Life Issues, Cont'd - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Life Issues, Cont’d

Dan McCarthy has posted a response to Ross Douthat’s pro-life rejoinder to Andrew Bacevich. McCarthy argues that a McCain presidency is unlikely to result in the end of Roe v. Wade much less abortion, that other opportunities to overturn Roe may in fact present themselves if McCain is defeated this year, and that overturning Roe, while a good thing, won’t actually do very much to reduce abortions.

The first two points depend largely on whether you find McCarthy’s election-year analysis more persuasive than Douthat’s, so I’ll take up the third one: What can pro-lifers really expect if Roe falls? To a large extent, that depends on how pro-lifers respond. If they continue their incremental strategy of the 1990s, they can continue to make the law more protective of unborn children. If they respond by trying to enact South Dakota-style abortion bans everywhere, a pro-life victory over Roe will probably lead to lots of pro-life defeats. American attitudes about abortion are simply too muddled to sustain such sweeping bans in very many states, including relatively socially conservative ones like South Dakota.

While government policy toward the practice of abortion is important, and the enactment of laws that recognize the humanity of the unborn is a crucial pro-life goal in itself, changing the culture is even more important than changing the law (though sometimes changing the law can help change the culture and vice versa). The campaign for a human life amendment was always going to fail because the political consensus required for a constitutional amendment banning abortion is impossible in a country where more than 1 million abortions take place per year.

Abortion rates began to fall during the 1990s for both political and cultural reasons. The greater availability of ultrasound images of fetuses and the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers helped reduce abortions without political action. The enactment of abortion restrictions like waiting periods, parental notification or consent laws, and informed consent laws helps reduce abortion through political action. And the political campaign to ban partial-birth abortion helped encourage antiabortion sentiment in the broader culture, showing how the two can be mutually reinforcing.

While pro-lifers were bitterly disappointed by 1992’s Supreme Court decision Casey v. Planned Parenthood because twelve years of Reagan-Bush did not lead to the reversal of Roe, Casey was not a total defeat for the pro-life side. Casey expanded the range of permissible abortion restrictions while leaving a comprehensive ban off the table. That shifted the abortion debate into areas where the pro-life position was popular, helped keep pro-lifers engaged politically by providing them some tangible policy achievements, and forced pro-choicers to defend things like partial-birth abortion and surreptitious abortions for people’s teenage daughters.

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