Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More on Saletan's "pragmatism" on abortion

It has been suggested -- at Slate, at Commonweal, and elsewhere -- that opposition to (or even, it seems, doubts about) the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act makes one a "militant" (boo!) rather than a "pragmatist" (yay!).  The Catholic blogger Blackadder (formerly of Vox Nova and now at American Catholic) expresses well the implausibility of this suggestion.

To be clear:  I have said many times that, given all the givens, I would and do accept the inevitability of some "compromise" on abortion.  For example, while I suspect that many of the "abortion reduction" proposals that are floated in the conversation are really just re-branded calls for increased social-welfare-spending programs that might not actually do much to reduce abortion and might have significant policy downsides, I would be more enthusiastic about a compromise proposal that including increases in such spending *if* the the pro-abortion-rights side were actually compromising.  But -- and I realize I've harped on this point before, so apologies -- that side is, generally speaking, not giving anything up.  Indeed, they are asking pro-lifers to agree that it is "compromise" to accept the roll-back of the gains they have secured. 

What is happening, instead, is that many of us who are pro-life are being asked to accept a legal -- indeed, a constitutional -- regime in which citizens are disabled from meaningfully regulating (as opposed to financially disincentivizing) abortion, a regime whose premises are that unborn children are not in fact morally entitled to the protection of the laws and that those who think otherwise are required by the norms of good citizenship to cease trying to persuade, and a policy landscape in which public funds are being used not only to subsidize pro-abortion-rights activity (no, Mr. Saletan, not just contraception, but abortion-rights-advocacy, here and abroad) but abortions themselves.

To have doubts about the attractiveness of this faux-compromise is not to be a "radical", or a misguided "prophet."  A real compromise -- one that actually reflected the views of the broad center of the American public -- would involve acceptance of reasonable regulations (and, in some cases, prohibition) of abortion; it would include the various (and popular) laws that structure and slow down the choice for abortion (waiting-periods, etc.); it would include agreement that public funds should not be used for elective abortions; it would include free-speech protections for (peaceful) pro-life expression and protest.  It would also involve -- I am happy to agree -- increased social-welfare spending aimed at helping low-income women avoid the temptation to abortion and at helping low-income families raise and care for their children.  (It would probably also involve various reasonable programs aimed at discouraging so-called unwanted pregnancies.)  If Mr. Saletan were to endorse such a compromise, his scolding of pro-lifers might be warranted.  At present, though, I don't think it is.

Now, one might say, "but why should pro-lifers insist on real compromise if the proposed faux-compromise still reduces the number of abortions?"  A few (restatements of earlier) responses:  First, overall, all things considered, the policy agenda of the current Administration and congressional majority cannot plausibly be regarded as one that will reduce abortions.  Dramatic increases in the subsidization of an activity, combined with calls for the removal of all restrictions on that activity, are not well designed for reducing that activity.  Next, the concern of pro-lifers is, but is not only, with the number of deaths (if it were, then calls for a 25 mph speed limit would have to be regarded as "pro life" moves).  It is with a distorted constitutional and jurisprudential framework that excludes entirely from the protection of the law an entire class of human beings and that disrespects democracy by removing from the political arena (i.e., the arena of "dialogue" and "compromise") a question about the role of the law in expressing and protecting human dignity.

I'm ready for a pragmatic compromise, Mr. Saletan.  No radicalism here.  Debate and dialogue welcome.  What about you?  

UPDATE:  Douglas Johnson's response to Saletan's essay is devastating.  It is a must-read.

UPDATE:  Saletan responds to me (and others) here.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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