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Why “Pro-Life Liberalism” Is An Oxymoron

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Ross Douthat responded to the arguments made by me and by Katha Pollitt in response to his recent column on Europe and abortion policy. I was tempted to respond by just noting that he doesn’t respond to my two core points — 1. Bans on abortion in practice are just bans on safe abortions for poor women and 2. It’s not the fault of pro-choice liberals that anti-choice Republicans hate Medicaid — and dropping the mic. But I had a few more points to make, so I have a longer response up.

Since this comes up in comments virtually every time I post on the subject, I wanted to highlight this point about why pro-choicers note that many countries with bans on abortion also have high abortion rates:

To be clear, I have never suggested that restrictions on abortion don’t reduce abortion rates. There is certainly a good deal of variation in how much restrictions matter: In general, restrictions that involve persuading women not to get abortions (while, in my view, pointlessly humiliating) don’t have much effect, but laws that make abortions inaccessible by denying resources (like the Hyde Amendment) or by shutting down clinics (an increasingly common trend) have a noticeable impact. The argument typically made by pro-choicers is subtly but crucially different than the one described by Douthat. Pro-choicers (myself included) point out that a significant number of abortions are performed even when they’re formally banned, which can be seen not only in the pre-Roe United States but in Latin American countries where abortion is illegal in most circumstances—and abortion rates are still quite high. The fact that large numbers of abortions (some safe, some on the unregulated black market) will be performed under any legal regime is important for reasons I’ll return to shortly. But this does not mean that abortion bans and other abortion restrictions don’t reduce rates, all things being equal; Douthat is quite right that they do.

Another related point is that just looking at national abortion rights is not a useful measure of how restrictive a country’s abortion policies are. When I’ve tried to make the point that French abortion policy is not in fact more restrictive than abortion policy in most states, at least one commenter will try to rebut the point by bringing up France’s lower abortion rates. Raw abortion rates, however, aren’t in themselves useful when examining abortion access. There’s a missing denominator—what matters is not the overall abortion rate, but the number women who would obtain abortions but can’t get them. Legal restrictions on abortion, then, are just one variable—abortion rates might also be lower because increased use of contraception or generous parental benefits reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. This can be seen both in the countries that have higher abortion rates than the United States—where nobody can dispute the policies in these countries are more restrictive—as well as countries (such as Canada and the Netherlands) that have lower abortion rates than the U.S. as well as far more liberal abortion policies.

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  • TribalistMeathead

    I remember when Douthat was guest-blogging for Sully pre-NYT gig. He reported on the case of a woman who was killed and her baby removed from her body, had a shit fit because the national media was revealing their pro-choice bias because they called it a “baby” and not a “fetus,” and refused to accept “they referred to it as a ‘baby’ because, technically, it had been delivered, dumbass” as a reasonable explanation.

    • I don’t get it. Why would this be offensive from an anti-abortion standpoint? Those people are constantly referring to fetuses as “babies.” It’s their main rhetorical tic.

      • TribalistMeathead

        Douthat’s beef is that the media would’ve referred to it as a “fetus” were it still inside the woman’s body.

        Well, really, Douthat guesses they would.

      • Because they think they can win this argument by making pro choicers ashamed of some hypothetical “hypocrisy”–so they will argue that its “hypocritical” of a woman who is prochoice to spend money and time trying to keep a high risk pregnancy.

        Conversely, of course, in a famous recent case a Catholic Church proposed to refuse to indemnify a man for the loss of his wife and the twins she was carrying when they botched the pregnancy and delivery. The Church and its lawyers wanted to argue that the twins weren’t babies and couldn’t be valued as such because they had not yet been born. Oopsie. I think they pulled out of that case and settled to avoid the embarrassment of revealing that the only thing more important than god’s love for the little embryo babies is the church’s pocketbook.

        • CaptBackslap

          I think they pulled out of that case and settled to avoid the embarrassment of revealing that the only thing more important than god’s love for the little embryo babies is the church’s pocketbook.

          I’m going to be charitable and assume they pulled out because it’s the only way they know.

          • Origami Isopod

            Snort Harrumph.

          • Oh bravO!

