What's Tony Thinking

Walking On Thin Ice


I’m going to say a few things about abortion, which puts me — a man — on thin ice.

But let’s start elsewhere, with COVID. There was a piece in the New York Times today from an emergency room physician in Michigan. He’s tired. More than that, he’s angry. He’s angry that his ER and hospital and staff are terribly overtaxed with un-vaccinated COVID patients.

Dr. Rob Davidson challenges the idea that vaccination is a personal choice. He argues in favor of a “widespread vaccine mandate.”

“With every shift, I see the strain people sick with Covid-19 put on my hospital. Their choice to not get vaccinated is not personal. It forces patients with ruptured appendixes and broken bones to wait for hours in my emergency department; it postpones surgeries for countless other people and burns out doctors and nurses.

“The coronavirus has sickened nearly 50 million Americans and killed over 788,000. New mutations continue to appear, and the winter’s chill will bring flu season along with it. Personal choice cannot be an acceptable reason to endanger other people. With cases and deaths continuing to rise and antivirals in short supply, time is not on our side. A widespread vaccine mandate may be the only thing that can save our hospitals and our patients.”

Back to abortion, back out on thin ice.

There are big differences between abortion and COVID. But there is a common thread too. Personal choice as an absolute. Another way to describe this would be to say that “personal autonomy” trumps everything else.

If it is wrong to assert that getting a proven vaccine is entirely my own business and no one else matters, might not that logic apply — at least in some measure — to abortion? Abortion rights advocates argue that it is only a matter of personal choice on the part of a woman, with no consequence for anyone else. I think that in both cases the advocates for absolute personal choice and autonomy are wrong.

Which may be part of the reason that after nearly 50 years there is no public consensus regarding abortion. This, as Andrew Sullivan points in a piece titled, “Why Roe Will Fall and Obergefell Won’t” stands in contrast to same-sex marriage (the Obergefell case). Here’s Sullivan:

“In Roe, the Court tried to jumpstart a consensus and failed to secure it, with public opinion very similar now to where it was half a century ago. In Obergefell, the Court waited until there was majority support, which arrived, according to Gallup, in 2011, and the Court then validated a still-growing societal consensus four years later.”

I understand that abortion, as Sullivan himself notes, is an issue where the burden on women vastly outweighs the burden on men. But that doesn’t mean that it is only “a women’s issue” or that it can be reduced to a matter of absolute personal choice.

Another guest piece in the New York Times argued that our culture has gone down the wrong path by absolutizing “personal autonomy.” The legal scholar Erika Bachiochi writes,

“A post-Roe America will need to move beyond its wrongheaded obsession with autonomy. It will need to align both its rhetoric and its policies better with the realities of human existence and so should work to bring forth a renewed solidarity instead. We humans are not best understood as rights-bearing bundles of desires who progress through life by the sheer force of our autonomous wills. We are beings who are deeply dependent on one another for every good in life — first and foremost for our very existence, as we did not come to be by an act of our own will.”

It seems to me that what Bachiochi calls “solidarity” is what we are lacking in facing COVID.

I won’t get into commenting on current anti-abortion legislation in states like Texas and Mississippi, some of which seems extremely dubious. But I will say that one reason this issue continues to vex us is that it cannot be resolved by appeals to, or victory for, one extreme or another, whether those are extremes of absolute pro-choice or absolute pro-life.

As a Christian, I don’t think we can ever be indifferent to the plight and protection of the vulnerable, which includes women who are pregnant and the life they carry.

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