Follow-up thoughts on Dr. Tiller

The tragic killing of Dr. Tiller has touched off quite a debate between Megan McArdle and the bloggers at Obsidian Wings. I have immense respect for the intelligence and integrity of all of them, and read both blogs regularly with interest. In a nutshell, the OW bloggers have argued that the federal government should respond to the Tiller killing by making late-term abortions more accessible and protected. Megan has argued that Roe (and Casey) have closed off the political process to Americans who believe abortion to be murder, and that the lack of options to see abortions arrested has led some to violence. While she does not in any way endorse or condone the violence, she does understand how the current situation could lead to it. Rather than link to the various posts and counter-posts, I will refer you to this excellent summary by Mark, over at Ordinary Gentlemen.

I don't need to wade (superfluously) into this debate, but I have one singular objection I would like to raise. From Mark's post:
But even with all of that aside, Hilzoy and Publius [ed: the bloggers at Obsidian Wings] ignore that the “right to privacy” has never been held to extend to provide absolute protection against restrictions on late-term abortions. Indeed, the very act that Hilzoy wishes to largely repeal, the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, has been specifically upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. Thus, what Hilzoy is proposing is not merely the protection of a clearly established Constitutional right as interpreted by the Supreme Court - instead, it is the expansion of the right to an abortion beyond the already-controversial parameters of Roe and Casey. Furthermore, in mandating training in late-term abortion for certification as an OB-GYN and mandating provision of late-term abortion by all hospitals, Hilzoy’s proposal goes to another level entirely - it holds the right to an abortion to be more important than a doctor’s right to act in accordance with her own ethics. Indeed, to the extent that doctor might view the late-term fetus as essentially human, it would even go so far as to force that doctor to violate their Hippocratic Oath.
Such a mandate would be awful, awful policy. While I had no particular desire to become an OB/GYN, a requirement to learn or perform a late-term abortion would have been an absolute deal-breaker for me. I consider myself ambivalently pro-choice, but could never bring myself to perform abortions of this kind. I believe Dr. Tiller was, by and large, providing needed care to women who could find it in very few other places, but that does not mean I would ever agree to participate myself. Had I been required to learn this in medical school, I would have refused.

Further, I have been struck by the bitter irony of struggling to save very premature babies born at the edge of viability, while knowing that elsewhere in other clinics or hospitals, fetuses that are developmentally indistinguishable are being terminated. I do not mention this because I believe it should be illegal, but because it highlights to me how very arbitrary and contextual our concepts of personhood (at least in the realm of the abortion debate) are.

1 comment:

  1. I wish more people on both sides had your lack of certainty. I little humility regarding our understanding of what it is to be human might go a long way in this arena.