    • kindness

      Sully is really starting to piss me off with him using Chunky Bobo as a source all to frequently lately. Yea, I get that Sully’s Catholicism makes him feel as one to Douthat, but Douthat is an asshat of the highest order. I mean following Rome’s lead on sexuality (the one preached, not the one practiced by the priests) and birth control isn’t what makes one a good Catholic. There is so much more that ‘conservatives’ seem to toss out the window and instead focus on (other people’s & not priests) sexuality and birth control.

      It’s the overt hypocrisy that is getting to me.

      • kindness

        Sorry about the dup post.

      • The Fool

        I strongly doubt that it is Douthat’s orthodox views on sexuality and birth control that endear him to Sully. Douthat makes a lot of reformist/moderate noises about helping the middle class (that mainly consist of views that will never be accepted by the republican party and opposing democrats’ views that might stand a chance), and this tends to be where Sullivan finds him worth citing.

        Abortion is half and half, as Sully’s one of those conflicted people who is formally pro-choice but strongly sympathizes with pro-life views.

        • I strongly doubt that it is Douthat’s orthodox views on sexuality and birth control that endear him to Sully. Douthat makes a lot of reformist/moderate noises about helping the middle class (that mainly consist of views that will never be accepted by the republican party and opposing democrats’ views that might stand a chance), and this tends to be where Sullivan finds him worth citing.

          One of the real complexities of the Republican Party’s current predicament is that they can go in a few different directions. They can, for instance, throw the racists under the bus and be more inclusive (by, e.g., supporting immigration reform). They can throw the religious conservatives under the bus and liberalize on abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. Or they can throw the rich donors under the bus and move to the center on economic issues. (Or they could do nothing at all to change and keep losing national elections, of course.)

          Douthat, for all his many faults, squarely identifies with the third camp. And that makes him an interesting writer on certain topics. Abortion, alas, isn’t really one of them.

      • TribalistMeathead

        The fact that Douthat hates women as much as Sully does probably also makes him feel as one to Douthat.

      • Origami Isopod

        but Douthat is an asshat of the highest order.

        So is Sully.

    • kindness

      Sully is really starting to piss me off with him using Chunky Bobo as a source all to frequently lately. Yea, I get that Sully’s Catholicism makes him feel as one to Douthat, but Douthat is an asshat of the highest order. I mean following Rome’s lead on sexuality (the one preached, not the one practiced by the priests) and birth control isn’t what makes one a good Catholic. There is so much more that ‘conservatives’ seem to toss out the window and instead focus on (other people’s & not priests) sexuality and birth control.

      It’s the overt hypocrisy that is getting to me.

  • I have had two wanted pregnancies, and produced two much loved children. I even loved the pregnancy, itself. But at the places where my pregnancy touched up against the medical profession and the state, and once I went into labor, there was nothing more terrifying. Unless you have been a prisoner, or perhaps in the army, most Americans have no idea what it would be like to be explicitly told that something in your body was more valuable than you. Something which had no consciousness and no life other than what you were supplying might determine what medical care you were given, or whether you lived or died. The book “What to Expect When You are Expecting” explicitly drops the mask at the very end and explains to you, the pregnant woman, that at the point you are laboring the doctors and nurses have two patients and that your interests, your health, and your choices/decisions are obviously going to come in second to that of the baby.

    And that is a choice that many women (myself included) would make for our own child at certain points in the pregnancy. But its terrifying to know that Ross Douthat would make a different choice and, if he and his political partners can manage it will include themselves into those choices. Imagine, if you can, waking up tomorrow in your own (male) body and receiving a letter from Ross Douthat telling you that his religion has declared your in grown toenail to be a potential human life and as such you will have to receive special permission to cut your own nails. Although the infection has spread and is threatening your entire foot he and his Pope and the Republican party have decided that they would rather save the toe and lose you than vice versa. Thats what this argument really reduces itself to. People like Ross Douthat and the Republican party want the right to tell women that they and their lives matter less than a clump of cells.

    • DocAmazing

      The book “What to Expect When You are Expecting” explicitly drops the mask at the very end and explains to you, the pregnant woman, that at the point you are laboring the doctors and nurses have two patients and that your interests, your health, and your choices/decisions are obviously going to come in second to that of the baby.

