In her dissent regarding Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc., Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took issue with fellow Justice Clarence Thomas, who referred to women electing to abort fetuses as “mothers.”
It raises a provocative question: when does a pregnant woman become a mother?
Abortion stirs the philosophy pot more than perhaps any other issue, giving life to debates over when a fetus becomes an individual worthy of protection by law, when the child becomes viable outside the womb, and in the case mentioned above, how the remains of aborted children should be handled. The questions swirling around abortion, after all, tend to focus on the child, not the mother…er, the “adult with the baby inside of her.”
Thomas, in his opinion, sent several shots across the pro-choice bow. Chiefly, he stated the necessity of laws which “[prevent] abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics,” and proceeded to remind the court that Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood who infamously spoke of eliminating “human weeds,” is central to the debate. “Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this court is duty-bound to address its scope,” Thomas wrote, and further, that such review must happen “soon.”
Ginsburg, whose every utterance is lionized by her fans, and whose every sneeze is cause for their collective panic, did not cite any legal precedent for her definition of a mother.
A mother may best be defined by her actions–when does she begin to tend to her child? Surely that moment, and the actions inherent in such care, defines the beginning of motherhood: when she learns she is pregnant and makes decisions as a result. If a smoker, a prudent woman would cease to smoke. If a drinker, a good woman would limit consumption or abstain for the health of her child in utero. Ideally, a number of steps, from prenatal vitamins to avoiding certain physical strains, would be incorporated into her lifestyle. Of course, this presumes that the woman in question wishes to give birth to her child.
Consider two hypothetical women: one who plans to abort her child, and another who isn’t sure whether she will keep her child. Both make lifestyle choices–mothering decisions–upon learning of their pregnancy. In the first case, perhaps the mother continues to engage in actions unhealthy to the life growing inside her, after all, she plans to kill it anyway, so why bother? In the second case, perhaps the woman makes some or all of the same adjustments as a mother who plans to give birth. Regardless, both women have made a decision.
That act–the conscious decision about how to care for the unborn child–constitutes the beginning of motherhood.
Ginsburg and the moral relativists can debate when a fetus becomes a child, how old the fetus has to be before it’s a crime, and whether killing that unborn child is “birth control” or “murder,” but they can’t get snitty about the definition of “mother.” One becomes a mother the moment one acts for or against the best interests of the child. The mother who ignores the health of her child is still a mother, she’s just a bad one.