Thursday, September 24, 2020
As Justice Ginsburg's lies in repose at the Supreme Court this week, I've published some reflections on her legacy at America. Here's a bit:
Well-intentioned interlocutors on both sides of the abortion debate often argue that women would not need to access abortion so frequently were our society more hospitable to children, our workplaces more accommodating, our government more generous in its support of families, our available housing and health care system more affordable. And it is true: These sorts of culture-wide changes would be transformative in the lives of women who find themselves unintentionally pregnant. As such, I support them, too.
But these arguments tend to neglect an essential reality about the pedagogical nature of law, well known to classical jurists and philosophers but widely forgotten today. The law shapes a culture, explicitly teaching it not only goods to be pursued and evils to avoid but even more subtly creating incentives and disincentives to action, channeling individuals to behave in certain ways. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, American law “[works] in secret upon its unconscious patient, till in the end it has molded it to its desire.”
When abortion is constitutionally protected, easily accessible and, in some jurisdictions, free of charge, as it has been in our country for nearly 50 years, that reality shapes individual and institutional behavior. Sexual partners take more sexual risks, leading to more unintentional pregnancies, more nonmarital births and more abortion; employers think less about how to accommodate caregiving and discriminate against pregnant women instead; the health care and pharmaceutical industries fail to make an investment in really understanding women’s fertility, preferring pharmaceutical quick fixes; and, perhaps most perniciously, governments fund private abortion while still making little allowance for the public good of caregiving. [visit article for active links]
Finally, and most relevant for our reflections, relatively easy abortion access too often relieves men of the mutual responsibilities that accompany sex and so has tended to upend the duties of care for dependent children that fathers ought to share equally. More than a third of children in the United States live without their fathers, even as social science has begun to isolate the essential contributions these men make to their children’s development. For although the connection between sexual intercourse and potential motherhood remains an unshakable biological reality, the connection between sexual intercourse and potential fatherhood—the connection that irresponsible men have always sought to avoid—has withered even further since Roe....
Of course, legal and cultural pressures like these are overcome by individual men and women all the time. But a culture-wide orientation in this direction harms far too many people, most especially poor women and children. Single mothers, who are disproportionately more likely to live with their children in poverty than anyone else, are hardly experiencing anything approaching “gender equality.” Rather, men who are deeply engaged in their marriages and the rearing of their children open up for their children’s mothers a whole range of possibilities and privileges unknown to mothers raising children without such paternal support. Without the investment and engagement of her husband in their children’s lives, it is hard to imagine Ms. Ginsburg achieving all that she did. Indeed, I think she would be the first to acknowledge that.