In 1973, Roe v. Wade dehumanized an entire defenseless population: the unborn. In nine months they could’ve been birthed into a country that provides a full panoply of rights for women, for children, for disabled people, and even for endangered animals. But until these nascent humans are able to make it out of the womb, they have no rights. At least, no rights that are superior to those of their expectant mothers.
Because of Roe, millions of abortions have been performed, and generations of children have not been given the opportunity to live.
I, and many others, believe that life begins at conception. And given the increase in frequency of fetal surgery in utero, science increasingly agrees with me.
Even just the term “fetal surgery," which uses the word “fetus,” is dehumanizing to the unborn child. That word was preferred by the Supreme Court, but it has not prevented battles over whether an unborn child can feel pain, and whether the unlimited right to an abortion in the first trimester extends to terminations based on gender or race or convenience, or whether a “fetus” should be entitled to a burial.
And yet, last week, the justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court continued to dehumanize babies. On Friday, the high court held that a pregnant mother from Clinton County who used opiates and smoked marijuana during her pregnancy was not guilty of child abuse.
The Child Protective Services Law of Pennsylvania (CPSL) holds that child abuse involves ““intentionally, knowingly or recklessly … causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act” or “creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.” The majority of five justices held that the act could not be applied to a “fetus” because, restricted by the holding in Roe and other cases which have considered the fetus not to be a human person, the CPSL does not consider an unborn child to be “a human person” worthy of protection. As the court noted, “The plain language of the CPSL requires the existence of a child at the time of the allegedly abusive act in order for the actor to be a “perpetrator” and for the act to constitute “child abuse.”
Two justices dissented, on the grounds that the statute only requires that the abuse be a “recent act” occurring within the last two years, and doesn’t specify whether it had to occur before or after birth.
There are some policy reasons backing the decision, primarily the fear that pregnant women who abuse drugs will be discouraged from seeking treatment if they think they’ll be arrested and charged with a crime. But more importantly, the majority wanted to make it clear that an unborn child is not a human entity, a person entitled to respect, a child that should be protected from harm. The message was unmistakable: We will not re-humanize what was dehumanized four and a half decades ago.
This is, quite simply, an abomination. Children are being born with serious disabilities because of maternal drug abuse, and we continue to pretend that the abuser is innocent because her crimes were committed against “inhuman nullities.”
The court is confused about just where the inhumanity really lives.