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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parsing a Backyard Chat – Why Should Abortion Be “Rare”?

President Obama has, as we know, been campaigning hard to try and rouse support for Democratic candidates in the mid-term elections taking place this Tuesday.  Last month, at a “backyard” meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the President was asked why he was a Christian and what he thought about the absence of legal restrictions on abortion.  A video of the exchange can be found here and a transcript here.

As to the first question President Obama noted that his mother and grandparents hadn’t raised him going to church.  Instead, he became a Christian as an adult “by choice”:  "I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.”  He also said that his public service is “part of that effort to express my Christian faith.”

The President has spoken of his Christian faith in the past, but to no avail.  We can all hope that this will put an end to the scurrilous efforts to portray Mr. Obama as a Muslim for political purposes.  (Followers of Islam and members of other minority religions are of course as free as any other American to seek and hold elective office, though the times and tenor of the nation make a Muslim commander-in-chief unlikely in the foreseeable future).  Regardless of what one thinks of the wisdom of the President’s policies, his remarks should be taken at face value as the sincere statement of a believing Christian.  As such, however, it is also proper to critically review the President’s actions in light of the faith he professes.

As to the second question President Obama assured the audience that “there are laws both federal, state and constitutional that are in place” that “there are a whole host of laws on the books that after a certain period, the interests shift such that you can have some restrictions, for example, on late term abortions, and appropriately so.  So there is in fact a set of rules in place.”

Here the President is guilty of some substantial embellishment concerning the number and extent of laws restricting the abortion license.  The fact of the matter is that there are no enforceable laws that directly prohibit the choice of abortion at any time during pregnancy. 

The President is also guilty of conspicuously omitting the fact that as a legislator and presidential candidate he opposed the very restrictions on late term abortions that he now describes as “appropriate.”  See here, herehere and here.

The President also insisted that we should all recognize that abortion involves a “difficult sometimes, oftentimes tragic situation that families are wrestling with.”  Thus, repeating the words of his predecessor Bill Clinton, Obama said that abortion ought to be “safe, legal and rare.”

This has always struck me as an especially odd statement to come from those who believe that the right to abortion is an enormously important constitutional right – a “fundamental” right, like the right to freedom of speech.  Why should something so important, so precious, be “rare”?  We don’t say this about any other fundamental right.  We certainly don’t suggest that we should “rarely” exercise the right to free speech, or the “rarely” exercise the freedom to worship, or “rarely” exercise the right to vote.  We don’t say that occasions when we exercise the right to buy and sell property or the right to travel should be seldom or few and far between.

Why the difference?  Why should the right to abortion – the cherished freedom to terminate a pregnancy – be any different?  To put the matter in the other language employed by President Obama, what makes abortion “difficult” even “tragic”?

To say that abortion should be “rare” or that it is “tragic” because it involves the loss of “potential life” falls flat.  It doesn’t seem to account for the gravity of the act and how it is experienced.  Indeed, those who claim that the unborn child is only “potential life” also say that sperm and ova are also “potential life” yet they do not say that the use of contraceptives should be “rare” or that the decision to use contraception is “difficult” let alone “tragic.”

A more honest response would be that many women experience the decision to choose abortion as “tragic” – indeed, wrenching and full of anguish – because they know in their hearts that they are choosing to kill their own children, something they know even as the purveyors of abortion services lie to them about the humanity of the victim.  (For undercover films documenting these lies at two Planned Parenthood clinics in Indianapolis and Milwaukee, see here and here).

President Obama doesn’t acknowledge this fact – perhaps because it would be politically dangerous to do so, perhaps for fear that such an honest conversation would expose the flawed premises upon which the current regime of legal abortion stands.  So in saying that abortion should be “rare” President Obama like President Clinton before him, leaves anyone paying attention scratching his or her head and asking “Why should it be rare?”  In the absence of any frank discussion of the question the President’s statement does and should strike the listener as an artifice of political calculation designed to convince others of the speaker’s moderation rather than evidence the sincere, considered judgment of serious reflection.

 

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John Breen says: "Why should something so important, so precious, be 'rare'? We don’t say this about any other fundamental right. We certainly don’t suggest that we should 'rarely' exercise the right to free speech, or the 'rarely' exercise the freedom to worship, or 'rarely' exercise the right to vote. We don’t say that occasions when we exercise the right to buy and sell property or the right to travel should be seldom or few and far between."

What about the right to remain silent, the right to consult with your attorney, and the right to have one appointed for you if you cannot afford one? These are rights most Americans hope they *never* have to exercise, and they are extraordinarily important. What about the right to confront an accuser?

What about the right to no double jeopardy? What about the right not to testify against oneself? What about the right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process? How often would the average citizen want to have to exercise these rights? How often would we like to have to assert the right not to have soldiers quartered in our homes during peacetime?

John Breen says: "A more honest response would be that many women experience the decision to choose abortion as 'tragic' – indeed, wrenching and full of anguish – because they know in their hearts that they are choosing to kill their own children . . . . In the absence of any frank discussion of the question the President’s statement does and should strike the listener as an artifice of political calculation designed to convince others of the speaker’s moderation rather than evidence the sincere, considered judgment of serious reflection."

Most women do not find having an abortion to be gut wrenching and full of anguish. Most are satisfied with their decision, and about half of all women procuring an abortion in any given year have had one before. However, an abortion *is* a serious medical procedure, and why would it not make sense, on that basis alone, to want to minimize the number of abortions?

It is as offensive for those who are pro-life to imply that those who are pro-choice "know in their hearts" that they are advocating "baby killing" as it would be for those who are pro-choice to imply that pro-lifers can't *really* believe a 12-week-old embryo is human person, and the motive of the pro-life movement is to elect Republicans.

