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Monday, March 22, 2004

Libertarian Battles Her Conscience.

Outcome still in doubt.

Don't get me wrong, I have found Wendy McElroy to be a worthwhile read on several occasions. Unfortunately, she can be as dogmatic as the gender feminists she regularly challenges. Exhibit A is this fairly incoherent article: Cooling Down the Abortion Debate.

This Jan. 22 was the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that de facto legalized abortion in America.

The abortion issue is a reminder that not all problems are created by government--but government can always make them worse.

As in seven life-tenured lawyers invalidating the laws of fifty states back in 1973, throwing the issue into the vortex of the culture wars?

Apparently, there is an Italian saying that translates as, "It is raining again--PIG OF A GOVERNMENT!" But the basic dilemma of abortion cannot be blamed on government. Nor does basic blame reside with pro-life or pro-choice advocates. The problem is that, with unwanted pregnancies, human reproduction involves a conflict of interest between the woman and the fetus.

We're veering somewhat close to the unborn-as-parasite language here, which, for human history, has been an ugly, ugly phenomenon.

The "conflict" language sounds like it has the potential for hope, but she's already stacked the deck in favor of the former. The outcome of that "conflict" will be about as obvious as that of a football game between Michigan and Harvard.

I am pro-choice in the full realization that it is a terrible thing to take a human life. The closer a fetus approaches viability, the closer to terrible abortion becomes.

Read "the more it looks like a baby, the more squeamish I get."

By the way, this ultrasound of a 12 week old glob of cells is what our third looks like [explanatory link here].

Three days ago.

I weigh a fetus' potential against the woman's actuality. I also realize that if a woman cannot say "everything under my skin is 'me' and mine to control," then there is no foundation for individual rights.

Game, set, match. "Harvard just can't seem to get anything going today, Keith." Actuality trumps potential every time.

Ms. McElroy, meet Melissa Ann Rowland. Allegedly refused a c-section because of scarring fears, resulting in the death of one of her twins. Good thing her actuality comes first. Turn her loose.

If people have no right to control their own bodies, then such rights as freedom of speech become non-sequiturs.

Free Melissa! Perhaps her initial mistake was not to term the refusal to get the C as a "potential anticipatory selective reduction."

Problem solved--all nice and legal.

And, yet, to the core of my being, I dislike abortion.

No reason to doubt this, but for all the practical impact, it means the same thing as "disliking" anchovies and brussels sprouts.

I have no doubt that many pro-life advocates are also uncomfortable with their conclusions. Placing a pregnant woman's body under the de facto control of the law denies her rights to privacy and to medical control. Where is the line of denial to be drawn?

Indisputably, pregnancy is very, very hard--physically, emotionally, financially, you name it. Then there's what it does to the women.

[*Rimshot*. Sorry, couldn't help myself. It's definitely a joke, because, as a dad, my opinion means precisely squat in the abortion debate.]

Raising the products of conception after they are born is several orders of magnitude harder.


These facts about pregnancy aren't exactly a secret. Moreover, whatever happened to the rugged libertarian demand that one take responsibility for one's freely chosen actions? A responsible libertarian position would say that consensual sex involves a consent to all the reasonably foreseeable possible consequences deriving from that act, except death. That would include, to use the parlance, getting knocked up. In short, responsible, consistent libertarians would be opposed to abortion in all cases except rape, incest, the life of the mother.

Too bad you rarely run into such libertarians these days.

[Divided polls discussion snipped.]

But government has widened the scope of the problem and deepened division of opinion. How has it widened the scope? In the most literal sense, involvement in agencies such as the United Nations has led to the exportation of abortion policy at taxpayers' expense.

You will always find good sense in a McElroy column. Here 'tis.

No government should export reproductive policy -- whether directed at abortion or at abstinence -- to another nation. Despite the nobility and neutrality of its self-description, the United Nations Population Fund is rampantly political and the United States is correct in finally withholding funds.

Well, except if abstinence works. Ask Uganda what it's done for AIDS transmission.

Domestically, government also expands the scope of debate by using tax money to support -- at different times, in different venues -- both pro-choice and pro-life causes. For example, although he included a "conscience clause," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made abortion training mandatory for medical students in that city at its state-supported schools.

More good sense, though a bit hamstrung by the attempt to be "even-handed." The goofiness of the attempt will be exposed in the next sentence.

