Protecting the Rights of the Already Born

American democracy is messy, and it doesn’t deal well with moral dilemmas, probably because deciding moral dilemmas on the basis of majority rules always leaves a bunch of really unhappy people. Until the next election, of course, at which point the unhappy become the happy and the previously happy become the unhappy. Not a great way to durably resolve disagreements, though better than resolving conflict badly through armed conflict. As you’d imagine, I’ve always been more enthusiastic about solutions that are realistic and mutually satisfactory.

There’s no issue that presents a greater moral dilemma, in the U.S. anyway, than abortion. There have been passionate and persuasive arguments made on both sides of that very emotional issue for a very long time. And, in a good recent example of majority rules, we have the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, who recently signed a bill prohibiting abortion in his state once there is a discernable fetal heartbeat, which, it’s said, occurs before many women know they’re pregnant.

After the signing ceremony, Catherine Davis, said to be an anti-abortion rights activist, was quoted by the New York Times as follows: “This is a historic day for Georgia. This is a day that many of us who have been in the pro-life fight for years and years and years didn’t really think it would be possible, in light of the politics of the issue.” Um, Catherine, the reason you’ve been in the “fight” for years and years and years is because the problem hasn’t yet been solved in a way that addresses the concerns of people on both sides of the issue.

And in this corner, we have Stacy Abrams, who came out on the short end of the majority rules stick in Georgia’s recent gubernatorial election by 55,000 votes (out of a total of about 4 million ballots cast), and who had this to say about the newly signed bill: “Georgians will fight back in the courtroom and at the ballot box and win.” Um, Stacy, so long as we’re focused on winning rather than on listening to and trying to address one another’s concerns, then fighting is what we will continue doing.

At the signing ceremony for the abortion bill, Governor Kemp said, “Our job is to do what is right, not what is easy. We are called to be strong and courageous, and we will not back down.” Good to know. We’ll come back to that shortly.

Georgia is the fourth state to enact such a policy in the past four months, joining Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio. And, in Alabama, there’s a good chance that a bill will pass effectively banning most abortions at every stage of pregnancy, from conception on.

In other news, Georgia is ranked sixth-worst on the Lives in the Balance Punitive Index. Mississippi is ranked number one. Alabama comes in fourth. There were 24,882 uses of corporal punishment in Mississippi during the 2013-14 school year. In Alabama, the number was over 18,000. In Georgia, the number was 7,893. And, in Georgia, there were over 300,000 in- and out-of-school suspensions during that year; in Alabama and Mississippi, the number was well over 100,000.

Governor Kemp, to be blunt, you and your state ought to be ashamed of those data. The already-born kids who are on the receiving end of these interventions are being mistreated and marginalized by obsolete, counterproductive practices, and pushed out of places (your public schools) that are supposed to be helping them. The data on the harm done by hitting kids is compelling. Are you up for caring as much about maltreatment of the already born as you are about maltreatment of the unborn? If so, I have a challenge for you, and it’s going to be harder than simply signing a bill: Devote yourself and your administration to doing whatever needs to be done to get those numbers down to zero. Apply the same passion and zeal that you have for protecting the rights of the unborn to the rights of the already born. Hitting and suspending kids doesn’t solve the problems that are causing the behaviors that are prompting people in your schools to hit and suspend them. If the human toll doesn't move you, then perhaps the fact that those kids are costing your state a fortune will. The more you hit and suspend them, the more alienated they become and the more they cost.

But don’t we need to hit and suspend kids to keep the other kids safe? Interesting question, since the data also tell us that hitting and suspending kids with behavioral challenges -- and restraining and secluding them -- doesn’t make any of the already born any safer. Certainly not the ones on the receiving end of those interventions, but not their classmates or teachers either. Actually, the data tell us that zero tolerance policies made things worse, primarily because zero tolerance policies don’t solve the problems that are causing challenging behaviors. Those policies -- which became popular after Columbine -- were aimed at keeping the already born human beings in schools safer. Maybe it's me, but I don't know many kids or adults who feel safer in schools these days.

If you’re about humane treatment of the unborn, it follows that you would be just as passionate about humane treatment of the already born. Double standards…not good.

Governor Kemp, take 90 minutes to watch our award-winning documentary film, The Kids We Lose. Then, get your fellow governors in Alabama and Mississippi to do the same. Then do what’s right, not what is easy, and be strong and courageous on behalf of the already born. 

Ross W. Greene
May 9, 2019