THE MASSACHUSETTS legislature's decision to restrict Medicaid funds for non-therapeutic abortions was a sad and difficult one, as must be any decision that effectively works against the social and economic rights of the poor. Nonetheless, we believe it was the best one possible, amidst a sea of agonizing alternatives. By cutting off funds, the legislature went as far as it legally could toward accepting a compelling moral argument: that the destruction of life--or what, given the lack of a proper biological definition, may well be life--is an unacceptable price to pay for the attainment of admittedly desirable social goals.
The legislature did not outlaw abortion, as it could not go against the 1975 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade--a decision that many legal scholars have attacked as weak, and which may well be subject to reversal in the future. Rather, it simply stated that the state would not sanction, with public funds, a procedure it had judged to be immoral. Forced to accept abortion as legal, it refused to tolerate it as right, or to force the public to pay for it with their tax money.
The vote opened up the lawmakers to charges of "legislating morality." The charge is true: indeed, most laws, such as those against theft and murder, involve moral judgments. When the danger of doing wrong is greatest, the legislature must be best prepared to decide along moral lines; in this case, while legal debate over the ethics involved prevented the legislature from taking a stronger stand, it did what it could to prevent the state from involving itself it what it saw as clearly wrong.
The saddest effect of the vote is that it unavoidably discriminates against poor women seeking abortions, without placing the same restriction on those who can afford them. No one can deny that this goes against traditional concepts of justice and equity; nonetheless, this is an extraordinary situation, where larger considerations must apply. The equal right to do what is grossly wrong is not legally or morally guaranteed to anyone. We must agree when the state does what it can to limit any such violations of basic human dignity.