I don't think saying "in your hearts, you know we're right and you're wrong" is a very effective approach for pro-lifers. It is accusing those who are pro-choice of being self-deluded at best and liars at worst. Pro-lifers may be so convinced they are right that no one can honestly disagree with them, but expressing this kind of certainty, with the condescension that inevitably accompanies it, is not going to win any converts to the pro-life cause.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 1, 2010 11:41:04 AM

For people accused, those due process rights are not things disfavored, or desired to be rare, or exercised regretfully, but rather are embraced For women pregnant, abortion is something that they themselves and that "pro-choice" people disfavor and wish to be rare (but that pro-abortion people do not disfavor and do not think should be rare). It's not true that most women don't consider abortion full of anguish and do consider the decision satisfactory, nor does the fact that there are so many repeat abortions say anything in favor of your allegations of abortion's okayness.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 1, 2010 12:27:20 PM

And since the mid 90's abortion advocates have been increasingly and explicitly willing to admit that abortion kills babies (though they gladly lie about it when they are trying to sell an abortion to particular women http://liveaction.org/rosaacuna ).

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 1, 2010 12:33:27 PM

Matt,

I would say that for women with unwanted pregnancies, the right to an abortion is not something disfavored, or desired to be rare, or exercised regretfully, but rather is embraced. To say that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare is not in any way to say something negative about the *right* to an abortion. It is saying something about abortion itself. To say that one hopes a right will be used rarely, if ever, is not to denigrate the right. I hope I am never in a situation where I have to exercise the right not to testify against myself. That doesn't mean I think there is something regrettable about that right.

You say, "And since the mid 90's abortion advocates have been increasingly and explicitly willing to admit that abortion kills babies." But you don't make any attempt to document that claim, or to demonstrate that, if true, the abortion advocates who say abortion is the killing of babies are the same people who then tell women in clinics seeking abortion that it is *not* killing babies.

You continue in the same vein as John Breen and claim that those who are pro-choice are either deluding themselves or are blatantly lying.

Also, it should be pointed out that when abortion was illegal in the United States, it was not prosecuted as "killing babies." Some in the pro-life movement may want to claim there can be no line drawn between abortion and infanticide, or abortion and the killing of an adult, but that line was always drawn in American law and it was present in common law for centuries as well. What the pro-life movement is pressing for is not merely the criminalization of abortion, but the criminalization based on a new legal principle -- that a person is present from the moment of conception. That has simply never been the law before.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 1, 2010 1:59:29 PM

"But you don't make any attempt to document that claim" As opposed to all the footnotes and links you have provided. Do some background reading. Here's a hint: Naomi Wolf, Peter Singer.

"I would say that for women with unwanted pregnancies, the right to an abortion is not something disfavored, or desired to be rare, or exercised regretfully, but rather is embraced."
For those women, you are dreadfully wrong. But your attempt illustrates an important distinction. There are people who believe abortion itself is regretful, and there are other people who believe that the "need" for abortion is regretful but abortion itself is a good in the circumstances it is committed. It is a strain to call the former advocates "pro-choice," though that is the only plausibly legitimate use of the term. But the latter kinds of advocates are quite plainly pro-abortion. Now, people who go around in public claiming that abortion should be rare want to be thought of as if they believe abortion is a not-good thing itself, which is what most people believe. But by equivocating on the point you raise they are not being as candid as you are in admitting that abortion is a good in most circumstances. So John Breen's point is an important one: which kind of rare does someine believe in for abortion: the anti-abortion kind, or the pro-abortion kind?

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 1, 2010 2:21:16 PM

Either someone believes abortion should be rare because abortion is not itself a good, in which case he undermines his own position when he still says it is a right; or he believes that abortion should be rare for other reasons but still thinks abortion itself is a good option, in which case he is publicly posturing to seem moderate on the issue when he is fully sold out to the pro-abortion position.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 1, 2010 2:25:52 PM

Matt,

You say: "Here's a hint: Naomi Wolf, Peter Singer."

And I suppose you are claiming that these two say one thing in academic debates, and another thing when they are counseling women in abortion clinics?

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 1, 2010 3:14:11 PM

Naomi Wolf is not an academic. I suppose you deny that abortionists are pro-abortion.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 1, 2010 3:43:43 PM

Matt,

I know who Naomi Wolf is, and you said, "And since the mid 90's abortion advocates have been increasingly and explicitly willing to admit that abortion kills babies (though they gladly lie about it when they are trying to sell an abortion to particular women . . ."

I responded, "But you don't make any attempt to document that claim, or to demonstrate that, if true, the abortion advocates who say abortion is the killing of babies are the same people who then tell women in clinics seeking abortion that it is *not* killing babies."

You have named two extraordinarily atypical individuals who represent no one but themselves, and implied that abortion advocates say one thing in public and another thing when speaking to individual women whom they are urging to have abortions. If you can find evidence that Naomi Wolf and Peter Singer go into abortion clinics and misrepresent their views to women trying to decide about abortion, I will concede that you are correct.

You say, "I suppose you deny that abortionists are pro-abortion."

It depends on what you mean by "pro-abortion." I am sure there are many abortionists who wish that women didn't have unwanted pregnancies that they felt the need to end. If abortion providers like Planned Parenthood were intent on maximizing the number of abortions, why would they promote contraception?

Setting ethical questions aside, there are good reasons to want to minimize abortions, just like there are good reasons to want to minimize chemotherapy or gastric bypass surgery.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 1, 2010 4:10:48 PM

I said abortion advocates have been increasingly and explicitly willing to admit that abortion kills babies.

That's true. Naomi Wolf is neither extraordinary nor atypical. Peter Singer is becoming less and less extraordinary. There are lots of other examples, and lots of people who follow them in their honesty.

I said abortion advocates gladly lie about their knowledge of the baby-hood of the unborn when they are trying to sell an abortion to particular women

That's true. Abortion workers and leaders in the bloody industry are among those know (best) and admit, to themselves and sometimes in public, that abortion kills babies. Again look this topic up, for example by reading and listening to transcripts of National Abortion Federation conferences. And, yes, abortion peddlers lie to women about it, so much so that it has been easy to catch them on video doing it repeatedly in many cities.

"If abortion providers like Planned Parenthood were intent on maximizing the number of abortions, why would they promote contraception?"

