Skip to comments.The Real Meaning of Choice: Dealing, politically, with abortion.
Posted on 11/19/2002 8:00:50 AM PST by xsysmgr
Time passes, but abortion remains a debate between irreconcilable absolutes. So strong are the emotions of and great is the gulf between the opposing sides that nominees for the U.S. Supreme Court feel constrained to say that they have no opinion on indeed, have never even thought about the most contentious constitutional decision of our time. While the legal battle over abortion may be over, as a Supreme Court full of Republican nominees refuses to overturn Roe v. Wade, the bloody political war continues in Congress and state legislatures across the nation.
Pro-life support is critical if Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell is to defeat Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in the December 7 runoff. Anti-abortion legislators killed bankruptcy reform supported by House Republican leaders because of provisions directed against pro-life protesters. Pro-abortion lobbyists fought against the nominations of Michael McConnell of the University of Utah and Dennis Shedd, a federal district court judge, to the appellate court.
Moreover, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is promising to bring a ban on partial-birth abortion to the floor: "The House did it this year. Once again, Tom Daschle would not call it up. I will." The Bush administration is counseling caution, but pro-lifers believe that they engineered the Senate victories in Georgia, Minnesota, and Missouri, and want their due. No wonder outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle pleaded in a pre-election fundraising appeal for the pro-abortion group NARAL: "Rarely has so much been at stake for a woman's right to choose in a U.S. Senate election."
In fact, both parties have long suffered divisions within their own ranks. Although the debate within Republican circles has received greater press attention, the late Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey was one of a number of leading Democrats to question his party's stand in favor of unlimited abortions, and especially with many at taxpayer expense. Indeed, at times as many as one-third of Democratic congressmen have not supported their party's formal position in favor of abortion-on-demand.
And most American voters view both sets of activists with disquiet. The public seems to say, at least to pollsters, that it believes the issue is a lot more difficult than do, say, Randall Terry and Eleanor Smeal. Which should surprise no one. While abortion looks uncomfortably like the taking of innocent human life, regulating abortion turns an intimate personal decision over to the government. The issue is a tough one.
But part of the problem is also the rhetoric that dominates the debate. The issue is treated as life versus choice, forced pregnancy advocates versus baby killers. Such a simplistic lexicon naturally breeds confusion. Who, after all, can be against either life or choice? Certainly not the majority of Americans, who tell pollsters that they oppose most abortions (and are therefore "pro-life") but do not want to outlaw the procedure (and are thereby "pro-choice").
Both sides naturally realize the importance of grabbing ahold of a positive slogan. Yet whatever the appropriateness of "pro-life" as a label for the anti-abortion forces, the rallying cry of "choice" for advocates of legal abortion is clearly suspect. Yes, to prohibit abortion is to restrict "choice." But the most important child-bearing choice is the decision whether or not to have sex. After all, one is unlikely to desire an abortion unless one has had sex.
Making this point in today's world is not particularly easy, of course. Few people today seem to think of sex as a matter of "choice." Most unmarrieds and even a not-insubstantial number of religious singles, whose faiths formally teach that sex belongs within the marriage covenant seem to believe it to be only natural for them to sleep together. What is seen as unnatural is the coming of a baby, not the extramarital sexual union.
However, in the age of AIDS people have been forced to acknowledge that a modern lifestyle is not risk-free. Although pregnancy is not equivalent to a deadly disease, it, too, is a "risk" of sex. That is, to have sex is to choose, voluntarily, to engage in the act that creates babies. For one to support "choice," then, does necessarily mean endorsing the legal right to abort a pregnancy which has resulted from the free choice to have sex. Except in the case of rape (or cases of genuine mental incapacity), a choice was made. In such cases abortion becomes not an exercise in choice, but an attempt to avoid accepting responsibility for the earlier sexual choice.
Biology may seem to make it easier for a man to make this argument, since the burden of pregnancy is on women. And men have regularly attempted to shirk their responsibility for the life that they helped create. Yet legitimizing the "choice" to abort has allowed men to even more purposefully avoid the consequences of their actions. After all, sex requires even less care when any unwanted human consequences of a one-night stand can be easily eliminated. A woman's desire for commitment can be dismissed with the statement: "get an abortion."
