Friday, December 17, 2004

Abortion in the news

The December 20 issue of Newsweek has an article called Anxiety Over Abortion, sub-titled "Pro-choice Democrats eye a more restrictive approach to abortion as one way to gain ground at the polls."
Notice the language, "anxiety over abortion." That really means "anxiety over the Democrats' POSITION on abortion, not necessarily the FACTS of abortion." This is not a discussion of abortion. It is a discussion of the politics of abortion. There is a difference.

The week after Thanksgiving, dozens of Democratic Party loyalists gathered at AFL-CIO headquarters for a closed-door confab on the election. John Kerry dropped by to thank members of the liberal 527 coalition America Votes. When Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-choice political network EMILY's List, asked about the future direction of the party, Kerry tackled one of the Democrats' core tenets: abortion rights. He told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they didn't like abortion. Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party, he said. "There was a gasp in the room," says Nancy Keenan, the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Democratic lawmakers have found themselves boxed in by a pro-choice orthodoxy that fears the slippery slope - the idea that allowing even the smallest limitation on abortion only paves the way for outlawing it altogether. As a result, most Democrats opposed popular measures like "Laci and Conner's Law" - which makes it a separate federal crime to kill a fetus - and a ban on the gruesome procedure called partial-birth abortion.
...the issue is so thorny that nearly every lawmaker contacted by NEWSWEEK declined to discuss those votes or the topic in general. But a handful of those senators - including Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh - have joined a new progressive advocacy group, Third Way, that hopes to move the party to the center on a number of cultural issues, including abortion. The effort is headed by a team of strategists who helped the Dems find middle ground on gun safety. [gun safety??? ed.]

Watch what happens with the political debate.

Make no mistake about it. When the topic is tossed into the basket of a group which is also looking for a "middle ground" for gun safety, for crying out loud, referring to "cultural issues", just know that it's about politics, not principles. (I still love that Truman line contrasting politics with what a pig knows about Sunday. Smart people understand that the two don't mix.)

When the WSJ starts talking about a subject, it has arrived on the national political radar screen. James Taranto's column yesterdaysaid...

The Democrats' problem here is not that they need to make their views clearer; it is their views, as expressed by Nancy Keenan's gasp, which are too extreme for most Americans. Republicans have their own abortion extremists, on the other side of the issue, but as we argued last week, Roe v. Wade precludes those views from affecting policy, so that the Republicans are able to adopt a highly nuanced approach to abortion.

There is only one solution for the Democrats' abortion dilemma, and that is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, which, as we noted last week, would shift the battle to terrain friendlier to the Democrats and the pro-choice position. This could happen, but it's likely to take a while, since it would require two personnel changes at the court (not including Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a Roe dissenter) and an appropriate case to make its way to the court. We wouldn't be at all surprised if Roe remains "good law" a decade hence.

The Democrats, of course, are committed to fight to the death to defend Roe, which means they cannot openly advocate or encourage an outcome that would be very much in their political interest. No wonder they have trouble explaining their position.

Catch that?
"There is only one solution for the Democrats' abortion dilemma, and that is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe..."

I have been arguing that Roe has become such a lightening rod that no one, even journalists in high places, really seems to know that the real problems may have started with Roe, but the extreme results have come after Roe. As long as respectable people like Mr. Taranto continue to fall into the language trap of "there is only ONE solution" and "OVERTURN Roe", little progress can be expected.

Notice, too, that none of this discussion speaks to the plain facts of abortion: exactly what does the word mean? When does it happen? What is the range of issues that lead a woman (or a physician, or a potential father, or a parent) to contemplate the decision to seek an abortion? What is the meaning of "trimester" or "viability" in either legal, clinical or popular language? And finally, what are the alternatives? And worse, what penalties are being contemplated for those who violate proposed legislation to criminalize the procedure? For the "putative" mother (to use the language I learned from reading Roe)? The physician? The pharmacist? The lab assistants?

We see instead the stupid assumptions that the word "abortion" means the same thing to all people, that their minds are already made up, and political positioning is more important than any discussion of ethics.

This is such a muddy mess that it is hard to know where to begin talking about it.
One thing is clear to me. As long as the discussion is left up to the politicians, the debate will not get any better. The time is long overdue that serious non-political people stop allowing themselves to be led around by their noses by politicians and begin discussing abortion among themselves with open minds.

No comments: