National Catholic Register

Commentary

Edwin Sandoval and the Case of the Abortive Amputee

I am beginning to think our society is beyond satire.

BY Benjamin D. Wiker

June 1-7, 2003 Issue | Posted 6/1/03 at 2:00 PM

 

Satire exaggerates contradictions in order to make them visible, but when society's real contradictions become so exaggerated that they outpace the stride of fiction, then all that is left is merely to report the facts. And so I report State v. Sandoval, a judicial masquerade issued May 7 from the Connecticut Supreme Court.

It all began in Manchester, Conn., with one Edwin Sandoval, who furtively inserted two pills of misoprostol into his pregnant girlfriend's birth canal during intercourse, the very misoprostol used in RU-486 to cause uterine contractions and expel an unborn baby. His girlfriend, who did not want an abortion, immediately went to a doctor, who removed the deadly pills. The baby, a boy, was born alive and well in March 1999.

Sandoval was charged, among other things, with assault. In his defense, he argued that he could not be charged with assault because the fetus (a.k.a., the unborn child) was the target of his aggression, not the mother. This was really rather clever, for he knew that it is perfectly legal to assault an unborn baby with RU-486. He could not be convicted of assault on a fetus with misoprostol without implicating an unending domino cascade of like charges of assault against abortionists all over Connecticut. And since the assault of abortionists rarely fails in being deadly, they would also be liable to charges of murder.

Clever Mr. Sandoval. However, the state of Connecticut, in its case against Sandoval, saw right through the trap.

Cruel enough to protect the deadly assault on the unborn by RU-486 on a daily basis, it was still kind enough to desire the protection of this one mother from the very same assault.

But how? How to be both Jekyll and Hyde? If they didn't come up with something, then the most for which Sandoval could be charged would be practicing medicine without a license.

Making matters worse, as it was Sandoval's baby and the state declared the parents had a right to slaughter it, wasn't Sandoval simply exercising his right? Indeed, he and his girlfriend had already done so a year or two earlier, jointly aborting the first of their progeny. Now, with their second offspring, a split decision: half wanted death, half wanted life. What state Solomon could settle it?

Aha! A simple way out: Charge Sandoval with assault on the mother, not on the baby! For the baby is a nonentity by law, and if a nonentity, then Sandoval had assaulted nothing. But the mother was an entity, one the state believed it must protect. Therefore, Connecticut shifted the burden of assault upon the girlfriend.

But then another difficulty arose: The very definition of “assault” in the state statute didn't quite fit. According to the law, a person is guilty of assault if (1) he causes “serious physical injury to another person … by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument,” or if (2) he attempts “to disfigure another person seriously and permanently or to destroy, amputate or disable permanently a member or organ of his body.”

Well, Sandoval didn't cause “serious physical injury” to his girlfriend, and misoprostol, even though it is both a “deadly weapon” and “dangerous instrument,” is quite legal and laudable in Connecticut for the very reason he intended. Better go to the second option.

For if the second part of the definition of assault were to be fitted to the crime, then the fetus had to be either an organ or member. Happily, “the parties … agree that the fetus is not an organ” so by default the “sole issue that we must decide” opined the venerable judges, “is whether the fetus was a ‘member’ of the victim's body within the meaning of those statutory provisions.”

Everything then hung on the definition of “member.” As luck would have it, the “term is not defined … anywhere … in the penal code.” What then? According to good legal custom, failing explicit legal definition, “the words of a statute are to be construed with common sense and according to the commonly approved usage of the language.” A quick canvass found that “both the defendant and the state agree that … the term ‘member’ means ‘a bodily part or organ,’” and since “organ” had already been eliminated, they were left, by default, with “part.”

So off they went to Webster's Dictionary, to look up “part” — not “fetus,” mind you, which would have proved embarrassing, and certainly not “unborn baby,” but only “part.”

Part: a portion of a whole, less than a whole, a unit of something larger, constituent, fraction, fragment, member, piece. Hmmm. Good enough, pronounced the court, a fetus is a part, and hence a “member,” of the mother. And so they had Sandoval cornered.

“In light of the state's compelling interest in safeguarding life and limb,” the court declared smugly, “we are unwilling to presume that the legislature … sought to protect a person's ear, tongue and skin but not a developing fetus living within, and physically attached to, the mother.” Since “we interpret statutes to avoid bizarre or nonsensical results,” we find Sandoval guilty of assault.

Did the court not see the irony in its own words, the moral schizophrenia in its self-satisfied and curious flourish? Unlikely, or it would have seen it in the law itself. Sadly, justice was blind to this irony, not by the characteristic blindfold of lady justice but by the darkness of the culture of death.

But to light a candle in this darkness is it not a bit bizarre to equate an “ear, tongue and skin” with a “developing fetus living within”? Isn't it a trifle nonsensical that, in the “state's compelling interest in safeguarding life and limb,” a life has been made a mere limb not only to protect it from assault but also to safeguard the right to kill it by abortion?

Despite the court's attempt to cover the nakedness of the state's naked aggression against the unborn, it is simply true, all presumption aside, that in Connecticut and every other state the legislatures, in having both laws against assault and for abortion, are seeking “to protect a person's ear, tongue and skin but not a developing fetus living within, and physically attached to, the mother.”

Sandoval is guilty of assault — indeed, assault on both mother and child. But in convicting Sandoval, the state was unwittingly convicting itself.

Benjamin Wiker writes from Steubenville, Ohio.