Because it increases abortion and promiscuity that leads to abortion. A large percentage of women having abortions do so after their (Planned Parenthood) contraception failed.

I said "I suppose you deny that abortionists are pro-abortion.", and you responded "It depends on what you mean by 'pro-abortion.'" Perhaps it depends on what the word "is" means.

But enough of the tangents. Believing abortion is rare, but it is a right, contains an inherent problem. Either someone believes abortion should be rare because abortion is not itself a good, in which case he undermines his own position when he still says it is a right; or he believes that abortion should be rare for other reasons but still thinks abortion itself is a good option, in which case he is publicly posturing to seem moderate on the issue (by discussing "rareness") when he is fully sold out to the pro-abortion position, which itself undercuts the idea that he really wants it to be rare. I suppose you'll suggest that MoveOn.org believes that Republicans think big oil should be rare.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 1, 2010 4:28:10 PM

Matt,

So if I say that filing for bankruptcy should be legal but rare, there's an inherent problem? Or if I say suicide should be legal but rare, I am somehow contradicting myself? Or divorce. Or shooting someone in self-defense. Or disowning children. Or suing for malpractice.

You say: "Because it increases abortion and promiscuity that leads to abortion."

So it is your serious contention that Planned Parenthood provides contraceptives and contraceptive information with the intention of increasing the number of abortions that they can perform? This is the conscious motivation for contraceptive services -- to increase unwanted pregnancies and abortions? You seriously believe that?

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 1, 2010 11:12:43 PM

Matt,

I am still puzzling over your formulation ("Either someone believes . . . or he believes . . . ."), and while I do see the cleverness in it ("Damned if he does . . . damned if he doesn't"), it still has me scratching my head. I don't see why abortion even has to be considered a good. The right involved is the right to privacy. It seems to me one can support the right to privacy without endorsing what people do in exercising that right, just as one can support free speech without endorsing what people do in exercising that right -- say, burning the American flag. I don't see any contradiction in saying that burning the flag should be legal and rare, or should be legal and never happen at all.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 2, 2010 7:10:14 AM

Not "legal but rare"--"a supremely important constitutional right but rare"

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 2, 2010 11:22:07 AM

Matt,

You say: "Not 'legal but rare'--'a supremely important constitutional right but rare'"

But the quote from both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama was "safe, legal, and rare," not "a supremely important constitutional right but rare."

Also, as I said, the overarching right is the right to privacy, not the right to procure an abortion. And before Roe v Wade, abortion was safe and legal in (I believe) 13 states. If Roe had never been decided, it seem highly likely that abortion would be safe and legal in many more states. And if Roe is overturned, I am sure abortion will remain legal in my home state of New York. I still see no problem with "safe, legal, and rare."

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 2, 2010 12:22:10 PM

Also, it is not the *right* that should be rare. The fact that the right exists affects everyone, not just the person who exercises it or who can exercise it. As with other things I have mentioned (such as the right to remain silent), having the right is very important even if one never exercises it.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 2, 2010 12:27:04 PM

I suppose you deny that the people we are talking about believe abortion is a cherished constitutional right.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 2, 2010 12:42:13 PM

Matt,

You say: "I suppose you deny that the people we are talking about believe abortion is a cherished constitutional right."

Actually, I was just thinking about that during my lunch hour. We don't talk of contraception as a constitutional right, although the Supreme Court basically ruled that it was. Nobody talks about a constitutional right to sodomy. I think we're quite content to consider them as part of the right to privacy. The reason we think of abortion as a "cherished constitutional right" is because there is a movement, of which you are a part, that is working tirelessly to criminalize it and do everything possible to impede women who want to have abortions until criminalization is achieved. It's not so much that it is a "cherished" right. It is an imperiled right -- a right under siege. People who are pro-choice have to stand up for what already *is* a right because the pro-life movement refuses to take a 7-2 Supreme Court decision made almost 40 years ago for an answer. So Obama is depicted as some kind of an extremist for taking seriously a decades-old Supreme Court decision that arguably should have been accepted by everyone a long time ago, and people who wanted to minimize abortion, whether they were pro-choice or pro-life, could have worked together. But now it is practically impossible, because there is such intense polarization.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 2, 2010 2:08:49 PM

You're just wrong that people and courts don't talk about and act towards these things as constitutional rights. It is wholly irrelevant to John's points that some of them also see them as a subset of the right to privacy, in addition to seeing abortion as a cherished constitutional right. Yes, thinking baby murder is a cherished constitutional right is what it means to be "some kind of extremist." Believing that it "arguably should have been accepted by everyone a long time ago" is vile.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 2, 2010 2:43:48 PM

Thanks, by the way, for your ringing motivational speech in favor of the right to dismember children as a core value of our republic. Frankness is always helpful in knowing where people stand when they elsewhere claim to be speaking from a moderate, reasonable, Catholic-friendly position.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 2, 2010 2:59:00 PM

David, do you mean that *you* think the country should have accepted Roe "a long time ago", or are you reporting what pro-choice folks likely think? The latter, I hope? If the former, why?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 2, 2010 3:13:00 PM

David said:

"So Obama is depicted as some kind of an extremist for taking seriously a decades-old Supreme Court decision that arguably should have been accepted by everyone a long time ago, and people who wanted to minimize abortion, whether they were pro-choice or pro-life, could have worked together. But now it is practically impossible, because there is such intense polarization."

So pro-lifers are wrong to refuse to accept Roe v. Wade as a fixture in our constitutional landscape? Pro-lifers and Pro-choice advocates could have worked to minimize the incidence of abortion earlier, before the issue became intensely polarized?

What if we altered the sentence above ever so slightly:

"So [John W. Davis] is depicted as some kind of an extremist for taking seriously a decades-old Supreme Court decision [Plessy v. Ferguson] that arguably should have been accepted by everyone [including Thurgood Marshall] a long time ago, and people who wanted to minimize [segregation] whether they were [racist] or [integrationist], could have worked together. But now it is practically impossible, because there is such intense polarization."

