Mother of All Rights

Article excerpt

Roe v. Wade anniversaries make me think of the last scene in "Schindler's List," the film about Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved a small number of Jews during World War II. The final scene features actual Schindler survivors with their children and grandchildren, lining up to place stones on his grave in Israel. What makes this scene so powerful is not just the surprising number of progeny already produced by the Holocaust escapees, but the staggering number of men, women and children who aren 't there, who never had a chance of life because the Nazis gassed those who would have been their parents and grandparents.

When Roe comes up, it has Schindler-like reverberations in my own family. The fact is, my husband and I, our four children, his three siblings, and their combined eight children all owe our lives to the fact that the famous Supreme Court decision did not come until 1973 (and its British equivalent until 1967). For all 17 of us are descended from two unwanted pregnancies-two pregnancies that produced two hasty marriages, some happiness, rather more sadness, and, eventually, two divorces. And I have to say, boy am I glad that those pregnancies-dismaying and unexpected as they were, entailing the compromises that they did for those involved-weren't tidied up in a clinic so that the young mothers in question could "get on with their lives." You, gentle reader, would have been deprived of nothing more than my editorial voice. I, and 16 kinsfolk, would have been robbed of everything.

True, the world would have been 17 beef-eating, water-drinking, petroleum-burning individuals fewer, and I realize that this outcome would, for some, have been preferable. While stuck in traffic a few days ago, I found myself behind a car bearing a Sierra Club sticker. The slogan ran: "Your Family: PLAN IT for the PLANET." You have to wonder, what sort of Malthusian fanatic puts a contraceptive slogan on the back of his car? Babies consume resources, responsible families are small families. The feminist activists who brought Roe before the high court can join greens in claiming credit for the pervasive social acceptability of deploring other people's existence. For with abortion, there's no excuse for large, environment-despoiling, career-crimping families, apart from, say, right-wingery or religious mania.

Through history, ancestry and descendants have been among the most cherished aspects of life. The Egyptians carved family trees in stone. The Old Testament is chockablock with lists of who begat whom, establishing dynastic consciousness as a judeo-Christian fundament. All over the world, property is inherited according to birth order, and in most places, at most times, children have been regarded as a type of wealth: a source of pride, status and, often, income. Yet today, a greenie feels justified in lecturing passersby about planning families and saving the earth, since individuals seem now to be meaningful chiefly for the resources they consume.

Weirdly, however, we live at the same time in an era obsessed with personal rights. Children have a "right" to attend Head Start programs, women have the "right" to breastfeed at work; men have a "right" to diaper-changing facilities in restaurant lavatories. And it is claimed that the aged have the "right" to subsidized prescription drugs and discount movie tickets. …