Forty years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States held in Roe v. Wade that a physician had the right to practice medicine freely absent a compelling state interest, a right that included the decision to terminate a pregnancy. The Court also ruled that under the 14th Amendment, a woman had the right to privacy to make the decision for herself, at least during the first trimester of pregnancy.
the forty years since Roe v. Wade, there has been a lot of debate over the
right to life and the rights of the unborn. The Catholic Church has been
an especially ardent advocate of the right to life of the unborn. Many
anti-abortion advocates have urged passage of state laws providing that
the fetus is a person with full legal rights, a position vigorously
supported by the Catholic Church. So the headline in the CNN story -- Lawyers for Catholic hospital argue that a fetus is not a person -- was a bit jarring, to say the least.
case involved a pregnant woman who went into cardiac arrest in the
emergency room of St. Thomas More Hospital in Canyon City, Colorado.
Lori Stodghill was 28 weeks pregnant with twin boys when she died on New
Year's Day 2006. Her husband brought a wrongful death suit on behalf of
Lori and the unborn twins.
Lawyers for the the
hospital and its owner, Catholic Health Initiatives, argued that under
Colorado state law, a fetus is not a person until it is born alive. The
twins were dead when they were removed from their mother, thus they
could not be included in the law suit. The court agreed with that
argument and eventually decided against the husband on the wife's
wrongful death, as well. Icing on the cake ... the hospital sued the
husband for $118,000 in legal fees. They graciously offered to drop the
claim if the husband would agree not to appeal. Again, sound legal
procedure but maybe not such great ethics.
Just as Roe
v. Wade centered around competing interests of the state and the
physician and the mother, so too the case of Lori Stodghill centered
around the competing interests of doctrinal purity and fiscal
well-being. In Lori Stodghill's case, a Catholic hospital chose to cite
Colorado law that supported its position, certainly a legally defensible
choice. The fact that it was a morally indefensible position, at least
by the standards of the Catholic Church, well, that was awkward but
apparently not insurmountable.
At the end of the day, it really is all about the choices you make, and the hospital chose money over it's affiliation to the Catholic Church, a position that didn't sit too well with the Vatican, which is reviewing the case "to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
The issue of abortion is never going to be settled. As anyone who has taken the trouble to actually read Roe v. Wade
will discover, the argument over when a fetus is viable -- what used to
be called quickening -- and therefore deserving of an added measure of
legal protection has been going on for thousands of years. The advent of
modern medical imaging techniques has, frankly, made it impossible to
deny that there is an argument to be made. But, to paraphrase Paul
Harvey, that is not the end of the story.
The problem I
have had with the right to life movement remains two-fold. First, there
are two lives involved, that of the fetus and that of the mother.
Becoming pregnant does not make a woman a mere vessel for the fetus with
no rights of her own. In some cases, the right to life of the mother
can and should take precedence over the fetus. Certainly it is fair to
consider both, depending on the circumstances.
if you believe in a right to life for the unborn, then how much more
valuable does that right to life become after birth? Do we get to pick
and choose who gets the inviolable right to life and who doesn't? If the
fetus has an absolute right to life, does our enemy on the field of
battle? After all, he or she was once a fetus. My point is if you argue
the sanctity of life then you should extend that to all life. The
reality is that we constantly balance competing interests. My personal comfort
versus the life of that spider crawling up the wall. My right to bear
arms versus the inevitability of accidental and intentional gun deaths.
brings us back to Roe v. Wade. At the heart of that decision was the
recognition of competing interests that would have to be weighed and
balanced. There is no absolute answer, only a process whereby we can try
and approach a just outcome, one that balances the rights of all
concerned. I'll take that over moral certitude any day of the week.