John

Posted by: John M. Breen | Nov 2, 2010 4:02:38 PM

Rick,

You say: "David, do you mean that *you* think the country should have accepted Roe 'a long time ago,' or are you reporting what pro-choice folks likely think? The latter, I hope? If the former, why?"

I think we might look at Roe v Wade as the beginning of the attitude toward American government that if you are on the losing side (as with a 7-2 Supreme Court decision), you don't accept the winning side as legitimate, and you just dig in your heels and fight. I am sure you know the history of the Supreme Court much better than I do, but I don't know of another example of a Supreme Court decision where it then became one of the top priorities of the two parties to win the presidency so they could put "their" justices on the court. It seems to me that Bill Clinton was never accepted as legitimate by some on the right, and it seems to me now that Obama is not accepted as legitimate by some on the right. Instead of trying to cooperate, parties now declare total war.

Mitch McConnell says, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." I suppose there is nothing really surprising in that, but it is amazing that people will accept that kind of thinking when we still have an unemployment rate of over 9%. Is the most important thing in the next two years to deny Obama a second term? Don't the next two years matter?

When health care reform passed, the first reaction of the Republicans was that they would try to repeal it. I really don't recall that being the case with any other landmark legislation in my lifetime. It is almost as if people don't value continuity any more and want a new country with every election.

I think after Roe was passed, if people who wanted the incidence of abortion to decrease (and I think that includes almost everyone) had made a concerted effort to work together, instead of to form two opposing camps, the abortion rate would be lower than it is today. But it had to be turned into total war to the point where now some (like Archbishop Burke) are basically trying to give orders to Catholics on how they can vote. (I think, by the way, that this is hurting the Catholic Church.)

I have had arguments with pro-lifers who basically opposed any cooperation to reduce abortions (like the Pregnant Women Support Act) as a distraction from the real battle (to overturn Roe v Wade, etc.). We had a post here on Mirror of Justice by someone linking to Austin Ruse's column trashing "Open Minds, Fair Minded Words" because the pro-life side didn't "win," when of course it was not supposed to be about winning or losing. By the way, I have some idea of how much effort Charles Camosy put into that conference, and I am sure he doesn't appreciate being accused of picking weak representatives for the pro-life side (and I am sure those who appeared on the pro-life side don't appreciate it either).

While I must say that what Matt Bowman says doesn't bother me, nevertheless what we have now in this pitched battle over abortion is people saying things about the other side like, "Thanks, by the way, for your ringing motivational speech in favor of the right to dismember children as a core value of our republic." I don't think that's civil discourse, and it doesn't even reflect how I feel about abortion.

I am 63 and I have never seen anything like what's going on in this country. Things were more sane while Nixon was being impeached! Everything has become a zero-sum game in which if one side wins, the other side loses. Both Republicans and Democrats took the Nixon impeachment very seriously, and he deserved to be impeached. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was largely a partisan matter.

I really don't agree that learning to live with Roe v Wade would have been un-Catholic or un-Christian. Who knows what could have been done if all people of good will worked together? But now they basically can't, because if you're not with the pro-lifers, you are a baby killer. The venom spewed at someone like Cathy Kaveny, who is deeply thoughtful and most sincere in her concerns, is yet another indicator of how bitter and irrational the whole battle has become.

The pro-life side lost decisively when Roe was decided, and instead of finding some workable approach, they set off on this crusade that now has become inextricably bound up with the Republican party, and in my opinion, it is basically futile. I don't think Roe can be overturned -- of course, I could be wrong -- and even if it is, I really doubt that it will decrease the number of abortions in the United States. So I see the whole battle as time and energy wasted when something constructive might have been done.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 2, 2010 4:02:50 PM

And, a fair amount of grandstanding to. Tehre was similar effort undertaken in Boston over years and in private. It got exactly....no where. There is no common ground with those who do not believe in any restrictions on abortion. As i said in my piece, Frances and her crew do not intend to give even a single inch on restricting abortion.

Posted by: Austin Ruse | Nov 2, 2010 6:02:03 PM

David you are proposing that the lopsided, broadsweeping, absolutist principle and outcome of Roe v Wade is not only a "compromise," but is one that is consistent with a Christian approach to society and is even one that Christians have been unreasonable, foolish, wasteful and in bad faith to oppose. The problem isn't so much your view of Roe, but that you hold your view to be a moderate, Catholic-consistent one. Polarization does not prevent dialogue. Polarization makes dialogue possible. It uts the dia in dialogue. Instead, disingenuity prevents dialogue. You aren't proposing dialogue. You are proposing that one side wholly abandon not only its principles but all its practical, truly "compromise" goals of restricting abortion (which you candidly, ringingly, and motivatingly speak against) and THEN enter "discussion" about "compromise." That's not dialogue. Frank Pavone and Bill Baird can, and frequently do, dialogue on the abortion issue. Dialogue is possible with a Peter Singer, because he is what he is. Someone can even dialogue with a Frances Kissling, because despite claiming the Catholic label she doesn't really hide her open hostility to the Catholic view, and adopts wholesale the policy positions of abortionists themselves on every sub issue within abortion. But dialogue would be impossible with a person who holds the policy views of a Frances Kissling while insisting that on the spectrum of this issue he is somewhere in the neighborhood of a Rick Garnett, and that anyone to the pro-life side of him is imperiling a constitutional right that they obstinately and blockheadedly have been resisting for 40 years. Somene who supports targeted government regulation against pro-life pregnancy clinics is not a credible middle-of-the-roader on the issue of dialogue and "reducing abortion". Your comments on the abortion issue show you are at the extreme end of every subset of the discussion, and will respond in criticism to even the most mildest of pro-life assertions. That's not an attack--it's just a fact on the ground. But you just keep denying that when it's pointed out, and insist on taking the posture of a moderate. That kind of attitude is the real obstacle to dialogue, and its something that needs to be identified in response to comments and attitudes like the ones you offer here.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 3, 2010 3:20:42 PM

David, we'll have to agree to disagree about whether the fact of Roe creates any kind of an obligation on the part of good, fair-minded citizens to accept it and move on. Indeed, I think one of the more offensive aspects of the Casey decision is that the plurality effectively scolded pro-life Americans for not accepting it and moving on.

