Once in a while a phrase will stick in my mind because of its odd implications. A few weeks ago I read a book that remarked in passing that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade had made women “the arbiters of their own pregnancies.”
The more I think of it, the stranger it seems. Before Roe, there was no such thing as an “arbiter” of a pregnancy, any more than there were arbiters of the lives of newborns. Nobody made a life-and-death decision about any child’s life — at least not legally.
What is especially weird about the phrase is that arbiter means an impartial judge, not an interested party. When a man is on trial for a capital crime, his fate is decided by a judge and jury with no stake in the outcome. The process would be corrupted if the judge or any juror went into the trial hoping to profit by his death.
And of course even the most brutal murderer is entitled to legal representation. His claims and interests, as well as those of his victim, are taken fully into account. If he is sentenced to death, it is only after a thorough (and usually lengthy) process, usually including reviews of his case by other courts. No single person decides his fate.
The child who is sentenced to die by abortion enjoys no such protections. Far from being determined by an impartial “arbiter,” its fate is decided by the party who has a material interest in its death: its mother. If she and an abortionist can agree on a price, the child is doomed. Then its body and organs may be sold to laboratories — an indignity that even executed criminals are spared.
So every legal safeguard extended to the accused murderer is denied to the innocent child. Its life is at the mercy of one person’s will. Nobody speaks for it; its interests are unrepresented. No neutral party has a share in the decision. Arbiter is about the most inappropriate word one could choose to describe the woman who decides to have it killed.
In real life, the woman rarely makes the decision in a vacuum. The women who file into abortion clinics are rarely mature, independent women asserting their sovereignty over their own bodies; more often they are just losers in the cruel game of love — immature girls who are bullied into getting abortions by boyfriends who refuse to support their own children. Young women are often dominated by men who are a few years older and physically much stronger, with more force of personality than they have. So they often abort in deference to the insistence of men, who may abandon them or threaten to do so.
But one of the unintended consequences of Roe v. Wade has been to empower such males. After all, if a woman can’t be forced to bear an unwanted child, why should any man be forced to support one? If the mother has the sole legal authority to say whether the child is brought to term, why, by the heartless logic of Roe, should she be allowed to impose responsibility on the father? What’s sauce for the goose …
“If you want it,” he can say, “you support it. I’m sure as hell not going to!” Young pregnant women must often hear these words, which make a mockery of their supposed “independence.” Legal abortion, by making children disposable, has relieved men of their former duty to protect their own flesh and blood.
So the real “arbiter” of the child’s life may not be the mother, but the father. And the abortion may be more in his interest than hers. The law may not recognize his interest any more than it recognizes the child’s, but he is far from helpless to apply crushing pressure on a pregnant young woman.
How many women would choose abortion if the father were eager to support and raise the child? Rather few, I suppose. But few have the strength to choose the child over the father who doesn’t want it. The Supreme Court has created a bitter dilemma for many of the women it thought it was helping.