There is quite a ruction, as we might expect, over the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a Federal law barring “partial birth” abortions, and even the justices of the Supreme Court seem quite angrily divided. This is law at its most difficult, in which separating the rights and interests of the parties involved — in fact, even defining how many interested parties there are — depends not on simple, practical considerations, but upon metaphysical intuitions for which there is no demonstrably correct answer, and about which people’s beliefs vary diametrically.
At what point is a fetus a person whose rights must be considered? The spectrum of human opinion ranges from before the moment of conception, as in the Catholic Church’s position on birth control, to the moment of birth and even beyond. The development of a fetus is a continuum, from fertilized ovum to swaddled newborn, and there is no place to mark the point where the “person” enters the picture. To the religious, ensoulment, and therefore personhood, may occur at conception; to others, the fetus is a proper subset of a woman’s body until the moment of birth. Who is right? By what criteria can we answer such a question? Viability? But that is just a matter of technique. The onset of rudimentary consciousness? We have no idea how that could be determined. Religious or philosophical beliefs? Sure. Yours, or mine?
But it is the necessary task of the law to impose discontinuous distinctions upon continuous phenomena, and I must say that the procedure in question here — which is almost inhumanly gruesome, and which is by definition performed upon fetuses that are well on their way to the completion of their development — is arguably not something that ought to be seen as a Constitutional right.
Do keep in mind that the ruling is not that the law cannot be amended to permit this procedure, should the citizenry and their elected representatives decide to make it legal again; the Court is merely saying that laws banning this procedure may not be set aside on purely Constitutional grounds. The matter may still be addressed by the ordinary processes of democracy. Perhaps this is about the best we might hope for.
There is more that I might say about all of this, but it is quite late, and it’s been a long day.