On the historical question, I don't think it's unprecedented, or even particularly remarkable, for citizens to want "their" person to win the Presidency in order to make more likely decisions by the Court that they believe are sound. (The "Legal Tender Cases" are an interesting example of this, I think.)

Roe, in my view, was a deeply wrong, deeply misguided, deeply wounded act of judicial will. It's one thing to figure, "look, Miranda might have been wrong, but we've grown used to it, and there's no point in starting over" (as Chief Justice Rehnquist did in the Dickerson case). But Roe is different. There is nothing wrong with citizens -- fair-minded, public-spirited citizens -- insisting, "no, that was wrong and damaging to our community, and it needs to be undone." It's not the case, after all, that almost all of "We the People" have come to embrace Roe (again, unlike Miranda) and that it's just a few dead-enders who are objecting. It was the imposition of a regime that relatively few of us would actually embrace, if given the choice.

You say that "[t]he pro-life side lost decisively when Roe was decided, and instead of finding some workable approach, they set off on this crusade that now has become inextricably bound up with the Republican party, and in my opinion, it is basically futile. I don't think Roe can be overturned -- of course, I could be wrong -- and even if it is, I really doubt that it will decrease the number of abortions in the United States. So I see the whole battle as time and energy wasted when something constructive might have been done." I think, with respect, that this is almost entirely wrong. First, the pro-life movement spent decades after Roe trying to enact (and to get the Court to affirm) reasonable regulations of abortion. Next, the "crusade" became "futile" -- if it did -- only because (in my view) too many pro-life citizens were told that it was futile, and so neglected the fact that, during the last election, the possible overturning of Roe was actually within reach. Given that the President has added two young pro-Roe justices, though -- and will almost certainly get a third -- I'll concede that things look bleaker. But not futile. Third, and perhaps most important, I would *plead* with you to revise your view that the overturning of Roe would not reduce the number of abortions. If you want to contend that other, non-regulatory strategies might reduce them *more*, fine. But, with respect, it is in fact clearly the case that reasonable regulation of abortions reduces the number of abortions.

I'm not going to address the Ruse piece on the Princeton conference.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 3, 2010 5:59:09 PM

Matt,

What would your idea of dialogue be? As I am sure you know, Jews have a different view of abortions than Catholics, and while they might agree on 99% of instance of abortion, they quite sincerely support the right to abortion when the life of the mother is at risk. That is an absolute fact. Now, I was having a discussion with a pro-life leader who said he was willing to work with Jews to end the 99% of abortions Catholics and (Orthodox) Jews disapprove of, and then when that has been accomplished, he would work to end the 1% Jews permitted. Is that dialogue? Is that compromise? It sounds to me like being willing to stab an ally in the back. I have also had discussions with people who said they would be obliged to work for criminalization of abortion even if that increased the number of abortions. That may make sense to you, but it doesn't to me.

It seems to me you are in a position where you can't engage in dialogue. Abortion is murder. Murder must be against the law. Period. How can you engage in dialogue when you claim the other side is intransigent and your position is, you believe, mandated by the Church? Can you point to another country that has worked out an approach to abortion that you would be willing to accept for the United States and that has any chance of being accepted by the majority of the American people?

You call me extreme, but you are more than willing put words in my mouth. For example, when I talk about early embryo loss, you insist that I am making an argument that because so many embryos die, it's okay to kill some. Of course, that is not my point of view at all. You try to find some way of seeing my views as extreme even when they are not.

I have no hesitation in saying that some "pro-life pregnancy clinics" engage in deceptive practices, the most obvious one being that they do not identify themselves as "pro-life." I don't think requiring truth in advertising is a bad idea. Read this:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/31/nyregion/31critic.html?scp=5&sq=abortion&st=cse

You say: "Your comments on the abortion issue show you are at the extreme end of every subset of the discussion, and will respond in criticism to even the most mildest of pro-life assertions."

I acknowledge that I challenge many pro-life assertions, but of course you don't hear me talking to people who are actually on the extreme. There are many people who will get angry and not even let me continue when I try to explain the principles behind the Catholic position regarding what is licit and what is not when the life of the mother is in danger. Many people will simply say something like, "It's all about controlling women." Less reasonable ones will claim that all the Catholic Church is interested in is increasing the number of Catholics, so it forbids women to abort. It is amusing that you think I am an extremist.

I think I am very much in the mainstream in terms of my arguments about voting, to take one example. Clearly the majority of Catholics do not buy the argument that they may vote only for pro-life candidates. The difference between me and them is that I am willing to state the reasons why I don't think Catholics must vote the way Archbishops Chaput and Burke claim they must. Of course, I suppose you will argue that Catholics who vote for pro-choice candidates simply don't count as Catholics.

Also, the nearest I have ever been to an actual abortion was when a friend of mine, a married (Jewish) woman who felt she and her husband were not emotionally or financially ready for a child, had an abortion back in the 1970s. On the other hand, you accuse me of being a pro-abortion extremist, when there are tens of thousands of Catholic women who have actually HAD abortions. You also call me extreme because I argue that Obama was and is not in favor of infanticide! Or when I point out that Jill Stanek's testimony was uncorroborated. No doubt you will think it is extreme of me to point out that Austin Ruse made the following untrue statement on The Catholic Thing: "This echoes even the words of President Obama who famously said he would support his daughter’s abortion since she should not be 'punished” with an unwanted baby.'" Obama was talking about teaching young people about contraception and STD prevention when he made the -- certainly unfortunate -- "punished with a baby" remark. (It is evident from the transcript: "But it should also include -- it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby. I don't want them punished with an STD at the age of 16.") But for some reason, it is okay for pro-lifers to say Obama said he would "support his daughter's abortion," but it makes me an extremist to point out that that's not what he said. I may have made an intemperate remark now and then, but you certainly can't accuse me of using extremist rhetoric. But I get plenty of it back in discussions like this.

