Oliver Wendell Holmes’ ghost spotted in Nevada

There is an important situation brewing in Nevada that has pro-life groups on high alert. A 32-year-old woman with the mental ability of a 6-year-old has become pregnant. She was living at a “group home” when she managed to disappear over three months ago. When she was finally found it was determined that she had been impregnated during her disappearance. The father is unknown, but the mother and baby are doing fine.

As might be expected, the girl’s parents are upset that the home allowed her to disappear for an extended amount of time, and want her to come back to their home to live. The girl’s parents also want her to keep the baby rather than abort it. To date, the state has denied both of these requests.

There are, of course, extenuating circumstances as there always are in cases such as this: the girl is epileptic and bipolar and takes medication for them, it is unknown whether the girl was raped or if the sex was consensual, the pregnancy could pose certain health risks for the girl, etc, etc. The girl’s parents are Catholic and adamantly opposed to killing the baby, arguing that as the parents and legal guardians of the girl they should have the final say in the matter. Nevada disagrees, although Dania Reid, the Deputy District Attorney, insists that no motion has yet been brought forward by the state that even “mentioned” abortion. While this may be technically true, it is rather obvious what the state is implying in its discussions of “the health and welfare of the mother.” The parents, their legal team, and pro-life groups around the country know exactly what the state is saying, even if they aren’t saying it directly. Three “medical experts” have already testified for the state arguing that the pregnancy is “too risky” and should be terminated. If this isn’t a reference to abortion, then the state needs to clarify what else these experts might have meant.

It is important to note that the girl’s parents have already identified six couples that expressed interest in adopting the baby. The girl herself is adopted and is brain damaged due to fetal alcohol syndrome. The parents obviously live what they preach. There is certainly no guarantee that the girl or the baby will live through the pregnancy and birth—there never is—but it is a risk that the parents are more than willing to take. Abortion will most certainly end at least one of their lives. Remember when we were told that “death panels” were a contrivance of the right-wing conspiracy theorists? Apparently Nevada didn’t get the memo.

This case has echoes of Buck v. Bell, a horrific case of governmental tyranny and state-sponsored eugenics argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1927. Back then, they were allowed to use words like “retarded” and “imbecile,” as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes did in his majority opinion, stating that “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” Arguing for mandatory sterilization of mentally incompetent parents because they often lead to mentally incompetent children, Holmes wrote:

“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.”

I wouldn’t hold my breath that the Nevada Supreme Court would appeal to Buck v. Bell as precedent for aborting the baby against the wishes of the girl’s parents, but you never can tell. The fact that we have this ruling in American case law is troubling enough.

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