In 1994 for the first time in decades the Republican Party took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Some will remember that occasion as the ‘Contract with America’ election after which Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House of Representatives. After the election National Public Radio appeared to have a brief moment – call it a nanosecond – of self-reflection and self-criticism, perhaps flowing from a panicked thought that newly empowered Republicans might actually cut NPR funding. I vividly recall at that time an unusually honest NPR reporter with a refreshing degree of self-knowledge saying something like, ‘Yeah, we cover ALL the issues: from abortion to AIDS, from AIDS to abortion, we cover them all!’
I suspect that over the years NPR has gotten so much flak for biased, one-sided reporting on abortion, that on occasion they actually do feel compelled to interview a pro-life spokesperson. (‘Okay, boys and girls: we’ve been laying it on a little thick. We better get a pro-lifer in here next week for our token one-in-25 interview.’) More often, however, the (almost certainly, and often manifestly) pro-abortion presenter tendentiously introduces some abortion-related matter, then begins talking to an equally tendentious and pro-abortion reporter, who then introduces and plays clips from a pro-abortion expert (doctors, law professors, and abortion clinic employees are the favored categories) and some poor victim saying how horribly she will be affected by restrictions on abortion. Such is high quality, objective, publicly subsidized journalism. The other side is erased, ignored, or allowed only to speak through the filter of the presenter and reporter. Except in one case in 25. That unborn life should have any rights or be given a moment’s consideration is passed over in utter silence. The issue is not one of conflicting rights, which should be resolved without killing one of the parties. No; the issue is one of an ideological consensus among the kind of people who work for NPR.
In mid-2022 NPR seems to be All Abortion, All the Time. In early July A Martinez on Morning Edition had an interview with one Carliss Chatman, a law professor at Washington and Lee School of Law. This interview was, even by NPR’s standards of abortion coverage, exceptionally question-begging and sketchily reasoned. To her credit, though, let me begin by congratulating Chatman for mostly speaking of ‘pregnant women’ and ‘pregnant mothers’. NPR’s stylebook these days seems to imagine a rash of pregnant men, since their reporters tie themselves in knots to speak of ‘pregnant people’.
In any case, the burden of Professor Chatman’s comments was to oppose fetal personhood laws, which she said would lead both to a ‘legal quagmire’ for the states and also to conflicts with the 14th Amendment. Her two examples of such apparently insoluble problems were high occupancy road lanes and the tax code. Could a pregnant woman drive in an HOV lane? Yes!: if the fetus is a person that makes two in the car. Also, if the fetus is a person, then her mother during pregnancy could claim a tax exemption for a dependent. Gotcha! Get out of that quagmire, pro-lifer!
Okay, I will. A one sentence addition to the traffic code could restrict qualification as a passenger for HOV purposes to persons over six years of age. Easy. The purpose of the HOV lane is to reduce traffic congestion by encouraging carpools. Unborn children, babies in car seats, or toddlers in the back do not serve that purpose in any way, so exclude them from the count. I thought of that all on my own. And I am not even a law professor. Let’s not kill the unborn child (or the baby or the toddler) to solve the profound HOV dilemma.
As for the tax code, again one or two sentences should suffice. Well, one or two ideas should suffice; the IRS might need 27 pages to express those ideas. In brief, this should do: ‘a dependent for this purpose shall have been born on or before December 31st in the tax year in question’. Date of birth has always been the main factor in this matter, and there is no need to change its role. Birth is usually accompanied by a public record, available for examination by the IRS if needed to prove a claimed exemption. Pregnancy often produces no public record. Again, there need be no quagmire at all.
In short, I think these exceptionally shallow illustrations may be easily dismissed. The bigger problem with Chatman’s interview is her confusion of the categories of ‘person’, ‘human being’, and the beginning of human life. Unfortunately for Chatman’s position, human life and human being are determined factually and scientifically, not as matters of law, opinion, will, or preference. An unborn child from the moment of conception is human – which is an objective category, a matter of genetic fact, and patient of clear, scientific determination. An unborn child is also genetically distinct from every other human being in the world. Likewise, from the moment of conception every unborn child is in a process whose normal stages will include development, birth, decline, and death. The fetus is not a rock or a spider: not one of those kinds of beings but rather a human being. Likewise, the fetus is not a part of the mother, as a tooth or a toe or a liver is, but rather is a genetically distinct and unique human being with its genetic code and unique developmental impetus. Just like two-year-olds.
While ‘human’ and ‘human being’ and ‘human life’ are scientific facts, ‘person’ is a legal category. The question in abortion, as in slavery before the Civil War, is whether a given human being will be recognized as a person possessed of rights in our polity. Chatman shifts between and confounds and conflates ‘human being’ and ‘person’, to evade the scientific fact of humanity. But unborn children are rightfully ‘persons’, whether Chatman agrees or not, just as enslaved persons prior to the 13th and 14th Amendments were human beings who should rightfully have been deemed ‘persons’, whether or not they were given that legal status and the politically acknowledged rights that properly should accompany it.
Chatman says that in her view the 14th Amendment implies that ‘birth [is] when life begins’. But that implication is factually, demonstrably, and scientifically false. New and distinct life begins with conception, even if that life is devalued, even if that life is not deemed worthy of protection, and even if that life is killed. Few rights under the Constitution are actively applied prior to birth for obvious, practical reasons. But Anglo-American law did, and often still does, recognize a tort if an unborn child is killed – a tort additional to the tort of injury or death to the mother. The loss of a pregnancy can often be determined. But just as an unborn child is not baptized, because he or she physically cannot be baptized, so trial by jury, say, or freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures are not rights relevant to or needed by the unborn. The right to life, without which other rights are irrelevant, is needed by the unborn child and can be recognized and enforced in many cases. To fail to understand why many other rights are not enforced on behalf of unborn human beings is simply silly.
By the way, one would never know from NPR that under Roe versus Wade the United States had a radical abortion license, with no gestational limits. Only six other nations in the world, two of which are China and North Korea, had abortion licenses as radical as that under Roe.
Chatman at one point says, that the
Fourteenth Amendment…says everyone born in the U.S. is a citizen, essentially says every human being is a person, a legal person with legal rights and due process rights. So in theory, we shouldn’t be able to allow states to define when personhood begins if we’ve got the 14th Amendment in place.
Exactly. This statement in fact seems to make my point concisely. The child is a human being, whose birth will simply be a developmental stage in its being. Every distinct human being is or should be a ‘legal person’, with legal and due process rights. The states really should not be allowed to abridge those rights by defining in a limiting fashion when personhood begins. Personhood should begin when the distinct human being begins. And such a person should enjoy the protection of the 14th Amendment and the right not to be killed in utero.