I don't know what your position is, but as I said above, I have been in discussions with pro-lifers who considered it traitorous to support the Pregnant Women Support Act because it might detract from the "real" pro-life effort. Is that moderate? Supposing it were really possible to reduce the abortion rate 95 percent in the next ten years by devoting all efforts to something like PWSA instead of the current priorities of the pro-life movement. Would you oppose it? Please answer this. I would be most happy to see a tax increase to offer women alternatives to abortion. I really don't think Roe will ever be overturned, and I can't imagine the tumult in the country if it were. I think it is perfectly reasonable to look for alternative ways of lowering the abortion rate, and I think a Catholic need not be considered in dissent with the Church for tolerating legal abortion if he or she believes there is no choice or believes that criminalization would make matters worse. Does the Catholic religion really require people to support something they believe is futile or counterproductive? I would certainly like to believe that it doesn't.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 3, 2010 6:40:45 PM

I don't think your allegations about what unnamed "prolifers" said does anything in the discussion. We know neither the existence of such people, nor their actual views, nor if or what was said, and it doesn't show anything about what the identified prolifers here believe, nor what the movement believes. Its just a straw man insulated from cross examination. I've never even heard of a prolifer making that argument on PWSA, even if it were relevant to show anything besides the fact that you can find someone somewhere to say anything. And yes the proabortion new york times sides with the abortion industry to accuse their free, nonprofit prolife competition of lying so as to drive them out of business and leave women with only the choice of paying them to abort. That is unremarkable. What is remarkable is that you repeat their allegations as your own and still claim to be a moderate prolifer.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 3, 2010 7:24:01 PM

The bottom line, David, is that you trust NARAL and Planned Parenthood when they say pro-life clinics lie, but you DON'T trust pro-life clinics when they say they don't lie. That's not neutral, or pro-life--by definition.

You trust the abortion industry itself, that kills children and itself is on video repeatedly lying and breaking the to sell women abortions--you trust them when they allege lying but define lying 95% as pro-lifers saying that abortion medically harms women which is AT BEST a disputed medical viewpoint not a lie, and in not adopting your one-sided completely un-neutral premise that any pro-life clinic talking about pregnancy must discuss abortion up front but no pro-abortion clinic must use abortion in its name nor would you require them to talk about the fact up front that they kill babies--you trust the abortion industry in these self-serving allegations against its own competetion, pro-life clinics, which serve 2 million women every year FOR FREE to offer alternatives to abortion and therefore save hundreds of thousands of babies from brutal death--and you trust the abortion industry against pro-lifers so much that you support laws that single out and target pro-life centers for regulation amidst an utterly unverified smear campaign that even you have never been able to cite evidence for (except "evidence" from the aforementioned NARAL, and one website of one unaffiliated clinic that does nothing even remotely characterized as lying except use the word "comprehensive" in small print on a subpage)

And you think this is a moderate, neutral, non-extremist position.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 3, 2010 7:42:51 PM

that should say "breaking the law"--omitted a word there

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 3, 2010 7:45:50 PM


Matt,

You say: "What is remarkable is that you repeat their allegations as your own and still claim to be a moderate prolifer."

I have never labeled myself, and certainly have never claimed to be a "moderate prolifer." Not being a pro-abortion extremist doesn't make me a moderate prolifer. I am not even sure what positions a moderate prolifer would take. I actually vacillate between various positions, although none of them are standard enough to have names.

You say: "Its just a straw man insulated from cross examination."

Anything I have mentioned is still out there on dotCommonweal or Vox Nova, with the exception of a private e-mail exchange with someone reasonably well known in Catholic circles, which I will reproduce here without the name.

I proposed the following test

TEST QUESTION: Which government approach would you prefer to see in the United States, one that
A. Strictly prohibited abortions and as a consequence reduced them by 20 percent?
B. Did not legally prohibit abortions but decreased them by 40 percent?

The response I got was the following (delimited by asterisks):

**********
I would answer "A" because it is not our job to control the outcome. It is only our job to preach the truth. The outcome is up to God. Our job as Christians is to be a prophetic voice and to leave conversion to him. The problem with the consequentialist thinking of progressives on this issue--in my mind--is that it takes control out of God's hands and assumes that we, by hedging and engaging in casuistry can somehow coax the results we want out of the circumstances. Speaking as one who makes his living XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, I have never found this approach to be effective. Speak the truth, and let the chips fall where they may.

I find, more often than not, that the truth really does set people free in the long run, even if the short term consequences look bleak. Advocating for laws against abortion is not right because it will be effective. It is right because it is a way Christians can preach the truth to civil society. That is our only responsibility. God must be left in charge of the rest.
**********

I know it's a purely hypothetical question, but answering hypothetical questions tells us something. I would definitely choose B. I am guessing you will not answer the question.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 3, 2010 7:59:05 PM

Rick,

I saw your message only after I posted my mega-message, and I will respond to it later.

I do wonder one thing, and that is what people expect an overturn of Roe by the Supreme Court would actually look like. Would it be a ruling that Roe was wrongly decided and is now null and void? Or would it be a more limited ruling than Roe? Would it allow states to restrict abortion in any way they chose -- say, to outlaw it even when the mother's life was at stake? I think the assumption in discussions like this is that Roe and anything that followed from it would be totally undone, but I wonder if that is the case. I also wonder what Roberts meant when he said Roe was "settled law."

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 3, 2010 8:07:33 PM

David, that's a fascinating quote, but I don't know what your point of quoting it is. I also don't know how a position can plausibly be described as neutral to trust the lying killing abortion industry when it says its pro-life competetition lies, and not trust the pro-life non-profit free-help baby-saving competetion of that industry when it says it doesn't lie, in all the evidence-lacking circumstances I just described.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 3, 2010 8:30:43 PM

Matt,

We're following a familiar pattern here. The discussion was about whether it makes sense to say that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, but it has devolved into a discussion about me, personally. I don't know why it matters for the sake of this discussion whether I am a pro-abortion extremist or a pro-choice moderate, or whether I think I am in some way pro-life, or "neutral."

