Honestly, this was probably the most difficult part of the series to write. All the other chapters I covered had a direct relation to my argument. In Part 3, Boonin looks at whether there should be restrictions on the accessibility of abortion. It was tempting to just say “If you agree with Boonin, you’ll probably agree with him about abortion restrictions. If you agree with me, you’ll probably agree that we shouldn’t have restrictions. We should be making it illegal all together.”
But then I thought, well if they’ve read this far, they deserve an interesting last article.
So, I’m going to focus on Chapters 25 and 27 where Boonin discusses whether there should be mandatory waiting periods, and whether parents should have to give their consent or be notified. I will summarize his reasons for saying there should be no restrictions, then I will offer some thoughts.
Chapter 25: Mandatory Waiting Periods
Boonin makes two important points in this chapter.
Point one: Pro-lifers might want mandatory waiting periods so that abortion is too expensive for women to afford.
Some states require women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. Boonin lists several difficulties this causes.
1) The woman has to visit the clinic on two different days.
2) If she doesn’t live close to the clinic, she may have to pay for a hotel to stay overnight.
3) She may have to take time off work and lose a day’s wage (or more).
4) If she has children, she may have to shell out money for a babysitter.
5) Abortion clinics aren’t always open, so a woman who comes in on Monday may not actually get an abortion until Wednesday or Thursday.
In this way, the government still prevents abortion because the woman can’t afford one. (1)
Point 2: This restriction is ultimately wrong because of the unjust burden it’s placing on the woman.
Imagine that the state had forced Shimp to wait 48 hours before he could be unplugged from McFall. This means that for 48 hours, Shimp is being forced to give someone the use of his body that has no right to it. In the same way, when we force a pregnant woman to wait 48 hours before she can have an abortion, that is 48 hours in which she is forced to give someone the use of her body that has no right to it. (2) Boonin goes on to say that his objection to mandatory waiting periods depends on several claims
“The first claim is that if the state forces Shimp to wait 48 hours before being disconnected from the bone marrow transferring machine, it forces him to spend 48 hours letting someone use his body who has no right to use it… The second claim is that it’s wrong for the state to force a person to spend 48 hours letting someone use their body who has no right to use it… The third claim is that if the state forces Alice to wait 48 hours before having an abortion, it forces her to spend 48 hours letting someone use her body who has no right to use it.” (3)
For these and other reasons, Boonin thinks that the restriction of the mandatory 48-hour waiting period should be lifted.
Chapter 27: Parental Consent and Notification
Point 1: Parental consent and notification laws can also make it harder for minors to get abortions.
Boonin explains the ways such requirements might make it difficult for a 17-year-old girl named Jane:
“First, Jane might be afraid to ask her parents for permission. Second, even if she does ask them, she might have trouble convincing them to say yes… In addition, a number of states that don’t require parental consent still require parental notification. That’s not as big a deal but it probably prevents some young women from having abortions, too. They’d rather carry their pregnancy to term than have their parents find out they’d had an abortion.” (4)
Point 2: Shimp having to get his mom’s consent to unplug himself from McFall could cause the same problems.
Boonin asks us to imagine the following situation:
“Shimp’s mom was the sister of Robert McFall’s father, and she told her son in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. So, when McFall took Shimp to court, his lawyer said this, ‘Your Honor, you have to force Mr. Shimp let my client use his bone marrow because Mr. Shimp is a minor and his mother says she wants him to let my client use it.’ Do you think it would be okay for the state to force young Shimp to let McFall use his bone marrow in this version of the story?” (5)
Boonin suspects we would say no. If McFall had no right to use Shimp’s bone marrow, then McFall’s mom should not be able to force Shimp to give the bone marrow to McFall. In the same way, if Jane’s baby, John, had no right to use her body, then Jane’s mom also should not be able to force her to let John use her body. (6)
Boonin deals with other restrictions as well: forcing women to undergo mandatory counseling, denying them insurance coverage for abortions, and mandatory ultrasounds. And the argument is the same. If you would not expect the same types of restrictions to be placed on Shimp, then you also should not expect the restrictions to be placed on a woman seeking an abortion. (7)
Empathy with Restrictions
I understand why pro-lifers think that these restrictions are important.
