Responsibility And Consequences

She was a girl from Birmingham
She just had an abortion
She was a case of insanity
Her name was Pauline, she lived in a tree
She was a no one who killed her baby
She sent her letters from the country
She was an animal
She was a bloody disgrace
Bodies, I’m not an animal.
            —Sex Pistols, Bodies
Meet Jennie Linn McCormack.
Last Sunday the Houston Chronicle reprinted a June 16 L.A. Times piece telling us that Ms. McCormack is the unfortunate victim in the middle of a vicious legal battle heading to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals next month challenging the constitutionality of an Idaho statute that makes it illegal to obtain abortion pills from out-of-state doctors.  The tragedy here, as the Times tells it, is that Ms. McCormack found herself pregnant in December 2010, but didn’t have practical access to an abortion.  Idaho has only two in-state abortion providers, and both were several hours away from her location in Southeastern Idaho (it is worth noting that Planned Parenthood does have abortion referral services at its Logan City, Utah facility about 50 miles away, but apparently Ms. McCormack didn’t have a car).  Without access to an abortion, she was going to be forced to bear the burden of a child she could not afford.
Oh, the horror of a child.
So to avoid her predicament, Ms. McCormack obtained an RU-486 abortion pill from her sister, who purchased it over the Internet in Mississippi, and aborted her pregnancy at home (As an aside, where are the federal mail/wire fraud and controlled substances charges against them both for lying to obtain and distribute a controlled substance across state lines?).  When local law enforcement found out about it she was charged with a felony under a 1972 Idaho statute that requires abortions to be performed by a doctor, and in the case of second-trimester abortions, that they be performed in a hospital.
Rusty, why do you bring up the second trimester?  Oh, did I forget to mention that her baby—the Timesarticle was careful to use the sterilized terms “fetus” and “it,” and of course never mentions a gender—was at 19 weeks when she performed the self-administered abortion? 
Yep, 19 weeks.  Five months. 
Charges were dismissed because there was no physical evidence left of the drug itself.  She has since filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block any further charges should additional evidence come to light—like, I don’t know, her public admission that she did it?—and to declare the law unconstitutional.  Joining her in the lawsuit is her lawyer—also a physician—who is challenging a 2011 statute prohibiting abortions after 19 weeks, arguing that permitting the state to punish abortion doctors limits abortion access.
Well, let’s see “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to put it.
This is not a tragic case of some 17 year old high school girl who shouldn’t be punished for life because she “just made a mistake,” as President Obama likes to tell it.  Jennie Linn McCormack, according to the Timesarticle, is a 33 year old unemployed single mother of three, living on $250 a month in child support.  The Times, of course, raises this to try to further cast her as the unfortunate victim.  But my take is a little different.  If the Times is correct, Ms. McCormack has kind of been there, and done that as far as pregnancy, and I think we can safely assume she’s got a solid idea what causes that particular “health problem.”  Presumably she’s also well aware of her precarious financial situation.  So what the hell is she doing placing herself and her kids at risk of having to add another unaffordable mouth to feed by having sex in the first place (never mind how she had time for that when she should be looking for a job to feed her kids, and by the way where were the kids since we know she can’t possibly have afforded a babysitter)?
Don’t come at me with the it’s not always voluntary bit.  There isn’t even a hint of rape or involuntariness in this story, and you know the Times would have been all over it if there were any evidence (even just Ms. McCormack’s uncorroborated allegation) of that, because it just makes the hapless victim storyline that much stronger.  No, even Ms. McCormack is not claiming that her pregnancy was anything other than the result of voluntary consensual sex.
So what we’re dealing with here is not an invasive violation like a rape, or even an innocent youthful mistake, but deliberate high-risk behavior by an “adult” who should know better.  Compounding the problem, according to the Times Ms. McCormack is a serial offender in this respect.  She had had at least one prior abortion just 18 months earlier (one wonders how many others the Timesignored or didn’t document), and the Bannock County prosecutor is quoted as saying that she had also had “miscarriages” (plural).  Not to make light of miscarriages—they do occur naturally among women who have no intention of aborting their pregnancy, and they are among the most heart-wrenching things anyone can experience—but combined with a history of multiple abortions, and the pattern with Ms. McCormack is readily apparent.
To make matters worse, the abortion was performed in this case at 19 weeks (RU-486 is typically indicated for less than 7), right at the edge of viability, given modern medical technology.  Are we really to believe that Ms. McCormack, who apparently has been through at least six prior pregnancies (three live children, at least one prior aborted pregnancy, and at least two miscarriages), didn’t know she was pregnant much earlier?  Puhleeze.  This baby was at the point he or she could have survived, given a chance.  But I guess carrying to term and giving up for adoption was just too inconvenient when weighed against the alternative of killing him or her.
But it gets even worse.
At 19 weeks, Ms. McCormack’s baby had hair, fingernails, and facial features.  He or she—again, we don’t know, not because it’s not knowable, but because in sterilizing the story the media doesn’t tell uswould have looked like a human baby.  Because of the way RU-486 works, Ms. McCormack would ultimately have had to see that.  Yet in a shocking display of callous disregard for human life and the responsibilities of parenthood, Ms. McCormack couldn’t even be troubled to give her baby the dignity of a decent burial, or at least turn the baby’s body over to authorities.  Instead, police found the baby’s frozen remains in a cardboard box on Ms. McCormack’s barbecue on her back porch.  And somehow she had the audacity to complain to the Boise Weekly that local residents now treat her like a pariah, and her remaining kids “feel a bit ashamed” because of what they’re hearing at school.
Can’t think why.
This woman is an obvious and disgusting poster child of irresponsibility.  But she is also the predictable—indeed, inevitable—product of a culture in which we increasingly shield people from the consequences of their own actions.  Corporations are deemed “too big to fail,” so we spread their losses among the citizenry in general, then we wonder why corporations continue to take unacceptable risks.  We so fear that holding children back in school will “stigmatize” them that rather than expecting them to master the material or fail, we eliminate grades (or at least failing grades) altogether, then we’re shocked to find that 18 year old Johnny can’t read.  We take money from young workers to provide their grandparents with a stipend, then we’re surprised that people aren’t saving for their own retirement.
It is little wonder, then—although more than a little ironic—that when we afford unfettered access to abortions in the interest of protecting women’s supposed “right to control” their own bodies we find examples like Ms. McCormack of women who take advantage of this system of infinite do-overs simply to exercise no control at all.  With no consequences, there is little incentive for her to govern her behavior.  She can seek all the immediate gratification she wants, because there is no price to be paid for it—at least not by her, but who else matters?—other than the cost of a pill and a used shoebox.  And all the while the press celebrates her as the unfortunate victim.  Hell, she may eventually get to talk on CNN (if she hasn’t already), and maybe even get her own reality TV show.
And so the cycle continues. 
I have no illusions that the 9th Circuit will do anything other than strike the Idaho abortion restrictions, because that Court hasn’t in decades seen a “pro-choice” issue it didn’t love, Constitution be damned.  How long we will allow serial abusers of the system to be bailed out of the consequences of their own deliberate acts of self-gratification at the cost of another human being’s life?

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