You say: "I also don't know how a position can plausibly be described as neutral to trust the lying killing abortion industry when it says its pro-life competetition lies, and not trust the pro-life non-profit free-help baby-saving competetion of that industry when it says it doesn't lie, in all the evidence-lacking circumstances I just described."

Let me restate what I said and highlight one word: "I have no hesitation in saying that SOME 'pro-life pregnancy clinics' engage in deceptive practices, the most obvious one being that they do not identify themselves as 'pro-life.' I don't think requiring truth in advertising is a bad idea." The position you ascribe to me is much more extreme than the position I actually stated. I have criticized the website of the Pregnancy Care Center in Fort Pierce, Florida
http://www.thinkingaboutabortion.com/
but I have contrasted it with the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center here in Manhattan, which I would have no problem supporting
http://www.mpsc.org/
I still maintain that one is deceptive and the other is not. That does not amount to indicting every crisis pregnancy center in the United States and believing everything that NARAL says. I think we agree on the FACT that many crisis pregnancy centers advertise in such a way that it is not apparent that their purpose is to dissuade women from having abortions and that they will not give abortion referrals. Our difference is not over that. It's that I call it deceptive, and you argue that it is not.

In any case, getting back to the original topic, I think it makes perfect sense for Obama, or anyone else who is pro-choice, to say that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. It would have made sense before Roe, it makes sense now, and it will make sense in the unlikely even that Roe is overturned.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 4, 2010 6:46:40 AM

Rick,

You say: "Third, and perhaps most important, I would *plead* with you to revise your view that the overturning of Roe would not reduce the number of abortions. If you want to contend that other, non-regulatory strategies might reduce them *more*, fine."

Your plea has not fallen on deaf ears. I got a little carried away in my rhetoric. Of course, overturning Roe itself would not reduce the number of abortions, but enough states stand ready to pass restrictive abortion laws that the result of Roe *might* be fewer abortion. I will concede that it probably would, at least in the short term. It is not certain, however. I have read that abortions in Mexico have increased despite an almost total ban. And there are studies that purport to show that the rate of abortion is not lower in countries with highly restrictive laws than it is in countries with more liberal laws. The major correlation to the frequency of abortions is (not surprisingly) the number of unwanted pregnancies. That is what explains the disparities between certain groups in the United States with regard to abortions. For example, there are some pro-life campaigns that try to characterize abortion in the United States as racist or genocidal because the abortion rate among black women is so high. However, it is the unintended pregnancy rate that is responsible. The rate of unintended pregnancies among black women is so high that even given the high abortion rate, the birth rate of blacks in America is higher than for whites, and the proportion of black people is increasing.

You say: "But, with respect, it is in fact clearly the case that reasonable regulation of abortions reduces the number of abortions."

But if Roe is overturned, will the regulations on abortion be "reasonable"? We don't really hear much about what the laws would be like if Roe is overturned. The one thing that is talked about is whether women will be punished, and the usual answer from pro-lifers is that women are victims and should not be punished. But what will state laws be if Roe is overturned? How many states will criminalize abortion? How many states will not, and how many women in states in which abortion is banned will be near enough to another state where abortion is legal so that it is not all that inconvenient to make a day trip for an abortion? Would feminists start an underground railroad? Who can predict what the result will be?

Also, will pro-lifers be satisfied with abortion laws on the books if those laws prove minimally effective, or are not aggressively enforced? If Roe is overturned, and abortion restrictions do not dramatically increase abortions, what will the pro-life movement do then? What if the overturning of Roe in the imposition of restrictions on abortion resembles Prohibition? And, of course, what if Roe is overturned and those who are pro-choice mount the same kind of campaign to alter the Supreme Court yet again to get a new version of Roe and also start thousands of their own crisis pregnancy centers to help women get abortions, legal or otherwise?

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 4, 2010 7:39:49 AM

David you cite ONE clinic, not SOME. And you rely wholly on NARAL's and the abortion industry's testimony on this issue, as repeated in the New York Times, over and against the testimony of pro-life centers. But you are right, that you think it's a LIE to "advertise in such a way that it is not apparent that their purpose is to dissuade women from having abortions and that they will not give abortion referrals." Your and NARAL's idea that this alone is a LIE is based on an extreme pro-abortion premise--that abortion is a default legitimate medical reality to such an extreme that not including it up front in any communication on pregnancy is a LIE. Meanwhile you reject the opposite premise, that an unborn baby's life is the default medical reality and that Planned Parenthood is lying by not telling women, up front, that they are going to kill the baby and that they do not care for the baby as a equal human person and patient. Your position on this, like on your other points, illustrates the underlying pro-abortion bias that you are assuming when you say that pro-lifers don't really want "rare" abortion because they aren't abandonning their core principles and accepting your pro-abortion premises as a condition of so-called "dialogue."

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 4, 2010 11:00:53 AM

Matt,

I said "deceptive," not LIE. I wish you would stop restating my positions in your own extreme rhetoric.

I don't understand how you can accuse me of being a dupe of NARAL and the New York Times in believing that crisis pregnancy centers do not reveal themselves to be anti-abortion, when you then turn around and claim it is perfectly acceptable for crisis pregnancy centers to do so. You know and I know that not only do crisis pregnancy centers often decline to disclose their true purpose (to steer women away from abortions), but they resist being required to do so. You argue for their right to do so.

I am not sure exactly what you mean by "a default legitimate medical reality," but abortion is legal, and it is simply deceptive for crisis pregnancy centers to set themselves up in such a way as to invite in women who are seeking abortions and then try to argue them out of it. This would be true for any legal medical procedure or service. If you wanted a new pair of glasses, and you went to a shop called "Vision Center" that had the windows full of empty eyeglass frames, and when you got in you were urged to get contact lenses and found out the Vision Center didn't sell eyeglasses, you would have been deceived. If someone wants to set up a business in which they sell only contact lenses, that's fine. But setting up in such a way as to lure in customers who want eyeglasses, and pressuring them to get contacts would be false advertising. I am sure than many crisis pregnancy centers are completely upfront about offering abortion *alternatives*, but many deliberately are not upfront in the hopes that they will lure in customers whom they can talk out of abortions. You see that as perfectly legitimate, but I don't accept your argument.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 4, 2010 11:48:23 AM

decline to disclose their true purpose (to steer women away from abortions)

I intended to modify that slightly, but I clicked on Post instead of Preview.

