On Abortion

Matthew R. Bishop
4 min readMay 4, 2022

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A coat hanger. CC-SA 4.0

An op-ed on the revelation that the USSC is set to overturn Roe v Wade

Recently leaked documents suggest that the United States Supreme Court is set to overturn the decision in Roe v. Wade. Doing so will enable and empower US States to completely outlaw access to safe abortion.

It is highly unlikely that there will be any legislation to protect abortion rights after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and that reversal is likely to stand. This is because the existing US legislative system heavily empowers right-leaning voters through unbalanced structures like the US Senate, gerrymandering, and the Senate filibuster. President Biden has confirmed he will not revisit his position on the filibuster in response to the reversal.

One of the golden rules in politics — healthy, ethical, functional politics, that is — is that we should never assess the value of a hypothetical human life to be equal to or greater than the value of an actual, already-alive human. This means that at a 1:1 ratio, a woman must always have greater value than an unborn child.

The unborn child is an idea, a hope of a life that may or may not come to exist in the months ahead, provided everything goes right. The woman is a living human who already exists. To value the hypothetical child over the actual adult is to breach one of the most basic laws of ethics and politics.

Things become messy at unequal scales. Take the sterilization genocide in Xinjiang as an example. Millions of never-conceived children cannot ever exist now, following the mass forced sterilization of Muslim women in western China. I have previously written on this subject — what are our options, and how can we respond? Granted that the scale of this tragedy is incalculable, we must weigh our options to the best approximations that we can. Are the hypothetical lives of never-conceived unborn children worth even half the number of already-living men and soldiers? What about the innocent civilians who would surely die in an armed conflict over the genocide? How do they feel about such an intervention — have we valued their lives, as well? The safe answer, in ethics and in politics, is to always side with the living.

I try my best to respect the views of my religious and conservative friends, understanding that their worldviews are vastly, sometimes incomprehensibly different from my own. Conflict exists wherever these two worldviews collide without any apparent, immediate, or mutually-agreeable solution. It would be sensible enough for our solution to be “if you don’t like an abortion, then don’t get one.” So why isn’t it? In cases of such disagreement, it is generally the de facto solution to leave things up to individual choice.

If conservatives want to legally force their values on liberals, then conservatives should understand just what that means. Liberals, using the same reasoning, could push for anything: Seizing the assets of American oligarchs for redistribution to the masses, for one thing — universal housing, universal healthcare, universal education, living wages, real benefits for unemployed Americans, more vacation time for employed workers, all the hallmarks of a perfect society which conservatives loathe and fear — oh and yes, why don’t we actually go ahead and take all of their guns away too, while we’re at it?

Of course, liberals tacitly agree not to do all of those things, or at least to argue for some of them in moderation, with the understanding that conservatives, in turn, will not become too extreme, too corrupt, or too evil, for lack of a better term. And what else would you call killing off an 11-year-old girl after she was brutally raped just to attempt to deliver a hypothetical baby, other than evil?

The political reality of America is a (poorly) negotiated agreement between conflicting power blocs. This decision threatens to unmake that agreement, because it upends the balance which precedes it, and because it destroys the roadblocks preventing a direct collision of great powers.

When a powerful government invades the physical space and sovereignty of a human being, as is the case in legislating abortion, they are declaring a tacit state of war against that individual unless she complies — and unless she is willing to surrender her own life in the process of that compliance. That a major political party believes it has the authority to commit such an invasion raises more than one red flag. Fundamentally, whether it is China restricting birth or the United States forcing birth, the right to determine whether one has a child belongs inherently to the parent(s) of that hypothetical child — never to the state.

I’ll conclude these remarks with a grim and frank reminder that outlawing abortion will not end abortion. It will only return us to an era of coat-hanger abortions and back-alley doctors. The state cannot legislate against the sovereignty of the human body itself. To do so represents both a historic shift away from what politics is conceptually and, at the same time, an epic miscalculation of the power and reach of the state itself. I pray that the results of future elections, and the actions of future administrations, will prove this to be true.

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Matthew R. Bishop

Matt is an author, journalist, international affairs writer, and a federal civilian crisis responder for the United States.