      You had me right up until that point. I’ve been to too many deliveries where newborn babies’ lives were threatened by persistent adherence to woo; I’ve known Ob/Gyns sued because they failed to convince parents-to-be that an emergency C-section was really, truly necessary; I’ve had to shoulder doulas out of the way so that I could clear a newborn’s airway. Choice is very important, as long as people realize that choice carries with it consequence. This overlaps with the anti-vaccine campaigns, which also revolve around choice.

      • No, I know that and I agree, DocAmazing. I’m not advocating any woo stuff. But, damn, its scary to get pregnant and suddenly find out that the people you are working with may choose to let you die while saving someone else. I mean, look, like every other pregnant woman I had that conversation with my husband and like most of us I planned on priviliging the life of the baby over my own–as I would do now they are out and teenagers. But its something that does not often, or ever, happen to men that they go in to a doctor’s office for a checkup and their very status as “the patient” becomes secondary to another person’s rights and life.

        • DocAmazing

          Scary indeed, but take (very cold) comfort in this: of the many, many deliveries I have attended or have been even tangentially involved with, I have run across no deaths of mothers and a nonzero number of fetal demises and deaths immediately following birth. If Mom’s in danger, she gets priority, at least in the institutions where I’ve worked.

          • ChrisTS

            In one of the terrifying moments of my dreadful second pregnancy, I was in an operating room with 2 teams of 3 doctors; they were facing each other across my body. I asked who was there for what and received these answers:

            Ob/Gyns: “We’re here to protect your pregnancy.”

            Surgeons: “We’re here to protect you.”

            • Another Holocene Human

              the rare instance one is glad to see a surgeon

              • joe from Lowell

                In a better world, the doctors work for the nurses.

                • DocAmazing

                  Better still, we all work for the patient.

              • ChrisTS

                What was particularly alarming was the way the two teams sort of glare-smirked at each other.

                • DocAmazing

                  Llllet’s get rrrready to rrrrumble!

                • ChrisTS

                  DocAmazing:

                  Ha! Honestly, that’s how I felt. Quite apart from nearly 2 1/2 days of pain, their faces made me really, really happy to go under.

            • Yeah. My pregnancies are over so comfort at this point is quite cold. My point is that there is NOTHING comparable in a mans life (with the exception of prison or the military) where he is not presumed to have an unfettered right to bodily autonomy. A man can not be ordered to donate blood, or a kidney, to another person or even his own child. Under the most draconian laws the right wing wants–including current catholic practice wrt ectopic pregnancy, Ross douthat would absolutely see me or my daughters due because we were pregnant and the fetus comes first.

              • Die, not due. Fucking autocorrect.

                • DocAmazing

                  Oh, you know you love your Autocorrect. It’s the source of much Dada poetry.

                • Rob in Buffalo

                  That should have come out, “Its the source of much Dad poetry.” I’m disappointed.

                • Uncle Kvetch

                  Oh, you know you love your Autocorrect.

                  MANSPLAINER!!

              • Ed

                In fairness, when the rubber hits the road – that is, if Mr. and Mrs. Ross Douthat were in such a desperate situation – the fetus would likely not come first. Rick Santorum and his wife Karen once faced just such a dilemma. In the end no choice had to be made, but Santorum admitted that if he had had to choose between the fetus and his wife he would have saved his wife. (This wouldn’t be a dilemma for most husbands.) And the crisis didn’t change his views at all, naturally…..

                • Cody

                  Obviously it was a special circumstance. A lot like that Republican Governor’s son.

                  I mean, he’s special. He’s not some hippy gay person, he’s a real gay person! From a strong Republican family!

                  Much like that baby was a threat to Santorum’s wife so it was probably the anti-christ anywho.

                • That’s not true. They did face that choice and they saved her. She was running a high fever and had an infection and the ” induced labor” on a fetus that could not have survived outside the womb. They expelled the fetus medically –an abortion–and now more or less deny that was a choice they made.

                • As Amanda Marcotte says about abortion exceptions, “rape, incest, or me”.

                • Ed

                  That’s not true. They did face that choice and they saved her. She was running a high fever and had an infection and the ” induced labor” on a fetus that could not have survived outside the womb. They expelled the fetus medically –an abortion–and now more or less deny that was a choice they made.