On the pro-life side, various states have sanctioned "Choose Life!" license plates that have been described as state-sponsored infomercials against abortion. In each case, some people were forced to financially support a cause they found morally repugnant. analogy.....

OK: Mike Bloomberg making people learn abortion at city medical schools is the equivalent of a state letting someone select a pro-life license plate.



No. The former makes someone learn a procedure that may be abhorrent to her, while the latter is entirely elective. After all, if you don't like pro-life license plates, don't have one.

[Those of you suggesting the likelihood of conscience exceptions are going to be laughed at now. The courts will tell you how your conscience will guide you, thank you very much. Besides, there is always the likes of Dan "Sacred Choices" Maguire to tell you that there is no conscience to violate on the issue. He's probably available for a modest retainer for the court fight.]

Government also increases the divisiveness of abortion by partisan tactics that turn the issue into a battle of wills. On the federal level, there is Roe v. Wade. But, during a pro-life protest of Roe v. Wade, President Bush beamed a live telephone call to the protesters, praising the pro-life marchers' "noble cause."

Welcome to the post-Roe world. Politics will be a part of it. Especially since the courts have taken the issue away from the people by "constitutionalizing" it.

On the state level, over 600 anti-abortion bills were filed in legislatures nationwide in 2003. But when an "anti-abortion" measure is passed, it risks being overturned in the courts; a U.S. district judge recently struck down Virginia's ban on partial-birth abortion. Or the measure could be vetoed; Michigan's governor recently vetoed a bill requiring girls to obtain a judicial waiver if they do not have parental consent.

See above. Except that "risks being" is a bit of an understatement. A more accurate phrase is "is virtually certain to be."

The divisive machinations of government may be an inevitable reflection of how evenly divided the public is on abortion, but they can be no excuse for politicians to fan the flames of conflict for their own electoral profit. For example, there is no excuse for Hillary Clinton's claim that anti-abortion forces "are counting on the vast majority of fair-minded Americans to be ignorant, to be unaware ... They think they can accomplish their goals as Americans sleep." This statement insults about 50 percent of the population. And pro-life rhetoric is often no better.

Well, all right. Sensible enough as far as it goes. To the extent that overheated rhetoric and offensive signs turn off the undecided, it's useful advice. But the problem with her analysis is that she focuses on the rhetoric without recognizing that the rhetoric stems from two irreconcilable views on the nature of human life and the duties people have to human life that they have created. Without this recognition, she's rearranging deck chairs here. And she's already pretty well come down on one side.

The best hope of limiting the divisiveness comes from voices in the middle that are not fully committed to pro-choice or pro-life.

To quote Derek Smalls, from This Is Spinal Tap (1984):

"It's like fire and ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water."

They know that neither side is populated by monsters. They realize that decent people can disagree. This realization provides space for discussion and better agreement on some of the surrounding issues -- for example, on the question of whether reproductive options for children should require parental consent, or whether abortion should be legal in cases of rape, of severe fetal deformity or when the mother's life is endangered.

"Reproductive options for children." Like I said, she's picked sides. Reinforced by recitation of the hard cases, which truly make all pro-life people of goodwill uncomfortable.

But you never even get to those questions if actuality trumps potentiality. Game, set, match. Such is the logic of choice.

The basic question of abortion -- is it murder? -- may not be susceptible to compromise, but that doesn't mean all aspects of it should be made as socially destructive as possible.

From the red-hot debate over this basic--and inescapable--question all the rhetoric flows. Which is why pro-lifers have been, the occasional victory notwithstanding, increasingly shoved to the margins by the choice people. The p-cs recognize the stakes, and have wielded every weapon in the arsenal--from RICO, to FACE, to regular injunctions against the pro-life legislation that makes it through--in an effort to preserve abortion on demand. For the most part, they've succeeded, in the process creating some precedent that should give libertarians pause. Her recognition of this fact would be nice, but instead we're all supposed to shush and get along.

Tell it to Kate Michelman. I'm sure she wouldn't giggle at you until after you'd left the room.

Shrinking the scope and divisiveness of abortion may be equivalent to treating symptoms rather than offering a cure, but, when no cure is available, treating symptoms is prudent.

Not to mention ineffective, and a sure recipe for continued trench warfare and marginalization of pro-lifers.

[Thanks to Kevin Miller for the heads up and the link].

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