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Who Should Decide Abortion 'Rights?'



My uncle, now deceased, was an attorney who practiced in New Jersey and specialized in legal issues involving families, in particular cases about domestic disputes involving who should be the primary parent in divorces where the issue of parental responsibility was in dispute.

In one case, the father went into court to get a divorce decree overturned which had awarded primary custody to the mother because the woman, it was claimed, had become too involved with booze and drugs to carry out parental responsibilities in a proper way.

The court where the case was first heard agreed with the father’s claims, judged the evidence about his ex-wife’s lack of parental fitness to be correct, and awarded primary custody to my uncle’s client.

The ex-wife then counter-sued and the case eventually ended up in the New Jersey Supreme Court. This tribunal reversed the lower court’s ruling, and the children were returned to the mother, the decision pronounced and signed by one of the Supreme Court justices named – ready? – Samuel Alito.

And what reason did Alito advance for returning two young kids to the care of a woman who, according to my uncle, was entirely unfit to be responsible for their care? According to Justice Alito, history and tradition required children to be raised by their mother – I’m quoting what Alito said basically word for word.

Here’s a guy, I’m talking about Samuel Alito, who sits on the highest legal tribunal in the United States and makes no secret about the fact that much of his conservative outlook comes out of the fact that he’s a practicing Catholic who uses the Catholic Church’s view of the world to help him make legal judgements about human affairs.

How is someone like this allowed to even hear a case on abortion, never mind vote on how a law about abortion should be applied or understood?

The five Supreme Court justices – Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Barrett – who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade are all practicing Catholics, as is Chief Justice Roberts, who concurred in the decision although he chose not to join the minority in this case. In fairness, I should state that one of the dissenting jurists – Sotomayor – is also a member of the Catholic faith.

In the original case that was decided in 1973, the court voted 7 – 2 to give Constitutional protection to women who chose to terminate a pregnancy, the opinion written by Harry Blackmun who was joined by Burger, Stewart, Brennan, Douglas, Marshall, and Powell. All seven of the justices were from various Protestant faiths.

When I was a kid growing up in the ‘50’s, the only way a woman could terminate an unwanted pregnancy was to sneak around and find a doctor or somebody else who was willing to perform some kind of illegal and dangerous surgical procedure on her behalf. This changed in 1960 when the FDA approved the first birth-control pill.

Once such pills hit the market, the Catholic Church tried its best to maintain its injunction against any attempt to interfere with the reproductive process, but that effort became a lost cause when it turned out that the official statement opposing birth control – the encyclical Humanae Vitae – was published in 1973 at the same time that three-quarters of all Catholic women were practicing or had practiced artificial birth control.

So, having lost that battle, the Church fell back on fighting against abortions, where they were joined by a newly energetic appearance of politically inspired Evangelicals led by Jerry Falwell and other conservative Protestant fulminators who had made common political cause with the GOP.

I have no problem with anyone who tells me that religious belief is central to their lives. In many communities, particularly smaller, more isolated places where people live, religious congregations play important roles in developing and maintaining the social fabric of everyday life. Religious groups also provide social services to people and communities in need.

But none of those activities should be allowed to determine the legalities which control what we do when it comes to making decisions about our own, personal lives. The government should only go so far in deciding morality and moral choices, and if I wanted such decisions to be based on religious beliefs, I should move to Iran.

And when I move to Iran, I can take Ayatollah Alito along with me for the ride.


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