A reading of the bans

Carolyn Moynihan
May 17, 2019
Reproduced with Permission

New York City is considering a bill that would add the sale of fur to a growing list of bans, ranging from plastic bags and single use foam products to indoor smoking and alcohol ads. Councillor Corey Johnson, the bill's sponsor, says the fur industry is cruel to animals, keeping them in cages then killing them by electrocution or breaking their necks. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals adds that animals are also skinned alive.

But the really big ban story this week is Alabama's new law criminalising abortion in nearly all cases, a step that is openly aimed at getting the Supreme Court of the United States to review Roe v. Wade and, as a consequence, to overturn the 1973 decision that opened the floodgates of abortion in the US. Like Georgia's new heartbeat law, which bans abortion from as early as six weeks into pregnancy, pro-life advocates say it is bound to be appealed to the highest court in the land.

Just as animal rights and conservation activists take advantage of liberal regimes to advance their causes, and abortion "rights" activists do likewise, so right-to-life activists in the US are seizing a moment to argue theirs at a level that has not been possible for decades. With Donald Trump in the White House on a pro-life mandate, and two of his nominees on the Supreme Court, these and other Red state legislatures have "chosen to go for broke," as National Review writer David French puts it.

It really is not nice to think about what is done to animals on a commercial scale to either feed or adorn human beings. Caged hens, stall-fed calves, unwanted male calves clubbed or electrocuted at birth… It's enough to turn you into a vegan and give up leather shoes. For those who have not become inured to it out of economic choice or necessity, it is difficult to be confronted with the reality of industrial scale slaughter.

That applies with even more force to the slaughter of baby humans ‑‑ an argument that has been part of the pro-life case against abortion and has certainly had its effect. But heartbeat bills and the Alabama ban go to the heart of the issue: the personhood of the unborn child. Justice Blackmun for the court majority in Roe admitted that if the "personhood" of the baby is established, then the pro-abortion case "collapses."

French explains the relevant constitutional principle and goes on to say:

"Georgia (and potentially Alabama) would be asking the Court to permit them to expand the constitutional liberty of the unborn child and to recognize the distinct human identity of the baby in the womb.

"In other words, Georgia and Alabama are saying: "We've read Roe, and we're making the very legal statement that Justice Blackmun says would fundamentally undermine the case for abortion. Under our federal system, we can expand the legal definition of life."

He also points out:

"It's worth knowing where the justices stand, and either way a decisive ruling has the potential to deescalate national politics for a generation. If the court overturns Roe, rightfully holding that the federal constitution is silent on abortion, then the battle turns to the states. In many respects local politics would rise in importance relative to national politics, and Americans would be able to express their fundamental values through the ballot box."

In the end, all debates are about fundamental values. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals place a high value on sentient beings that cannot speak for themselves or defend themselves against technologically superior humans. That should include the unborn child, although it is not clear in PETA's case that it does; for them, as for so many others who (rightly) want to protect the natural world, humans are often competitors with the likes of seals, racoons and lynxes. "We" are the problem, and the fewer there are of us the better.

However, it is safe to say that the majority of the human population does not think like that. Even in New York, the fur trade is defending its patch and the jobs of its workforce. Hasidic Jewish men are standing on their right to wear hats made of fur called shtreimels or spodiks. And some black pastors say that banning the sale of (new) fur is "culturally insensitive" because wearing a fur coat is a traditional sign that a black person has made it in society. "When the activists are more concerned about saving black lives than black minks," says one, "let me know."

Bans on abortion will certainly save black lives in the US, where black children are aborted at more than three times the rate of white children. What is more, being based on the personhood of the unborn human child, they rest on much firmer philosophical and historical grounds than ethnic customs involving fur hats and coats.

By all means let us stop being cruel to animals, whatever that entails in the way of public education and debate, scientific evidence and better technology. But let's stop being heartless to our own kind as well, by confronting the truth that the unborn child is a person, simply because he or she is human. It is high time for this to be argued in the most influential court in the world.