Thus, the point of restricting "the right to choose" an abortion is not to spitefully penalize those who do not accept traditional Judeo-Christian ethics, or any other moral code, but to ensure that everyone accepts responsibility for the serious consequences a life of their sexual choices. Of course, even broadly "pro-life" people are likely to disagree on the exact parameters of the putative parents' duties: In truth, the "hard" cases are hard. Nevertheless, there are easy cases too, like abortion as a form of late birth control to make up for an earlier evening's pleasure and as a means of sex selection, usually to ensure the birth of a boy. These "choices" surely do not have the same moral weight as a decision to abort made by a woman whose life is in danger or who has been raped.
Of course, moral surrender by refusing to hold people responsible for their sexual choices may look attractive when one assesses the difficulties in actually banning abortion. No one who supports individual freedom can be enthused about allowing the state to intrude so dramatically into private lives. But the fact that life is at stake requires us to make some hard decisions involving the balance between life and liberty. The very complexity of the issue means that abortion cannot be justified as a simplistic commitment to "choice," irrespective of the circumstances.
And the case should be easy when considering restrictions on the most-abusive abortions. Normal abortions are terrible enough. Partial-birth abortions are truly hideous.
In this case, the doctor pulls a child, capable of surviving outside of the womb, most of the way out of the birth canal, crushes its head, and sucks out its brains. Whatever the argument for early term abortions, it does not apply to partial-birth abortions. They are grotesque. The procedure is infanticide.
Moreover, partial-birth abortion is far more common than advocates allow. And contrary to proponents' arguments, the procedure is dangerous for women, risking their health and fertility. Says author Warren Hern: "You really can't defend it. I would dispute any statement that this is the safest procedure to use." Perinatologist Curtis Cook has testified that "there is no known quality assurance, credentialing, or other standard assessment usually associated with newly described surgical techniques." The American Medical Association explains that it is "not a medically recognized technique."
The arguments made by advocates of partial-birth abortion are unpersuasive at best. For instance, Planned Parenthood of New York City once ran a full-page ad claiming that a ban would "deny women the ability to decide for themselves what's best for them." No, it would say that a woman, after choosing to have sex and carry the child nearly to term, could not have it killed in such an unnecessary and particularly gruesome fashion.
Planned Parenthood also complained that "Legal experts say that this bill allows politicians in Washington to tell doctors how to practice medicine." No, just as lawmakers say that you can't drag a child off the street and kill him or her, they would say that doctors can't partially deliver a child and then kill him or her.
Finally, Planned Parenthood warned that "Constitutional experts say that the bill undermines Roe v. Wade." No, the Constitution trumps any law passed by Congress. But the Supreme Court has said that even Roe, itself whimsical judicial legislation rather than measured constitutional interpretation, does not prevent regulation of abortion in its most extreme forms, like late-term abortion.
To say that government can indeed, should intervene to protect the lives of babies in this case (and others as well) is not to ignore the potentially enormous problems attendant an unwanted pregnancy. Opponents of abortion should respond compassionately to women who don't want to bear and raise a child.
But a compassionate response does not excuse us from holding people responsible for the choices that they make, however mistaken they may be. And that includes the decision to have sex and risk creating a life.
Today people are free to choose whether and when and with whom to have sex. People who create children as a result, even inadvertently, should be willing to accept responsibility for the consequences of their choices. Unrestricted abortion, in contrast, allows everyone, men as well as women, to avoid dealing with the results of choices freely made.
That's why abortion is, appropriately, a political issue. And why the newly empowered Republican congressional majority, if it is serious about governing, must confront the issue.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics.
See Stalin, Joe and Pot, Pol for answers.
I have yet to find a feminist who can explain to me how women's rights have been advanced by a enabling a man to sweet-talk a woman into sex and then just walk away and say "have an abortion." Men would take sex, and therefore women, a lot more seriously if they had to think about more than how to pay for the abortion. Easy abortion makes women into sex objects for men. It's the greatest thing that ever happened to men!
Look at this way: The pro-life ethic holds that the child's life begins at the moment of conception, therefore the man has the same responsibility towards the mother and his child while the woman is pregnant as he would after the baby is delivered.
The pro-choice position holds that the moment of conception is irrelevant on the position of parenthood. There is no child until birth. The key moment in determining whether or not there is a child is the moment in which the mother, solely on her own, decides to allow that child to live. But, since that is a unilateral choice on her part, the child could be said to have only one parent. From the man's point of view, why should he be responsible for the decision made by the woman, one in which he has no part?
With rights come responsibilities and where there are no rights, there should be no responsibility. If the man has no rights in determining whether or not he is to be a father (under the pro-choice ethic) he should also have no responsibility in the choice that is made by another.
Bingo! It is our job, as pro-lifers, to make absolutley certain that our politicians cannot take the easy way out.