Indeed, that equivalence between a man and a human person, historically, that’s what scientific proponents of fetal personality lean on to defend their original constitutional claims that “person” in the 14th amendment includes unborn humans.
Attached to the judgment of the court in Dobbs shows that in the 1800s, almost every state code, in various words, contained prohibitions against intent to effect an abortion on a woman with child – and these laws were often part of the “crimes against the person” of the state. And the authors of the 14th Amendment managed to exclude the unborn from the “persons” category. The drafters did so when they determined which persons were entitled to citizenship: “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” They did not include the word “born” with “any person” in the due process or equal protection clauses of the amendment.
But with the 14th amendment case law of Roe and in particular, the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey emphasized the personal autonomy of women who wished to have abortions, implicitly degrading the legal status of their unborn children. roe† founding his property in the “right to privacy,” citing long-standing cases of family privacy and autonomy. Casey made the theme of autonomy more explicit: “These matters, which concern the most intimate and personal choices a person can make in their life, choices that are central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central in the 14th Amendment.” Women’s autonomy – or absolute self-ownership – required the right to exclude her child from her body. Further, as the Dobbs dissent underscored, Casey argued that such autonomy was necessary for women’s equal participation in economic and social life.
But there is another vision of women’s equality and freedom that challenges rather than accepts the ideal of autonomy. The 18th-century English philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” and her heirs who were part of the 19th-century American women’s rights movement sought civil and political rights so they could better fulfill their responsibilities to others. As Wollstonecraft reasoned, “The only method of getting women to fulfill their special duties is to free them from all constraints by allowing them to participate in the inherent rights of humanity.”
So while Wollstonecraft viewed individuals as individuals rightfully protected by rights, while vying for equality, she urged both women and men not to shift their responsibility to others. For her, maternal and paternal responsibilities did not begin when the child was born, but when it was still developing in the womb. Attaining the kind of moral maturity that would view service to and care for others as life-giving and fulfilling was the purpose of life.
Since the budding child shares her mother’s body, the mother is dependent on many others for her own sustenance and prosperity. This is of course the case with every pregnancy. But the expectant mother’s need becomes more acute when she is poor or ill, or her life or health is threatened by the pregnancy. The woman with child means two vulnerable patients for doctors to care for and insurance to support; spacious workplace accommodations and financial aid; fatherly duties expected, not ignored.
Without solid societal support from pregnant women and families raising children, too many women will view their unborn children as violators of their already burdened lives rather than unsolicited gifts that open up new horizons for them. These women need society’s utmost help – not abortion or contempt.
Erika Bachiochi is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, a senior fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute, and the author of “The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision.”
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