I fully realize that crisis pregnancy centers do all kinds of things to help pregnant women, including those who would never dream of having an abortion. I didn't intend to limit the scope of what crisis pregnancy centers do. But some of them definitely intend for women seeking abortions to mistakenly enter as clients, expecting abortion services or referrals. And those who engage in this practice resist any requirement to disclose this fact. It would be one thing if such pregnancy centers simply did not mention abortion at all in their advertising. But some of them advertise making the topic of abortion one of their primary messages, and this is deceptive.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 4, 2010 11:57:19 AM

David,

I just don't see any pregnancy help centers, including the ones you link to, saying "we do abortions" as a means of enticing people into their center. They don't say that. Sure, they say "are you pregnant? We have services for you." But that's not a lie.

You might respond by saying that pregnancy help centers need to give more information, and that "we provide services for pregnant women" is misleading about the types of services given because that doesn't include abortion. But then why aren't you hounding the Planned Parenthood centers? Isn't PP saying "we provide services to end a pregnancy" misleading to? PP doesn't give sufficient information about the types of services they provide. Shouldn't PP be saying "we do abortions which is where we kill the human being that is living within you"?

You have a problem with pregnancy help centers being allegedly deceptive in how they lure customers; do you have a similar problem with PP?

Posted by: Thales | Nov 4, 2010 12:29:41 PM

David, by your standards yo are being deceptive, because you smear prolife pregnancy centers as deceptive and then claim that you aren't painting them as liars. Prolife centers don't decieve. The do highlight that they are in the business of abortion alternatives and choosing life. That's where they are listed in the yellow pages. But none of this meets your deceptive definition of deception. You don't insist that abortion facilities put the word abortion in their names. Instead you claim that any prolife discussion of pregnancy and abortion must always assert at the outset in a way dictated by aborionists that no abortions are done. But you don't insist that any discussion of abortion by abortionists must assert at the outset that they consider the preborn baby executable and they take money to execute them. Your definition of deception, and abortion reducion, and compromise, and dialogue, and Roe, all rest on pro-abortion premises. To the extent those premises are unspoken or or opinions are offered as neutral, you are in no position to accuse people of" deception".

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 4, 2010 1:31:42 PM

David, by your standards yo are being deceptive, because you smear prolife pregnancy centers as deceptive and then claim that you aren't painting them as liars. Prolife centers don't decieve. The do highlight that they are in the business of abortion alternatives and choosing life. That's where they are listed in the yellow pages. But none of this meets your deceptive definition of deception. You don't insist that abortion facilities put the word abortion in their names. Instead you claim that any prolife discussion of pregnancy and abortion must always assert at the outset in a way dictated by aborionists that no abortions are done. But you don't insist that any discussion of abortion by abortionists must assert at the outset that they consider the preborn baby executable and they take money to execute them. Your definition of deception, and abortion reducion, and compromise, and dialogue, and Roe, all rest on pro-abortion premises. To the extent those premises are unspoken or or opinions are offered as neutral, you are in no position to accuse people of" deception".

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 4, 2010 1:31:42 PM

Thales,

You say: "Shouldn't PP be saying 'we do abortions which is where we kill the human being that is living within you'?

It is quite a different matter to expect someone to say, "We don't provide abortion services and referrals" than to expect Planned Parenthood to deliver a pro-life message that they don't believe in.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 4, 2010 1:42:34 PM

David it is not different, unless you presume the preborn child is insignificant whereas the ability to abort him is preeminent. That's your premise.

The NARAL report discussed in that article you link to above, and which is the only alleged basis to justify the government in compelling prolife people to speak about pregnancy in your abortion-privileged way, is entitled "the LIES manipulations and privacy violations of crisis pregnancy centers in new york city."

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 4, 2010 2:18:53 PM

Matt,

You say: "The do highlight that they are in the business of abortion alternatives and choosing life."

As far as I am concerned, a pro-life pregnancy center that advertises the services it provides are "abortion alternatives" has been sufficiently straightforward and need say no more. I wouldn't say merely advertising in the "abortion alternatives" section of the Yellow Pages is enough, since not everybody finds the ads in the Yellow Pages. But if the ads themselves say "abortion alternatives," then that's good enough for me.

The Pregnancy Care Center http://www.thinkingaboutabortion.com/index.html which you are so critical of me for calling deceptive does not say anything about abortion alternatives. It is a deceptive site.

Let me point out again that this is not about me. It is clear we disagree, but I am not criticizing you personally the way you are criticizing me. A major part of your approach in debating with me, or anyone else, or in criticizing the viewpoint of someone like Cathy Kaveny, is to make it personal. Please try to stop it.

Posted by: David Nickol | Nov 4, 2010 2:27:16 PM

David, a major part of your approach is to accuse people who criticize your statements as being "personal". Your statements and premises are not sheilded from criticism just because you view it personally.

You have yet to cite more than one prolife pregnancy center out of 3000 or so that meets your incorrect NARAL-reliant definition of deception, and none in New York. Do you oppose government-compelled speech, spoken in the timing and loudness mandated by abortion partisans, imposed on prolife pregnancy centers simply because they are prolife, which is what all these laws do? Or do you support such speech compulsion against only one side of the debate, premised on the preeminence of abortion at the outset of any pregnancy discussion, and defined and specified by partisans who support the industry of abortion?

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Nov 4, 2010 2:47:36 PM

Still don't know why you think thinkingaboutabortion is a deceptive site. I don't see any lies on it.

Posted by: Thales | Nov 4, 2010 2:59:12 PM