Having a 48-hour waiting period could have benefits, as Erika Bachiochi explains:
“A culture that truly honors freedom and the act of choosing, then, would be one that honors reason, the faculty that sorts through various options and influencing passions, delving into the consequences for self and others of any one course of action, searching for the forces behind the stronger influencing passions, looking for possible external or internal coercive factors and so on.” (8)
In other words, common sense dictates that we should take to think critically about big decisions.
Making sure parents have either given their consent or at least been notified could also avert tragedy. Because abortion is not the safe procedure that abortion-rights advocates make it out to be. There are physical risks and psychological risks. As Janet Morena tells us “Post-abortive women also speak of suffering uterine perforations and cervical lacerations.” (9) That definitely sounds like something a girl could… I dunno… bleed out and die from? At least get an infection from? If there’s even a chance of that type of complication, then it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for parents to at least know so they can monitor her, would it?
Morana also records the story of Anita of Georgia who tells of her own psychological trauma from an abortion:
“What a bomb does to a building, abortion does to a soul. The horror and destruction of it all may be buried for months, even years, but the very act of abortion creates a dust cloud effect that seeps through every bone in your body until it threatens to suffocate the life out of you. Tell me, how can a person fully live while holding their breath? I have battled thoughts of suicide, drugs, alcohol, and many fears. I suppressed it, but it was eating away at me. It affected everything. I couldn’t go to the dentist without crying, but I didn’t know why until I read somewhere that the tools sound the same.” (10)
Maybe I missed something but I thought the point of abortion was to help women avoid putting their lives in danger or experiencing psychological duress. Bang up job on that. But all that aside, having the parents in the know means that they could watch for signs of depression and be there to comfort their daughter. I realize that not every abortion ends with women’s lives in danger or with them feeling depressed, but unless Planned Parenthood has a crystal ball in their back office, they don’t know which ones will and which ones won’t. So maybe taking one or two safety precautions wouldn’t be such a bad idea?
On the other hand, maybe the bodily autonomy argument is just too strong to resist. Anything that gets in the way of a woman freeing her body from someone who doesn’t have a right to it is just too unreasonable. I can only say one thing then. I hope that when Sally is found bled out on the floor from a perforated uterus or Tricia has slit her wrists in the bathtub, that their parents aren’t in turn blamed for being inattentive to their daughter. It was the pro-choice side that encouraged the distance there, not them.
Response to Boonin
If you reject Boonin’s comparison of pregnancy with the case of Shimp and McFall, you should also reject his reasons for lifting restrictions. As the story of Amy and Brian shows, there are times we expect parents to look after their children, even if they clearly don’t want to. (11) This is because we expect parents to meet their child’s basic needs. So, unless carrying a pregnancy to term can be shown to be an unnatural use of the womb, the same way donating your bone marrow is an unnatural use of your marrow, then pro-lifers will continue to see gestating a fetus as part of a parent meeting their unborn child’s basic needs. (12) Therefore, having a woman wait 48 hours, or making a minor get parental consent seems like the least we can do to help the unborn.
Misdirected Good Intentions
However, as I was thinking about this topic, I began to wonder if pro-lifers are getting so focused on the battles for restrictions that we are losing sight of the war, or “end game” as Trent Horn calls it, “to restore the right to life of unborn human beings.” (14)
I get that every little bit of ground helps. But there are two issues. First, I could see a Supreme Court judge who does not believe a baby has a right to a woman’s body being convinced by Boonin’s argument that these restrictions are pointless. The result would be that the restrictions get overturned anyway.
