Time Essay: Of Abortion and the Unfairness of Life

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Carter did not contribute much with his reflections on how unfair the human condition is. Everyone knows that life is unfair. It is also, as Thomas Hobbes pointed out, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Life's unfair ness is so self-evident in, say, slums, or institutions for the retarded and insane, or in any cancer ward, that it needs no sad-but-true sighings from the White House. To be sure, the President did have other reasons; he fears, for one thing, that abortion may become merely belated contraception. Certainly, responsible people should take greater care to practice contraception in the first place. And surely it is too casual to say, as Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has said, that abortion "should be available [in the first two or three months] in the same way as, say, an operation for the beautification of a nose." Besides, pregnancy is not a disease, except in a metaphorical sense, for those whose lives are blighted by it.

So Carter is correct in suggesting that abortion involves unique moral questions outside the simple rationale for Medicaid payments. Still, the ultimate morality or immorality of it need not be decided in order to judge the principle of fairness. The undoubted risks of making abortion too easily available are outweighed by the risks of making it too difficult or impossible to obtain. Since the only intelligent argument to be made for abortion is that it is a social necessity, fairness and logic dictate that it must be available especially to those who, wanting it, cannot afford it. To say that abortion, while legal, is immoral but that only the poor shall be saved from this immorality by a fastidious government is not only unfair but absurd.

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