Why Roe was Wrong: Part 1

By Ryan Lau | USA

“Everyone has a right to make his own decisions, but none has the right to force his decision on others.” This line, after the renowned novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand first wrote it, soon became a form of a libertarian adage. What exactly does the quote imply? It seemingly establishes a flawless sense of self-ownership, of bodily autonomy, of freedom from the oppression of others. In the strictly governmental sense, of course, the application holds to be morally and logically consistent. One can directly conclude that a coercive state imposing restrictions on individual liberties is inherently opposed to the philosophy, whereas a smaller (if existent) state that does not restrict individual liberty is not inherently at odds with it. However, one key issue takes the entire statement, as well as Rand’s objectivist philosophy, and inserts a quite perplexing dilemma. This, of course, is the matter of abortion, the action of terminating a fetus before his or her birth. While many experts, including Rand and several members of the United States Supreme Court, argue that a fetus does not possess any rights, methodology in approaching this conclusion is decidedly flawed. It, along with the infamous Roe v Wade case, fails to take into account what constitutes a biological life, how natural law pertains to the act of abortion, and most importantly, the relationship between objective morality and governmental enforcement of such morality.

First of all, in examining the justification (or lack thereof) of abortions, one must clearly examine the origin of the act, as well as any legal barriers to it. Simply put, women have terminated their pregnancies since the dawn of ancient civilization, and thus the debate has persisted for as long. In fact, Hammurabi’s Code states that it is a criminal offense to cause a woman to abort by hitting her. Though it does not take a direct stance on whether or not it is a crime for the woman herself to perform an abortion or to seek one voluntarily, this leads to the notion that ancient Babylon recognized the fetus as a human being. However, the ancient Egyptians had a vastly different view of the human fetus, as the famous Ebers Papyrus in fact detailed the precise methodology of abortion, explaining how to properly and safely perform one. Clearly, even several millennia ago, the world could not reach a consensus on the controversial issue, though evidence does suggest that individual societies had more homogeneous viewpoints.   

Upon recognition that the debate over the legality and morality of abortion has persisted ceaselessly throughout human history, a natural extension of logic would lead one to, at this point, apply this debate in the modern world, specifically the United States. Once more, a brief history of American abortion procedures is necessary to maximize one’s understandings of the topic. Upon the founding of our nation, few, if any, abortion restrictions were in place. It was not until 1821 that Connecticut became the first state to pass its own statutory law prohibiting abortions that occurred after the first fetal movements were detectable.

Over the next century and a half, more and more of these laws would appear, often in part to due to the support of America’s first-wave feminist movement. In fact, revolutionary women’s suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, who were both strong proponents of abortion laws, included in their newspaper, The Revolution, a number of anonymous articles strongly condemning the process. Within a matter of years, abortions were criminalized in every state, a large victory for opponents of the practice.

Though abortion was seemingly becoming an action of the past at this time, this new mindset was markedly short-lived, as new prominent figures were coming to the spotlight, now advocating for the liberalization of existing abortion laws. Colorado was the first state to legalize the procedure in 1967, with several other states soon following. It was not until the landmark case of Roe v Wade in 1973, however, that the Supreme Court prohibited all 50 states from banning abortions. This ruling has been maintained since the Court gave its 7-2 decision, though a more recent case, Casey v Planned Parenthood, has since outlined some legal abortion restrictions, including a 24 hour wait period and parental consent for minors seeking to abort. Since that decision, courts have passed no other major restrictions but struck down many attempts, most notably a 2007 case in Texas, which required abortion clinics to meet certain health and safety standards.

In modern society, the government indubitably recognizes that it is an inalienable right to have an abortion. Conversely, public opinion is nearly evenly divided, with poll after poll showing abortion to be one of the most divisive issues facing our nation. Two main camps exist. Those who consider themselves to be pro-choice believe that to significantly limit a woman’s capability of getting an abortion is to limit her autonomy, while those identifying as pro-life think a woman should not have that ability, as the fetus is a human life, hence in full possession of human rights.  

In making an argument for either side, it is important not to let partisan divides between pro-choice and pro-life adulterate the empirical evidence presented. Both camps possess a diverse mix of brilliant scholars and unintelligent followers who merely follow their sense of confirmation bias and repeat any rhetoric spoken by the right individual. Whether the rhetoric is pro-choice or pro-life in substance, one must condemn this blind repetition so that genuine, intelligent discourse can occur.

After carefully examining the evidence presented by both sides and filtering out abundant misinformation, the natural conclusion to reach from every angle is that a free society must condemn the practice of abortion. Inherent within the action is an intent to take the life of another human being, regardless of whether or not this is recognized universally. Ignorance of the masses takes nothing away from the veritability of a fact. The fact of the matter is, claims made by the pro-life movement hold more objective truth than those made by the pro-choice movement.

Simple human anatomy dictates that a fetus is a living human being. To reasonably satisfy this claim, it naturally needs to meet both of the aforementioned qualities: being alive and being human.

The former is quite obvious, as the fetus, from the moment of conception, is a genetically unique (with the obvious exception of identical twins, to which no other individuals are identical) entity, created by the fusion of the sperm and egg. Each subsequently created cell of the new human will similarly share this unique genetic code, and each cell created, including the first, possesses only human DNA. The organism that now exists does not exist prior to conception and exhibits all six of the empirical tendencies of a living being: containing DNA, made of cells, growth, reproductive potential, responses to environmental stimuli while in healthy condition, and a working metabolism.

Naturally, the existence of any life does not in any way imply that the said life is human, and many are quick to point out this fact. It is commonplace to find arguments that a fetus is living, though not human. However, this begs the question: If a fetus is not a human, then what species is it? A living being cannot simply exist in the absence of species; taxonomy dictates that every form of life must belong to a domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. If logically consistent, that argument would thus require a fetus to be a member of a species other than our own. Yet, in possession of human DNA, this theoretical is similarly implausible. Two human parents naturally will only produce human offspring, in a method no different than any other organism. This offspring, from the moment of conception, is alive, as previously explained. A mere shift in the environment, from the inside of the womb to the external world, makes no discernible alterations in the chromosomal structure of the child or the DNA that it possesses. Accordingly, given that the human fetus is a living being, one can rightfully assume that it is a living human.