As a civilized people we enact legislation to protect ourselves. One standard for deciding whether or not a thing should become enshrined in law was best enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in “Notes on the State of Virginia,” when he was speaking of religion. “[I]t does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
As I say, that same standard can and ought to be applicable to deciding if anything should become law. There are some times when that standard is particularly applicable to both religion and law, and the latest assault on Roe v. Wade is a case in point.
If you believe that a human soul is created at the moment of conception then good for you. I disagree, but that’s just my opinion. In any case I do not consider it my business to extrapolate on that odd belief of yours, but if you should ask I would advise you that, in order to remain consistent with your belief, you should never undertake to either get an abortion or pay for one. Otherwise, as I say, I don’t consider the question my business. “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
In any case, such a belief is held a) by a minority of people in the United States and b) is a religious one, or at least a metaphysical one, and therefore constitutionally prohibited from being considered for legislation. In short, if you want to outlaw abortion you’re in the wrong country. You might want to consider taking your intolerance somewhere else. Like Russia.
The bottom line in America is, if you’re against abortion don’t get one or don’t pay for one. That is your right and is part of the wonderful thing that constitutes true freedom in America. Even though I don’t share your belief I share your right to have that belief. If abortion isn’t your thing then that’s fine with me. Why wouldn’t it be? “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” It doesn’t violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state. All is well.
But when you are no longer content to make that choice for yourself but want to also make it for everybody else, that’s when we have a problem. That’s when you’re starting to pick my pocket and break my leg with legislation. Specifically, you’re telling women what to do with their bodies and men, who are potentially interested parties in any pregnancy, what the outcome of that pregnancy must be by law irrespective of their feelings.
So when we ask why rape and incest aren’t considered in some of the more medieval antiabortion laws recently enacted in some states, we are really asking the wrong question. You see, whatever reason a woman has for deciding to have an abortion, it’s really none of our business. She may decide to have the abortion because it’s Tuesday. We need to stay the hell out of it, because her choice neither picks our pockets nor breaks our legs. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.