Roe V Wade


It’s not possible to have a “debate” about abortion

The US Supreme Court has done what it’s charged to do and interrogated the Constitution of the United States in order to reach a majority decision. It’s X-factor on stilts, given the nonsense presented to it.

Those of us who lack a familiarity with the legal fetishism which is the default jurisprudential rhythm of the US might be perplexed by this. That said the decision is this (I think): that however hard you look, and contrary to the prejudices of the Californian Canyon assumptions of the age, it’s difficult to find in any founding document a justification for abortion which absorbs – if I may borrow the following expression:

The freedom to choose on behalf of the composite States.

To complain about this is a bit like trolling the doctor who says that he’s a neurosurgeon who recommends that you decide whether to have a leg amputation.

It’s up to the States. And the fact that it’s up to the States is what makes the States the Federal system that it is. It is in issues of intense controversy that the US is at its best. Roe vs Wade robbed the US of a significant potentiality in that regard.

Which bit of that have I got wrong?

The Supreme Court is entrusted with a remit to discharge unpopular rulings, not to align itself with the lazy conformities of the age. That’s sort of the point of it. Unless you want a Meta Court which is available to pronounce on the real world one? Do liberals want a court within a court? One structured according to its own ill thought out but maximally visceral prejudices?

(What would happen if you stumbled across a copy of the US Constitution? And decided to take it to Rwanda?) – an aside.

Decisions must stop somewhere.  Even when – especially when – they’re wrong. And your response to a decision you don’t like should not be default (and therefore fake) anger. It should be to do what you can to change the decision. A freedom which, as it happens, has now been handed down from Federal to State level. A devolution, and affirmation of choice, rather than a denial of it.

There is no discernible right to abortion in the US Constitution, any more than there is a discernible monster in Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” It’s there if you want to see it, it’s not if you don’t.

The SCOTUS decision has little to do with abortion rights. It is a recalibration of laws which cascade from the Supreme Court down. An attitude adjustment which is long overdue.

As to the issue itself? It’s one of those where the conclusion seems even more dangerous than the path by which you reach it.

Whichever “side” you favour.

Here are two propositions:

  • A foetus is no more than an adjunct to natural biological processes, hosted by the mother; and is therefore disposable without moral consequence.
  • A foetus is a child at the point of conception, a centre of unfathomable value. It is therefore only disposable with maximum moral consequence.

The logical space between those two (moral) propositions establishes a penumbra of nuance, reflected in the real-life experiences of people who must decide how they survive, morally and physically, the next choice they make. And these choices are hard and should never be deployed in service of those – like me – who presume to speculate about them.

But I have a view.

I don’t believe any debate is available here if by debate you mean a metaphysically neutral landscape in which each compete. Why? Because as soon as you start “debating” on certain issues you are choosing to use language. And there is no way of not having skin in the game, because you are redefining the issue as soon as you open your mouth.

This is trivially true in any debate. When it comes to this one there is an intensification of moral and cognitive deafness.

Because the stakes are so high. There is no such thing as linguistic neutrality. Even in the rarefied realms of mathematical physics language is fed into the assumptions.

And why does this point require constant reiteration?

Because of this: children are involved. Not collections of cells not yet resolved into an identity, but real children, specified by God, not yet stewarded through birth.

Argue me out of that position.

Sean Walsh is a former university teacher who fell – despite warnings – into a bottle of wine in the 90s and emerged as a sort of writer 30 years later. He has a PhD in the philosophy of mind. He’s a dutiful Catholic, which gives him the lens through which he sees that the world is absurd. Sean is on Twitter here.