Abortion is never going to be an easy issue. Women, often pushed by callous, self-serving men, seek abortions for reasons ranging from desperation to convenience. Halting abortion requires limiting liberty to save life.
No one should diminish the emotional or physical challenge facing women who seek abortions nor imagine that prohibiting the procedure is but a minor interference with personal choice. However, government has an obligation to intervene. Not for reasons of prejudice or malice but because of duty: the fundamental obligation to protect those unable to assert their own rights, babies at most nine months away from legal personhood.
Democrats have made clear that there is no room in what once was called The Democracy for anyone who imagines an outcome other than a dead baby.
Typical of the “dead baby at all costs” attitude is Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse, who was horrified by the discussion of the issue at the Republican convention. I didn’t tune in — alas, I lost my warm feelings for the GOP long, long ago — but I suspect it wouldn’t have mattered what Republicans said, unless they blindly endorsed abortion “on demand,” that is, for everyone in all circumstances irrespective of consequences. Hesse’s blindness on the issue typified a movement for which an aborted fetus has become a symbol of personal liberty, cultural dominance, and political triumph.
She complained that RNC speakers
Abby Johnson and Cissie Graham Lynch made their positions perfectly clear: Their way of life is to police other people’s lives and call it freedom. Their way of life is to claim they are being oppressed if they are not allowed to oppress others. That is the way of life they’re trying to protect.
It is a criticism that is both bizarre and dishonest. If we take Hesse at her word, imagine her reaction to the imprisonment of a man who engages in domestic violence, as in he beats women — wife, girlfriend, daughter, or other. Hesse wrote that advocates of criminal prosecution have “made their positions perfectly clear. Their way of life is to police other people’s lives and call it freedom. Their way of life is to claim they are being oppressed if they are not allowed to oppress others. That is the way of life they’re trying to protect.” Applying her principle logically requires freeing wife-beaters. After all, in this view it is a lifestyle choice, as valid as any other, and the rest of us have no right to interfere.
Presumably Hesse would disagree, but without any obvious philosophical reason for doing so. All she could argue is that while the issue was gender, it didn’t involve the act of sex. After all, modern liberalism — progressivism, sorry! — has turned into a philosophy that believes in only one form of freedom: sex. Anything goes for anyone at any time. No one else has any standing to object for any reason.
But that is the only freedom that the Left cares about. Everything else — how you live, where you live, what work you do, what you think of others, what you say about others, whom you associate with, whom you do business with, what you do with your property, what you do with your money, what you write, and just about every other decision you can imagine — should be subject to government control. After all, we are all socialists now!
Abortion once was viewed as a complex issue and split both parties. But Democrats have made clear that there is no room in what once was called The Democracy for anyone who imagines an outcome other than a dead baby. Bill Clinton’s expressed desire that abortion be “safe, legal, and rare” is long dead. The activists who now control the party believe the procedure should be common and, perhaps most important, free, paid for by those who oppose it. That is the new progressive vision: those who oppose liberalism’s imperial cultural and legal advance must be crushed, forced to submit, made to promote the very values and beliefs they most abhor. If you are so retrograde as to believe a baby should not be aborted, you should be forced to pay for the abortions of others. Rather like dealing with the Borg of Star Trek, resistance is hopeless. There is no room for tolerance, diversity, or morality in a truly progressive America.
Yet despite the studied vitriol of the likes of Monica Hesse and power of the liberal cultural machine, pro-lifers remain. And they are fundamentally driven by a desire to protect life. None of my pro-life friends has any interest in policing or oppressing other people, as Hesse fantasizes. Rather, they want to stop lives from being wantonly wiped out.
It is fine to disagree. But progressives should be honest: which is the more attractive vision? You can do what you want, irrespective of consequences to one and all. Or you should take into account the life that you have created through your voluntary actions.
There are three basic principles from which the aggressive pro-abortion movement flees.
The first is that life at stake. This is not a theological point. At some point — I tend to think implantation rather than conception — normal development will yield what is universally recognized as a human being. That makes abortion different from every other medical procedure. There is another life at stake. Individual liberty is exceptionally important — I stopped calling myself a conservative in 1978 — but the essence of libertarianism is to recognize the difference between acts with principal consequences for oneself and those which significantly affect others. The existence of a baby, whatever its stage in development, which is killed by abortion, cannot be wished away.
The second factor is that, historically, female and minority lives have been most at risk from abortion. Tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of girls around the world have been killed because of their sex. The People’s Republic of China, an exemplar of progressive if coercive social planning, is most culpable with its “one child” policy. Both poverty and pressure to limit population growth in India yielded similar consequences. Most poor, rural societies favored boys. They are more productive farm labor and do not require dowries for marriage.
Gender preferences in Western societies have varied, but sex selection, whatever the preferred end, is an ugly, even deadly, manifestation of prejudice and discrimination. Moreover, southern white legislators were known to support abortion in the belief that legalization would mostly affect minority communities. In this case, the disproportionate racial impact was applauded.
Finally, the third reality is the fact that abortion is not a choice, but a flight from responsibility. In every case except rape, an important but rare case, babies show up only because someone has chosen to have sex. To make this point is not to churlishly desire to punish people who had sex — after all, I arrived in the world in the usual way — but to highlight the consequences of personal choice. The necessary complement to liberty is responsibility. That is, if you want to act freely, then you need to deal with the results of your actions.
In a society that claims to be both free and good, you should be able to have sex with anyone you wish. However, that doesn’t mean you should be able to do so without consequence. If a baby shows up, even if that was not your plan, you should be held accountable. One surely can argue about the proper legal response. But there should be a legal response of some sort for someone. It is not “oppression” to protect life, even if that means penalizing one choice or another.
And if “choice” means anything, it should be that those of us who object to abortion — for fundamental moral reasons — should not be expected to pay for other people to, let us abandon euphemism, kill their babies. Even accepting the latter as a legal freedom does not mean imposing that preference on the rest of us. The Left’s enthusiasm for public funding really is a form of “oppression” that “polices” other people’s lives in the name of freedom.
Abortion is one of the most bitterly fought cultural and legal divides in America. It won’t go away. It won’t go away by demonizing pro-lifers. And it certainly won’t go away by ignoring the reality of abortion. The procedure means a dead baby. It is a profoundly moral issue. Argue for whatever outcome you favor. But don’t try to evade the essential moral challenge.
Doug Bandow is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and author of The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington. He is a graduate of Stanford Law School and member of the California and Washington, D.C., bars.