If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide. — Abraham Lincoln, 1838
In March 1916, Carolina Petrovitis, a mother of two small children, was in terrible pain following an illegal abortion when a local doctor sent her to the hospital. Three police officers soon arrived to question Carolina. With the permission of the hospital physician, hospitals being then required to cooperate in abortion investigations, Sgt. William E. O’Connor “instructed” an intern to “tell her she is going to die.” With the dying mother wailing from this cold-hearted invocation of her mortality, the police then collected a “dying declaration” from her in which she named the midwife who performed her abortion and gave facts pertinent to charging the midwife with a crime. The midwife was dragged in and Carolina identified her. A third police officer drew up another dying statement “covering the facts.” As he read the third statement back to Carolina, she lay in bed “in pain, vomiting;” illiterate, she made her “mark” on the statement. Having accomplished the state’s goals, she then died.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past, wrote Faulkner. In the abortion storm now gathering, Faulkner’s maxim has proven sadly accurate. Despite a century of ostensible progress, the aspirations of the legal regime which killed Carolina Petrovitis- criminalization of abortion and focus on prosecution at the expense of women’s health — have emerged from the grave to which they were consigned in Roe v. Wade. In May, Georgia became the fourth state this year to outlaw abortion at six weeks, followed closely by Alabama’s even more draconian law providing no exception at all to forced pregnancy.
Positions on abortion are hardened in the arteries of the American political system, and no great good is accomplished by reiterating them. Yet even within the confines of the long-running abortion wars, Georgia’s statute posits a reach of vastly terrifying proportion. Unlike Georgia’s earlier abortion law which explicitly targeted providers- bad enough, derivatively, for women- the new law defines abortion to be “the act of using, prescribing, or administering any instrument, substance, device, or other means with the purpose to terminate a pregnancy.” Consider the modern age: A woman who takes misoprostol, which she herself can purchase on the internet, to induce miscarriage is “administering” a…