The Supreme Court and a question of priorities

In the early 1990s, when I was attending college in Columbus, Ohio, one of my living situations included renting a room in an ornate Victorian-style house. Since I was sharing with a bunch of guys I didn’t know, I made the mistake of having a locksmith install a lock on my bedroom door. Later in a phone conversation with the landlord, she told me she wished I hadn’t done that, because it took from the house’s character. After that, I started noticing the elaborate molding on the walls and some faded wallpaper from a long-ago era. Later, one of the guys living there told me the house would soon be 100 years old.

One day I followed the guy who lived in the room across from me and some of his friends down to the basement. There we found obsolete rusty farm implements, like an old plow apparently untouched for decades.

It was an interesting house, but it was an impossible living situation. We couldn’t even agree on things like paying the electric bill, so we had no power for over a month. When the power finally came back, I volunteered to clean the refrigerator where food had been left and was infested with maggots.

Shortly after finding other living arrangements, I was watching TV when the local news flashed a picture of the house I had recently moved from. In the news story, the guy who lived across the hall from me had gone into the house’s attic where he found skeletal remains of a baby wrapped up in old newspaper.

It was clear that the remains had been there a long time. The first clue was the date on the newspaper, which was in the early decades of the 20th Century. I can’t remember now exactly, but I don’t think it was anything past the 1920s.

It was ghastly to think about this and what probably happened. I could imagine the house’s original inhabitants with a daughter in her early twenties or late teens with a boyfriend and an unplanned pregnancy. Perhaps she found ways of hiding her pregnancy from her parents and friends. Then when it was time, maybe her boyfriend was there with her in that attic and when the baby emerged, they made sure to kill it and hide it, taking this secret to their graves.

The whole scenario is incredibly sad and tragic to me. I remember being in the delivery room when my son was born. I was surprised by how aware he was, turning his head to look at the doctors and aids who had been waiting for him at his first appearance. He seemed to be thinking, all these people are here for me?

After being inside ‘the dryer,’ we brought him to my wife who held him for the first time. It then seemed to dawn on him that something strange had happened, that he wasn’t in his old home. And he started to cry. My wife and I soothed him and let him know it was ok. Unlike the movies, where they cry when they first come out, he surveyed the situation for a few minutes and then expressed his shock over his eviction.

But he stopped crying after a bit as we both comforted him. Later, with my wife, he would watch his first movie, though he was sleeping much of the time and probably didn’t understand a lot. It was a cautionary piece the hospital showed to all new mothers about baby shaking.

He was born on a Monday, but because the hospital had to treat him for jaundice, we had to wait for late Wednesday afternoon before we could take him home.  We had trouble getting a cab, so we finally gave up and took him in his carrier to the subway. On the way as I walked with him, I remember him looking up at a small tree above — this was the first time he was looking at a tree.

Maybe it was my imagination, but he seemed to be soothed by the sound of the subway train we rode in. Maybe this was a sound he remembered from when he was in the uterus, although the sound was probably a bit different.

My parents were with us on Wednesday when we brought him home. I don’t think anyone doubted that he was aware of his environment and the people around him.

The reason I am bringing up both stories, one horrible and one joyful, is because I’m thinking about how wrong infanticide is and how much more likely we are to see its rise if The Supreme Court changes to overturn Roe versus Wade.

While the CDC had no studies, here’s what I found from Wikipedia on Infanticide:

In 1983, the United States ranked eleventh for infants under 1 year killed, and fourth for those killed from 1 through 14 years (the latter case not necessarily involving filicide).[129] In the U.S. over six hundred children were killed by their parents in 1983.[130]

In the United States the infanticide rate during the first hour of life outside the womb dropped from 1.41 per 100,000 during 1963 to 1972 to 0.44 per 100,000 for 1974 to 1983; the rates during the first month after birth also declined, whereas those for older infants rose during this time.[131] The legalization of abortion, which was completed in 1973, was the most important factor in the decline in neonatal mortality during the period from 1964 to 1977, according to a study by economists associated with the National Bureau of Economic Research.[131][132]

I’m not minimizing the responsibility for people who would commit such acts. But I would also hope we would have a society that would minimize its likelihood. City planners and police forces work all the time on ways to decrease the likelihood of crime — they don’t avoid this social obligation and instead shout, “what about personal responsibility?”

