OPINION: The difficult realities at the margins of the abortion debate

In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that the U.S. Constitution means whatever five or more justices decide to say it means.

In 1973, in Roe v. Wade, Justice Harry Blackmun and six other justices announced that the members of the 39th Congress who in 1866 wrote the 14th Amendment intended the word “liberty” in Section 1 of the amendment to include within its purview a “right to privacy” that included within its purview the right of every woman to terminate her pregnancy within the first trimester. Then 19 years later in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor persuaded four of her brethren to discard the first trimester as the constitutionally-mandated standard and substitute fetal viability. Then what goes around eventually always comes around, and 30 more years later in Dobbs, Justice Samuel Alito and four other justices — three of whom Donald Trump put on the Court for that purpose — repudiated Roe and Casey and invited state legislatures to resume prohibiting or restricting abortions however they deem appropriate.

In 2020 in the United States, 960,000 women terminated their pregnancies in clinical settings. And thousands of other women did so by ingesting pills they obtained outside of a clinical setting.

Alaska Right to Life and other antiabortion organizations celebrate Dobbs because they believe state legislatures should always have had the ability to compel those women to have given birth to children they had decided, each for her own reason, that they could not afford or did not want to raise. But is that really a good outcome?

The month before the U.S. Supreme Court issued Dobbs, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who a year earlier had told a teacher he wanted to “murder and commit suicide,” walked into a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, armed with an assault rifle and murdered 10 people. Ten days later, Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old high school dropout, walked into a fourth grade classroom in Uvalde, Texas — and, armed with an assault rifle, murdered 19 children and two teachers. And another 10 days later, Robert Crimo, another high school dropout, 21 years old and armed with an assault rifle, opened fire on a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois. When the shooting stopped, four men and three women were dead and 25 others had been wounded.

Congress responded to the school shooting in Texas by passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which makes a grab bag of modest changes to the federal gun control regulatory regime. The act also contains “historic funding to address the youth mental health crisis in this country.”

But is a purported youth mental health crisis the problem?


In 2017 professors Jillian Peterson and James Densley began the Violence Project in order “to gather as much information as possible” about the 172 individuals who, since 1966, had used a firearm to commit mass murder in schools and other public places.

After doing so, what they concluded is that “millions of children experience adversity or live with trauma, but only a tiny fraction of them ever goes on to pull a trigger.” But of those who do, most “experience childhood abuse and exposure to violence at a young age, often at the hands of their parents” and “an unpredictable and chaotic upbringing is the first step on their pathway to violence.”

Little has been reported about Payton Gendron’s home life. But the households in which Salvador Ramos and Robert Crimo were raised confirm Peterson and Densley’s conclusion.

Salvador Ramos’s mother is Adriana Martinez, a single mother who worked menial waitress jobs and whose life has been riven with drug and substance abuse. His father, also named Salvador Ramos and from whom his son is bitterly estranged, is one of his mother’s former boyfriends. Ramos was sexually abused by a different boyfriend. According to a neighbor, when Martinez argued with either that boyfriend or a different one who lived with her and Ramos, in response to the yelling, the “cops would come.” And after arguments with his mother, Ramos would retreat into his bedroom and punch his fists through the sheetrock walls.

Robert Crimo’s parents, Bob Crimo and Denise Pesina, are married. But Highland Park police had been called to the Crimo home more than a dozen times “to settle domestic disputes or respond to allegations that one or the other of the parents was intoxicated.” And when Crimo was in elementary school, an after-school coach “talked to the faculty at the school about how uninvolved the parents were” because their son was “always the kid there at the end who didn’t get picked up.”

Which raises the question: the U.S. is a society that is organized around the division of labor. If my sink leaks, I call Central Plumbing. If I crash my bike on the Coastal Trail, I don’t call Central, I go to the emergency room at Providence Hospital. If my Explorer needs new brake pads I don’t go the ER, I drive to Kendall Ford. And so on. But why is it that that same society deems everyone — regardless of financial circumstance, degree of emotional stability or interest in taking on the responsibility — competent to perform society’s most important job, which is to be a parent?

The fact that America would be a better and safer place if women like Adriana Martinez and Denise Pesina are dissuaded from becoming parents is a verboten idea that proponents and opponents in the abortion debate both never mention.

Had Adriana Martinez and Denise Pesina decided to terminate the pregnancies that begot Salvador Ramos and Robert Crimo, should the Texas and Illinois legislatures have prohibited them from doing so? Alaska Right to Life says yes, in order to “protect all innocent human life from the moment of conception.” The answer to which I have reasoned is no. But reasonable people acting in good faith can disagree. So decide for yourself what you think.

Donald Craig Mitchell is an Anchorage attorney, author of two books on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and “Wampum: How Indian Tribes, the Mafia, and an Inattentive Congress Invented Indian Gaming and Created a $28 Billion Gambling Empire.” He was also a former vice president and general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives.

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Donald Craig Mitchell

Donald Craig Mitchell is an Anchorage attorney, author of the two books on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and "Wampum: How Indian Tribes, the Mafia, and an Inattentive Congress Invented Indian Gaming and Created a $28 Billion Gambling Empire."