them around. There's not much the rest of us can do about it, but let's not get all sentimental about them having to pay taxes for something that only they abhor: heck, lots of us do this all the time, and we all have the option of performing civil disobediance and taking the consequences.

For the record, I don't believe the fetus is a person during the first trimester; I am concerned and uncertain about the second semester, and I believe the fetus is a real person -- and likely capable of surviving outside the womb -- during a good part of the last trimester. Consequently, I am quite OK with 1st trimester abortions, uneasy about 2nd trimester ones, but wouldn't make them illegal. As for my general position -- including 3rd trimester abortions, here is it:

1. In EVERY case the life of the mother has precedence over the life of the fetus and
2. The mother ALWAYS has a right to have the fetus removed from her body at any time, but does NOT have the right to have a viable fetus killed (except in case 1.)

(Note: "viable" means "is likely to live outside the womb.")

I welcome comments.

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