The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion This antiabortion argument forgot that women are people too

Abortion rights supporters march Sept. 1 outside the Texas Capitol in Austin. (Sergio Flores for The Washington Post)
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If anyone is looking for proof that pro-forced-birth zealots (a more accurate term than “pro-life”) will not stop until they have stripped away every vestige of privacy and reproductive rights across the United States, they need look no further than Robert P. George and Josh Craddock’s June 6 op-ed, “Even if Roe is overturned, Congress must act to protect the unborn.”

Contrary to their opening salvo, no blue state is considering “legislation to permit abortion to the very point of birth.” No, what such states are doing is ensuring that women have full access to medical care, a right protected by the same 14th Amendment that Mr. George and Mr. Craddock repeatedly invoked. That also happens to be a position that most Americans endorse, though that is apparently irrelevant for the authors.

They employed similar rhetorical sleight of hand by claiming that it is “a false, pseudo-originalist approach” for their critics to claim that the 14th Amendment does not protect the unborn “because it was most immediately intended to protect Black Americans.” In fact, that is a completely accurate statement. Even a cursory reading of the post-Civil War legislative debate confirms that the rights of the unborn were not a consideration at all for supporters of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.

Beyond such grotesque distortions, only once in their sweeping endorsement of a federal constitutional ban on abortion did the authors bother to refer to mothers or women. In their world, apparently, the rights of the unborn do not just outweigh those of adults. They replace them. And as such, Mr. George and Mr. Craddock’s closing paean to securing “equal justice for all” rings horribly hollow.

Steven Alan Honley, Washington

In their op-ed, Robert P. George and Josh Craddock argued that Congress should enforce what they claim is the 14th Amendment’s use of the word “person” as including any child living in the womb. They then leaped to the additional claim that a child begins at the point of conception.

Setting aside historical issues that their argument skated over, it should be noted that nowhere did the authors mention that Congress should help women who have unwanted pregnancies, or, for that matter, any pregnancy. In focusing on what they call unborn children, they seemed to overlook that women, too, are “persons” and that their needs also should be met. The authors surely could have added at least a sentence urging Congress to provide pregnant women and mothers comprehensive health care, financial assistance and protections from employers who threaten their jobs.

Overlooking that women are people might have been accidental. Many readers will think otherwise. The op-ed’s argument was consistent with a long history of viewing pregnancy as a problem that women must deal with themselves within rules written by men. If men do not want to pay for the costs of pregnancy or, like Mr. George and Mr. Craddock, include them in weighing whether pregnancies should be continued, they should say so. It is not only women who have a moral choice.

Bob Lyke, Washington

The 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, etc., were measures to cleanse the human rights principles compromised by the federalists in the founding documents establishing inequities in the representation for slave owners and the toleration of slavery, i.e., treatment of people as property. These amendments were to extend the rights and fruits promised by the Constitution to the Black population emancipated in the Civil War. These are not exhaustive delineations of personhood or their fruits. These amendments were about correcting the abuses of slavery in interpreting personhood.

The Victorian laws of England do not align well with the law codes of most of Europe. Most of European law derives from the various codifications of the Roman Empire. Roman law considered the unborn a “potential person.” And, once born, the child would immediately acquire inheritance rights; the unborn had no right to inherit property.

The use of “infant” or “child” for all stages of pregnancy should have been left behind with many other Victorian misconceptions. The essence of personage lies in identifying human form. The umbilical cord is the crux of the matter for human form. The Victorians don’t seem to notice that mature people, children and infants, for all intents and purposes, don’t have umbilical cords. Check it out! They don’t! And, ethically, that umbilical cord makes a big difference in how choices are to be made.

The human conception and development might be illegitimate, undesired, planned and/or controlled. No one is more interested than the main invested person: the mother.

Bruce Mathews, Catonsville

In their op-ed, Robert P. George and Josh Craddock made an eloquent argument for “the equal rights of our tiny sisters and brothers at the dawn of their lives.” They did so referring many times to “unborn children,” with only one dismissive occurrence of the word “mother” and a wonderfully reductive single use of the word “womb.” Like the Constitution they so carefully parse, they never use the word “woman.”

The obvious result of calling abortion “homicide” is that the “womb” will not have rights superior to those of the zygote. Criminalizing any form of reproductive choice inevitably requires criminalizing the pregnant person for seeking it. Very soon, the woman’s right to lifesaving medical care will be sacrificed to save the fetus.

Many analysts have shown in painful detail the financial and emotional damage to women forced to give birth and the damage to the interests of their existing children and to their larger communities. The suffering is the point.

As birth control methods are increasingly restricted by these same self-righteous men, it is clear that punishing any woman or girl who has sexual relations is the purpose of the antiabortion movement.

Somehow, it became a “Christian” tenet of faith to police the sex lives of women and gay people. Yet the only thing I recall Jesus saying about sexual mores was when the Pharisees prepared to stone an “adulteress” (note that the male involved was apparently blameless) and offered Jesus the honor of casting the first stone at her. He said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Katherine Crump-Wiesner, Washington

Robert P. George and Josh Craddock claimed that the life of a fetus begins at conception. When life begins is a difficult question best left to experts.

Happily, one unquestioned expert has dealt with this issue: Immanuel Kant. “Critique of Pure Reason,” 1781 edition, Pages 341 to 405 of the German text, especially 384, discusses at great length the state of the soul in the life of a human being, the soul in and before the birth of that being, and the soul in and after that being’s death. Kant shows that he cannot provide answers to these questions. But neither, he establishes, can anyone else.

A claim that life begins at any given time should not be treated as a statement of fact.

Wilbur H. Friedman, Rockville