Friday, March 10, 2006

Weekend reading: William Saletan

Start off with this...

Politically, legally and technologically the 33-year-old court decision is increasingly obsolete as a framework for managing decisions about reproduction. But only the abortion rights movement can lead the way beyond it. The anti-abortion groups can't launch the post-Roe era, because they are determined to abolish its guarantee of individual autonomy, and the public won't stand for that. It must be up to reproductive rights supporters to give the public what it wants: abortion reduction within a framework of autonomy.

Three political asteroids are heading toward us that make the latest round of the abortion confrontation inevitable. The first is the so-called "partial birth" abortion ban. Second is the South Dakota law. The third is the potential retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens. The order in which they hit will determine how close Roe comes to being overturned. But one way or another, they'll reignite the cycle of victory, backlash and defeat.

The rest is an uncomfortable but essential reality check for those who would advance the case for fewer abortions.

Next, read this by the same writer a few days later. He took his contrary self to an assembley of smart people not smart enough to appreciate his nuances on the issue...

...The most recent comparative numbers, detailed in an article I brought to the meeting, indicated that our abortion rate exceeds that of every Western European nation. "Raise your hand if you think that number is too high," the conference moderator told the 50 people in the room.

I saw one hand go up. The woman next to me said she saw another. The two hand-raisers used to work for pro-choice groups but no longer do.

This is the predicament facing the abortion-rights movement. It's led by three kinds of people: Those who see no problem, those who are afraid to speak up, and those who think it's futile. I'm betting that the denial, fear, and futility will give way. But it'll take time.

I should mention that I didn't raise my hand. I was invited to the meeting, along with my friend Katha Pollitt, to debate the wisdom of declaring a pro-choice war on the abortion rate. Katha and I are on the record on this question. I'm for it; she's against it. Although I'm pro-choice, I can't claim to be part of the movement. I haven't earned it, and as a professional critic, I can't make such a commitment. So I came, I made my case, and then I shut up and listened. It was like preaching to the choir, except that my preaching was Sunni, and the choir was Shiite.

A pro-choice war on the abortion rate.

Now that's an idea that I can grab, a notion whose time may soon come, and one that I have been imagining for a long, long time. My spark may be different from that of the writer, but we can definitely stand shoulder to shoulder on the same side of the discussion if the end is to reduce the number of abortions.

And finally, read the words of Fr. Neuhaus, commenting on the WaPo column and adding his own comments.

...the goal is not to find means less repugnant than the butchery of medieval barbers for the killing of unborn babies. Not just five hundred years from now, but in the foreseeable future, it is hoped that people will look back and recognize the moral absurdity of “trying to help people” by helping them destroy their offspring.

That stings, doesn't it?

Lots to read and think about this weekend, this Lent. If the South Dakota statute did nothing else, it renewed the public debate about how best to come to terms with the abortion issue. Maybe, just maybe, the extremists on both sides of the argument can begin hearing one another. I realize we are a very long way from my own obscure position, the one articulated so clearly above ("a pro-choice war on the abortion rate") but perhaps a renewed discusson can make a few more converts.


And if that's not enough to get your engine running, check out the comments thread from the Slate article. I haven't done that myself, but I did check out the snips at the end of the published piece.

I'm pro-choice but not pro-abortion. [...] I have a friend who had a late-term abortion when she discovered her fetus had Downs. I had zero problem with that until they named the baby and had a memorial service for it. Now, I never said anything to her and I remain committed to the idea that it was her right to make that choice and that never having faced that dilemma I wasn't in a position to disapprove. But if she considered it a human baby enough to name it and have a memorial service, it bugged me that she could then kill it because it wasn't perfect.

So, I'm not welcome in the pro-choice crowd or the anti-choice crowd. I'm just representative of the majority of Americans who are told they have to choose sides based on absolutes. It makes it tough to get excited and involved. So it's up to the extremists on both sides and unfortunately, the right has more extremists than the left so abortion rights are themselves going to be aborted.

[...] I have never heard anyone--even the most ardent pro-choice activist--ask a woman when her fetus will become a human being. Instead, they ask: when is your BABY due? [...] If you listen to the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, a two-month-old embryo has the same moral status as a two-year-old child. However, if the South Dakota legislature truly believed that, it would have made the women who have abortions subject to prosecution for premeditated murder. They did not do so, which suggests to me that most pro-life people don't really believe that early-stage embryos and fetuses are morally equivalent to born human beings. They simply believe that the choice belongs with the State.

My questions from the other day don't seem so ridiculous, it seems.

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