The early reviews of oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization before the Supreme Court on Wednesday were full of hopes and fears that Roe v. Wade (1973) is hanging by a thread. It remains to be seen whether this is actually true, but that precedent for legal abortion has long rested on a foundation of dubious history, constitutional reasoning and science.
In the almost half-century since Roe, we've watched the case for a permissive abortion policy gradually shift from the right to privacy (Roe) to an expansive view of personal autonomy (1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey) to equality today. But these legal justifications have only a tangential relationship to the real-world arguments over abortion Americans are having.
Abortion has remained a hotly debated issue despite decades of the Supreme Court declaring the matter settled precisely because there is considerable truth to the core observations made by each side: Abortion constitutes the taking of a unique human being's life, and carrying a pregnancy to term — much less an unwanted pregnancy — is a major imposition on the bodily integrity of a woman.
What is much less rooted in truth is our society's post-Roe pretense that the organism growing in the womb is a baby if the parents want her and something closer to an expendable blob of tissue if they don't. The circumstances of pregnancy may vary widely, from joyful to tragic, but the nature of the being inside the womb does not. For this reason, many of the subsidiary arguments for abortion are shrouded in humanity-denying deception and euphemism.
Most of us know deep down that once a woman is pregnant, she already has a child. The choice then becomes whether it is a live child or a dead child. And whatever the Supreme Court rules, we should seek to create a society that offers women a better choice than a dead child.