We need to think about holistic approaches to protecting babies, and not just insist that we’ll punish the parents when this happens. But from the political right and religious fundamentalists in the U.S., we see misplaced priorities, crying “murder” over the termination of cells that are forming, something that possesses no memories (perhaps the foundation of consciousness), in the first trimester.

Also from the political right, gun rights appear to supersede human rights to life. The firearms industry is worth billions of dollars. And sales and profits rise from mass murders or even from day- to-day homicides, and we are a capitalistic society. So I get it — as every company carefully studies what drives sales and profits and as companies live by bringing profits to shareholders, the executives in these industries and their advocacy groups have an obligation to see that gun violence continues to take human lives in exchange for profits.

I also understand that some supporters of unlimited gun rights see gun ownership as a matter of personal protection. Never mind that if one person’s rights are unlimited, so is everyone else’s and the means to easily commit murder if you shoot first.

And I understand the Second Amendment underscores the personal unlimited rights to gun ownership if you strike out part of the phrasing and bury its historical context:

Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In the early days and founding of our republic the founders sent soldiers to crush not one but two rebellions: Shays Rebellion and the Whisky Rebellion.

Militias preceded professional police forces and the states organized them. The Supreme Court’s Heller Decision seems to disregard the Constitution’s words and what they mean and also their historical context, going instead with a more recent interpretation. Oh well, maybe the judges saw something more than the Constitution’s mere words. But then didn’t Scalia claim to be an Originalist?

If you can believe anything from Fox “News” [sic],  or other media sources, Brett Kavanaugh plans this same creative interpretation of the Constitution.

Again, we see a question of priorities. Are guns more important than the law? Are guns more important than lives? Are embryos more important than babies?

And what about children? Do they have any rights? Again, at least if they are children of undocumented people south of our country’s border, many fleeing dangerous places and claiming asylum, they have no right to be with their parents, according to much of the political right, presumably mostly “pro-life”voters.

Back to the probable overturning of Roe V. Wade, we also have to ask about the quality of life for children whose parents didn’t want them and might have trouble supporting and raising them. Parents’ love is one of the most important components in a child’s psychological well-being. There have already been multi-pronged attacks to abortion access across the country since 2011, and, according to Jessica Arons, Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel for Reproductive Freedom, at the ACLU,  when a woman seeking Medicaid coverage for an abortion is denied that, “she is more likely to be in poverty, less likely to have a full-time job and twice as likely to experience domestic violence.” Furthermore, there is a very strong case that abortion reduces crime, including homicide. Again, which lives should we prioritize? Does a fully conscious individual have any right to life or must that life take a back seat?

Understandably, a drop in crime threatens jobs, as so many people depend upon the prison industry. And the United States “locks people up at a higher rate than any other country.” We have to ask whether we want to ruin people’s lives as we use the prison industrial complex for minor infractions or victimless crimes or do we value a society with less crime, even if that would require shifting federal and state budgets and job re-training for some?

I understand that justices are there to interpret, not create the law. So a good justice might have one opinion on how to rule in a case that differs from his/her personal feelings on how things should be. The Roe V. Wade decision comes down to the 14th Amendment. For me, “pro-choice” has often sounded like it suggests that it prioritizes a woman’s choice over another’s life, except if you don’t consider the life not yet conscious, when it is just forming, the same as a human being. It’s the first section of the 14th Amendment where the court in Roe V. Wade found the individual protections to one’s body:

14th Amendment, Section 1

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Can we allow the surrender of so many of the rights that have protected all citizens in what we call a “free country” to a “Koch-selected Supreme Court justice, on the court just in time to affect what [Charles] Koch is actually seeking… changes in our Constitution so radical as to be called a constitutional revolution?”

Nancy MacLean, on Real Time, discusses Brett Kavanaugh, the Koch brothers and a possible Constitutional convention.

I propose that the majority that cares about this country and future generations block all Supreme Court justice nominees from this sitting president, who is under an investigation that could find its way to the court.


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