Abortion supporters have found their new favorite talking point.
Lamentations of “forced birth” and “forced pregnancy” cropped up in much of the commentary from the Left after the arguments, including from Democratic politicians, pro-abortion feminists, media outlets, and other commentators.
Demanding that women not enact violence against their offspring is not remotely comparable to the state coercing them into pregnancy, and it’s dishonest to suggest that these are the same thing.
Once a woman is pregnant, the proper question is no longer whether she wishes to be pregnant, to give birth, or to be a parent. The question is whether her various desires are sufficient grounds for ending the life of the unique, distinct human being in her womb — her own child. As my colleague John McCormack aptly put it: “Once an unborn child exists, she will be born into the world one way or another: Alive or dead. Intact or in pieces.”
If laws against killing an unborn child amount to “forced birth,” then presumably laws against killing one’s three-year-old or 14-year-old amount to “forced parenthood.” Under this framework, laws against murder that prevent me from killing my husband mean that I’m in a “forced marriage.” There is no logical way to distinguish between these cases under the pro-abortion argument.
If a woman can choose abortion merely because she no longer wishes to be pregnant, because childbirth is painful, or because she does not want to be a parent — and can thereby describe any effort to stop her from doing so as “forcing her to give birth” or “forcing her to be a parent” — then there is no logical argument for preventing anyone from enacting violence against other human beings who cause them pain or inconvenience.
Under the “forced birth” framework, there is no logical argument against killing one’s child after birth if he or she is inconvenient or unwanted. There is no logical argument against killing one’s elderly father if he becomes burdensome. Indeed, there is no logical argument against killing one’s neighbor if he’s playing his music too loudly and refuses to turn it down.
After Roe v. Wade, many people think abortion is off limits to democracy. It isn’t.
There has been so much ill-informed commentary on Texas Senate Bill 8, the Heartbeat Act, that I feel compelled to explain its provisions and defend its logic. I am the author of the bill, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in May.
The law does not ban abortions after six weeks. It requires that a physician performing an abortion first check for a fetal heartbeat. If there is a heartbeat, the physician may not abort the child. When a physician performs an abortion without checking for a heartbeat, or finds a heartbeat and performs the abortion anyway, he has performed an illegal abortion.
Unlike other such laws passed in other parts of the country, the Heartbeat Act does not empower any governmental authority to mete out punishment for the crime. Instead it decrees that the doctor may be sued for breaking the law.
The mother cannot be sued, and we have bolstered programs to support expectant mothers. Last year the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program provided support to more than 100,000 pregnant women and adoptive parents through counseling, classes, car seats, diapers and other necessities. This year we added more than $20 million to the program, bringing total funding to over $100 million.
Many crimes have a civil analog. Someone who commits a criminal assault, for instance, may be sued in civil court for assault and battery (recall the civil O.J. Simpson trial). Someone who steals property from another may be pursued for the civil tort of conversion. In almost every case, the person wronged, and therefore the person who brings the claim, is the plaintiff.
In the case of abortion, the wronged party has been extinguished. If we can’t depend on criminal enforcement, even if Roe is overturned, and the party who directly suffered harm cannot bring a claim, what’s left? Someone else must enforce the law.
In contexts other than abortion, citizens often sue to enforce laws that are otherwise difficult for the government to enforce through traditional channels. “Qui tam” actions, in which an individual sues on behalf of himself and the people, were enacted in the U.S. as early as the first Congress. Texas law, for example, allows individuals to sue on behalf of the state to recover money taken by Medicaid fraud.
It repurposes a legal tactic that progressives have been using to great effect for a century.
But these are not the only principles at work in the law, and for several centuries Anglo-American law has made some limited provisions for third-party enforcement of rights. Known as relator actions, these special proceedings are precedents for the Texas law that should be familiar to most lawyers. A well-known example in American law is the whistleblower qui tam action, which incentivizes people with knowledge of public fraud to pursue legal remedies against the perpetrators. Another familiar example is inter partes review of patents, in which citizens ask the Patent Office to invalidate patents alleged to be unmeritorious. The principle used to justify relator actions is that someone who abuses or infringes a public right should not get away with it simply because officials lack the resources, willingness, or access to evidence necessary to hold him to account.
It is difficult to imagine two public wrongs that are more significant than the intentional killing of a human being (in legal terms, murder) or the removal of a human being’s arm or leg (in legal terms, mayhem). If unborn human beings are persons, then abortion is murder, and many abortions involve mayhem. One could fail to recognize the precedents for the Texas law only if one assumes that murdering and dismembering unborn persons is not a legal wrong.
Ironically, Chief Justice Roberts, in his dissent, failed to mention that the Supreme Court’s own precedents already authorize private persons to assert the rights of third parties in abortion lawsuits. Since 1976, the Court has allowed abortionists to assert the rights of their female patients in court when attempting to block enforcement of abortion laws, even laws that secure the health and rights of those very same female patients. No other medical professionals are permitted to assert their patients’ rights in order to obtain immunity from the law. And the Court has never allowed anyone to initiate a lawsuit against abortionists on behalf of their unborn victims. This anomalous asymmetry seems not to have been lost on Texas legislators, even if it apparently escaped Chief Justice Roberts’s notice.
The Court has often ignored basic doctrines of American jurisprudence when progressive causes are at stake, and not just in abortion cases. Most projects of social engineering that the Left has constructed over the last century, from zoning ordinances to discrimination commissions, blur the distinction between public and private rights. And the Court makes many progressive aims achievable when it allows leftist activists to assert rights not their own. For example, eugenics laws, such as the Virginia statute that the Court enthusiastically endorsed in the 1927 decision Buck v. Bell, empowered institutional administrators to pursue the forcible sterilization of vulnerable Americans when they deemed it to be in the “best interests of the patients and of society.”
It is easy to understand why abortion proponents have selective memories of these legal precedents and so little interest in the jurisprudential principles that undergird the rule of law; murder and mayhem are inherent legal wrongs, and the only way to portray abortion as a “right” is to tear apart the fabric of American law and to ignore what the Constitution actually says.
It is more difficult to understand why conservative legal luminaries who are not pro-abortion would portray the Texas statute as unique and unprecedented. Perhaps they have lost sight of the principles that render the rule of law coherent. The Court often abandoned those principles early in the 20th century in order to ratify progressive projects of social engineering. The only innovation of Texas legislators was to use the Left’s tactics in defense of our society’s most vulnerable.
John Irving is a fiction writer, and it shows. Pretending he was writing a history in the pages of the New York Times , Irving wrote a fable. It’s the fable told by the abortion lobby, promulgated by the Democratic Party, and believed by most journalists. “Abortion opponents don’t care what happens to an unwanted child,” wrote Irving, “and they’ve never cared about the mother.” In a work of purported history, Irving bragged of his winning Planned Parenthood’s vaunted “Maggie Award,” named after Margaret Sanger.