Elizabeth Prelogar, the solicitor general of the United States, said it almost in passing during last week’s oral argument at the Supreme Court. Responding to a question from Justice Clarence Thomas, she explained that pregnant women have a threefold “liberty interest” in abortion. The right to abortion keeps women from having to go through pregnancy, to go through childbirth, and “to have a child out in the world.” Notice how that third interest is framed. The “freedom” that Roe v. Wade promises — that it insists the Constitution protects — includes not only the freedom from having to raise an unwanted child but the freedom from knowing that someone else is raising her.
It includes, that is, freedom from adoption. Our abortion debate tends not to focus on this point. When it comes up, the last few days suggest, the reaction from supporters of abortion is unreasoning fury. Witness the spittle that came flying Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s way after she raised an entirely sensible question about the Court’s abortion jurisprudence. How can abortion be held to be necessary to keep mothers from having to raise children they do not want, she asked, if they remain free to choose adoption? Even assuming that women have a constitutional right to “bodily autonomy” that allows abortion, doesn’t the additional argument about the burdens of parenthood fall away?
Nothing about Barrett’s line of questioning assumed that adoption is an “idyllic fairy tale” that “magically” solves the conflict over abortion, as op-eds in the New York Times and Washington Post pretended. It did not treat adoption as simple or easy for birth parents, the child, or the adoptive parents. But the anguish of making an adoption plan for a newborn cannot justify snuffing out its life instead. Worse is the attack mounted by some critics on the adoption of children by parents of a different race — an attack that, in this context, suggests (if not openly argues) that it is better for a child to be aborted than to be raised by parents with different skin color.
Barrett did not really get an answer to her question (unless you take “Roe already considered that” as an answer). The only answer to it is the one that Prelogar hinted at. Abortion is valuable — it has constitutional status — because it lets mothers and fathers come as close as scalpel and poison can bring them to pretending they were never parents at all.
Against this sinister if beguiling fantasy, the mere possibility of adoption stands as an implicit rebuke — and, it seems, an intolerable one.
Something to Consider
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