Second, where it gets complicated in my mind, is when I switch to thinking about the case of Amy and Brian. Let’s say the government suddenly legalized leaving your child to die. Would I want to focus on fighting for Amy and Brian to wait 48 hours so they could decide whether to leave Adrian to die? Or would I want to focus on making it illegal for them to do so?
The same goes for the restrictions involving parental consent or notification. Would I be happy if Amy and Brian’s mother knew what was happening and intervened to stop it? Yes. Would I suddenly think it is okay if she consented to it? No. Would it be much comfort if Brian and Amy had let her know ahead of time what they were planning to do? Not really. In that light, those restrictions seem ridiculous and even pointless to fight for.
If abortion is as equally wrong as what Brian and Amy did, then in some ways, spending time fighting for those restrictions seems equally pointless. In our personal relationships, we can urge women to take more time to think over their situation or talk to their families. But at a political level, I think we should stay focused on fighting for abortion to be made illegal. We’d be in good company with early Christianity when they were fighting to end infanticide. Paul Chamberlain explains:
“Early Christian literature repeatedly condemned infanticide and commanded Christians not to practice it… Prior to the Edict of Milan in AD 313, which legally recognized Christianity, there was little Christians could do politically to abolish the practice. But once they were free to operate openly, it did not take them long to exert influence on the Emperor Valentinian. He was a Christian and was encouraged by Bishop Basil of Caesarea to officially outlaw infanticide. In AD 374 it finally happened.” (15)
We are in a better place in Canada and the US. As Chamberlain writes, here we can “lobby our governments to have our moral values reflected in public policy. A number of means for this are open to any citizen.” (16)
I don’t expect everyone reading this to agree with my conclusion. That’s okay. There’s room for disagreement. This is simply where thinking over this issue has taken me at this time.
So this is the end of my series on Beyond Roe. I have tried to show four main points.
1) Pregnancy is not analogous to the McFall and Shimp story.
2) Boonin’s argument leaves the door open for child abandonment and infanticide.
3) Boonin’s defenses against these charges do not work.
4) Boonin may not have the greatest arguments for lowering restrictions, but they should not be the pro-life focus anyway.
Check out Beyond Roe for yourself. Try out my arguments arguments on chapters I haven’t covered, You can even get creative and come up with new ones yourself. It will be a good intellectual exercise for any pro-life advocate.
(1) David Boonin, Beyond Roe: Why Abortion Should be Legal—Even if the Fetus is a Person (Oxford, EN: Oxford University Press, 2019), 157-158. (Kindle edition.)
(2) Boonin, Beyond Roe, 165.
(3) Boonin, Beyond Roe, 165-166.
(4) Boonin, Beyond Roe, 187.
(5) Boonin, Beyond Roe, 187-188.
(6) Boonin, Beyond Roe, 188-190.
(7) Boonin, Beyond Roe, 143-140, 169-179, 181-186.
(8) Erika Bachiochi, “Coming of Age in a Culture of Choice,” in The Cost of Choice: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion, Erika Bachiochi, ed. (San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2004), 25.
(9) Janet Morana, Recall Abortion: Ending the Abortion Industry’s Exploitation of Women (Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2013), 28.
(10) Morana, Recall Abortion, 27.
(11) Paul Chamberlain, Talking about Good and Bad Without Getting Ugly: A Guide to Moral Persuasion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 48.
(12) Stephanie Gray, Love Unleashes Life: Abortion and the Art of Communicating Truth (Toronto, ON: Life Cycle Books, 2015), 58-59.
(14) Trent Horn, Persuasive Pro-Life: How to Talk about Our Cultures Toughest Issue (El Cajun, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 2014), 81.
(15) Paul Chamberlain, Why People Don’t Believe: Confronting Seven Challenges to the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 130.
(16) Chamberlain, Talking about Good and Bad Without Getting Ugly, 85.
To read the full series, check out Chris’s other articles below:
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