Stan Weed: The freedom to choose does not trump the freedom to live

Society must protect the most vulnerable among us.

(Shuran Huang | The New York Times) Anti-abortion demonstrators celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court on Friday overruled Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion after almost 50 years.

The controversy over abortion continues with renewed energy following the recently leaked U.S. Supreme Court document and the court’s ruling to transfer the abortion policy decision back to the states. As a citizen, it is not easy to separate the noise from the issues when trying to understand the federal and state policy implications.

It appears to this citizen that there are two basic competing interest at stake, and sorting them out leads me to the following:

There is the interest of the woman’s health and well-being, her future and the right to choose the best course for her to maximize her health and future options.

Then there is the interest of the unborn child, who is the other player in this controversy. The child in this controversy does not have the capacity to make a choice regarding his/her health and well-being. In fact, the child did not choose to be conceived in the first place. In 98% of the cases, he/she was a result of the mother’s choices.

So the mother — who wants to have choice over her health, her future, her body — has a series of progressive choices available to her. Under typical circumstances, she can choose to have or not have sex. Second, she can choose to use or not use contraception. These choices have little or no effect on others, and certainly not on an unborn child.

If she does not take responsibility for those first two choices and ends up with an unwanted pregnancy, she is then faced with the third choice, a life-or-death decision — the choice to abort or not abort the child. This choice now has significant implications not only for herself but for the baby. She is making a choice not only for herself, but for another life which cannot choose for itself.

Her choice of, or lack of attention to, the first two choices has placed her and another with a potentially traumatic outcome. The unborn child is then at a life-or-death crossroads, and a mother’s choice to abort this child as a result of her lack of attention to the first two choices leaves the child in the position of paying, with its life, for the earlier choices of the mother.

The least traumatic outcome in this scenario is for the woman to exercise her right to choose in the early stages of her progressive options. She can make the choices that have the least traumatic outcome, without reaching the final choice that costs a life. Her first two choices have led to the third choice.

In the rare case where the pregnancy was the result of rape (about 1% of abortions fit this scenario), a woman can still make a choice that does not compound her condition with the loss of another’s life. For any of us, our right and freedom to choose is valid only when our choices do not lead to traumatic outcomes for others. In this case, freedom to choose is trumped by the freedom to live.

A society that does not protect the unprotected, the most vulnerable among us, is not a society that is fulfilling its obligation to humanity.

Stan Weed

Stan Weed, Ph.D., Taylorsville, received his doctorate from the University of Washington. His primary research work has been in the evaluation of primary prevention programs designed to reduce health problems, mostly for adolescent populations. He is a Utah resident of 45 years.