By Guy Page
Since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, the societal earth on which the legalization of abortion rested in January 1973 has since shifted considerably.
Houses built on shifting sand tend to fall down. Court decisions based not on constitutional principle but on the perceived needs and wants of contemporary society likewise deserve to come a ‘tumbling down.
Those of us caught up in the zeitgeist of the early 1970’s remember the panic over the Global Population Bomb, the shame felt by the Unwed Mother and her family, and the either/or “better of two evils” choice of ‘safe, legal’ surgical abortions or back alley quackery by coat hanger.
Abortion is not a simple black hats-white hats issue. People of compassion on both sides need to work together to help mothers in crisis. Still, a half-century later, none of the reasons listed above are still compelling.
1) Population control is no longer a driving concern. The Burlington Free Press reported in May, 2018 that live births in Vermont in 2017 were the lowest since 1857, the culmination of a 30-year decline. Vermont is now paying young people to come here because there aren’t enough workers. First-world fertility is already below the level of replacement in most countries. The UN expects worldwide fertility to stabilize or decline after 2050.
The dreaded population bomb fizzled. The world eats more now than ever, thanks to the Green Revolution driven by technology that didn’t exist in 1973. As for the future – last November the Vermont Artificial Intelligence Commission discussed how robotics are likely to improve productivity on Vermont farms.
2) Shame is no longer a driving concern. I was 15 on Jan. 22, 1973. I remember that back then, young people who were gay, dating interracially, or pregnant were ostracized. I remember it well. 46 years later, society has changed. We now use the term “baby daddy” and “baby momma” to describe the parents to children born out of wedlock. CDC figures show that in Vermont, 39.8% of children are born to unwed mothers – and that’s on the low side, nationally. Most states are firmly in the mid-40%. For better or worse, societal shaming of unwed mothers has gone out the window.
3) Contraception access, knowledge and options have increased. I’m not an expert, but I think today’s girls and boys generally know more and can get contraception more easily than in 1973. By state law, every Vermont middle school and above is required to offer contraceptives and contraception training.
4) Most abortions are now chemical, not surgical. Non-sanctioned pills are notoriously easy to obtain via mail or UPS – ivermectin, anyone?
5) Thanks to science, we know more about the individuality of the fetus. (All hail the ultrasound machine!) Compared to now, in 1973 there was a greater perception that a fetus was a mere mass of cells indistinct from its mother.
We know more about fetal DNA, its many unique differences from its mother, its pain sensitivity. Viability after premature birth has greatly increased. Yet while awareness of individuality has increased, still this bill insists the fetus is a nonperson. That subjective judgment has terrible resonance in humanity’s history and terrible future implications not only for the unwanted fetus, but for all categories of individuals deemed unwanted by society.
Human justice is built on the bedrock that it is wrong to take an innocent life. Every angry bit of spray-painted or verbal graffiti uttered since 10:11 AM last Friday morning ignores the glaringly obvious: Momma’s carrying a human life worthy of legal protection.
S57, the state law enshrining an absolute right to abortion at any stage in fetal development, under any circumstances, acknowledges the right to choose or refuse sterilization. This is a tacit recognition that a past Vermont Legislature, in 1931, got it wrong – horribly and historically wrong – when it legalized compulsory sterilization on those deemed incompetent to choose for themselves. Four years ago, with a sense of shame UVM voted to remove the name of eugenics supporter and former president Guy Bailey from Bailey-Howe Library. Two years ago, the Legislature followed suit by publicly apologizing for previous legislatures legalizing eugenics.
Vermont’s abortion law might someday receive similar condemnation by our more enlightened descendents.
The author is editor of Vermont Daily Chronicle and father of three adopted children.
Categories: News Analysis