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Reopening of Roe vs. Wade

August 07, 1985

Whatever the merits of the Supreme Court decision in the landmark abortion case of Roe vs. Wade, that decision is ill-served by your editorial (July 17) "The Open Doors." For in asserting that "thoughtful people . . . wish that the justices had not become entangled in trimesters of pregnancy in which abortion was permissible to a greater or lesser degree" you in effect recommend ignoring the most critical moral question raised by the practice of abortion. That question is whether there is some point during a pregnancy at which the fetus might reasonably be treated as a living human person.

The Supreme Court majority, while demurring from putting the matter in just this way, has nevertheless effectively set the beginning of human personhood at the end of the second trimester. Obviously conservatives will want that line drawn at an earlier state, some as early as the moment of conception.

The point is that both the moral and legal need, as well as anguish, of drawing some such line should be appreciated, not swept aside as an annoying complication. The view that a fetus should at some point begin to receive minimal human consideration can be ignored only at the expense of both logical and moral credibility.

Would The Times have us suppose, for example, that an abortion performed in the seventh month (when a premature delivery might actually produce a healthy infant) should be treated as either morally or legally equivalent to an abortion in the earliest stages of fetal development?! Whether or not the court provided a fully adequate answer to this sort of question, it was surely the willingness to address it that gave the Roe decision substance and an openness to rational debate.

To evade the admittedly complicated and painful question of what we, as a society, should stipulate as the beginning of human personhood (and therefore of minimal human right) invites the very sort of appeal to "vague, seemingly self-evident convictions" The Times decries in the submissions of the Justice Department.

The Times' simplistic formula that "the same liberty that allows a woman to have an abortion is the liberty that allows another woman to decide against one" may be rhetorically forceful, but it utterly begs the central question I have been raising.

If a fetus (at some point) is actually a living human person, then clearly the abortion debate is not only about the right of a woman to control her body but is also about the responsibility she may at some point acquire in relation to this other developing person.

I am not completely comfortable with either the extreme way in which many opponents of abortion define this responsibility, nor with the very permissive approach implicit in the Roe vs. Wade decision. But both command my respect in a way which The Times' vague and rhetorical appeal to "liberty" cannot.


Santa Monica

The Reagan Administration is taking a giant step backward in their move to have the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade.

I am adamantly opposed to this action taken by the government for both moral and practical reasons. I believe that women have a fundamental right to make choices for themselves in all areas of their life, especially where it concerns their body.

Until contraceptive methods are developed which are 100% foolproof, until teen-agers are taught about birth control and encouraged to use it, and until men take real responsibility for the possible results of their sexual activity, no one can claim the right to dictate or legislate a truly personal decision.

No woman should be forced to go through an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy because of the imposition of someone else's beliefs. That is a choice a woman must take for granted as a basic right, not subject to political whim or religious imposition.

Just as important, no woman should be forced to risk her health with an illegal abortion, which is surely what will result if Roe vs. Wade is repealed. Nobody who would curb a woman's freedom of choice should fool himself into thinking that abortions will simply disappear if outlawed. They will go underground and with tragic results.

The right to make this difficult decision should be left to the individual without government interference. Outlawing that right is not only shortsighted and a true health risk for millions of women but is also against the tradition of freedom in this country.


Los Angeles

I am growing exasperated with the widespread portrayal of abortion as a maligned but noble cause. Your editorial joins the chorus of well-intentioned support of a woman's right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Put in less euphemistic terms, we are speaking of a woman's right to end the life of a child she cannot care for or does not wish to be responsible for raising.

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