                  Would you point me to a news article or commentary that describes the Santorums’ situation in that way? (Asking in good faith to seek information, no snark intended.) This article from the Inquirer has Santorum stating that they did not have to induce labor but they would have done so if necessary, and he specifies that he’d have done what needed to be done to save his wife:

                  http://articles.philly.com/1997-05-04/news/25562508_1_fetal-abnormality-controversial-late-term-abortion-procedure-intact-dilation-and-extraction

                  In an interview, the Santorums said they would have authorized an abortion had there been no other choice.

                  “If that had to be the call, we would have induced labor if we had to,” the senator said as he sat in his Washington office. “I consider it a blessing that we didn’t have to make that decision.”

                  This article by Amanda Marcotte, critical of Santorum, does not question their account:

                  http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/01/05/rick_santorum_has_worked_hard_at_denying_you_the_medical_options_he_was_ready_to_use_.html

          • BobS

            Yes, this.

        • mch

          Aimai, my experiences with (also two) pregnancies are just like yours — till you get to the delivery part. My RC ob/gyn (who would not perform abortions but would refer patients to doctors who would; who set up the first birthing center in MA, btw, so very progressive in many ways) made it absolutely clear to me before delivery and, in his actions, during: he was MY doctor, and the pediatrician was the baby’s doctor. Indeed, at my second delivery, which took place in the birthing center, no pediatrician made it to the scene until the baby was an hour or so old. (Before that, just the doctor and the midwife-student apprenticing with him.) I think his position, that the Ob-Gyn is the mother’s doctor, not the baby’s, reflects the medical profession’s, at least officially. (I wonder where midwives’ primary duties fall in their professional codes!)

          On the other hand, when my son was doing his third-year Ob-Gyn rotations in a very eminent hospital in Boston, he was astounded to learn of a kind of subculture, largely of nurses but also of some physicians, peopled by pro-life activists, with their special meeting groups (outside of work time, off the hospital premises) and everything. So I don’t at all dismiss your experiences as necessarily anomalous.

    • I don’t remember “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” being that explicit, but seconding aimai here. I was lucky and though I had complications, my own life was never in danger. But the shift in focus between delivery and maternity was almost shocking, and made me realize how strong the focus up til then had been on the fetus/child. There’s a presumption that when you’re in the hospital there’s always someone there putting you first at least some of the time.

    • Karen

      Both of my children were born in a Catholic hospital. (Seton, here in Austin.). My ob/gyns explained to me that they had admitting privileges at the Episcopal St. David’s if anything looked questionable. (I’m not even going to mention how they explained what would happen if I wanted a termination because of the amnio results. I’ve played less interesting drunken games of charades.). I was lucky; I had tow normal pregnancies in my 30’s with no need for fertility treatments. My blood chills thinking about the alternative.

    • Lee Rudolph

      The book “What to Expect When You are Expecting” explicitly drops the mask at the very end and explains to you, the pregnant woman, that at the point you are laboring the doctors and nurses have two patients and that your interests, your health, and your choices/decisions are obviously going to come in second to that of the baby.

      Gaah. I have of course seen that book around, but never picked it up. Sounds like at least the last part should be renamed “What You’re Delivering When You Deliver”, or even “What You’re Delivering On” (etc.)—parturient as third party.

  • daveNYC

    You might think that the decrease in abortions is simply due to there being fewer unwanted pregnancies. You might also think that those fewer unwanted pregnancies are because of greater accessibility to contraception, better sex-ed, and a more generous social safety net that makes motherhood, single or otherwise, easier.

    You would be wrong, because shut up, that’s why.

  • c u n d gulag

    Let’s not discount the fact that in most of the countries being discussed, their Religious Right isn’t as culturally and politically powerful and pervasive as ours is.

    And hence, the sex education for the people there is pretty universal, as is the availability of contraceptives.

    Which beats our Religious Right’s two main efforts at sex education:
    ‘Just Say No To Sex,’
    And ‘Nothing Can Go Wrong Little Ladies, If The Only Thing You Allow Between Your Knees, Is An Aspirin Tablet.’

    The Bible Belt and Red States have the highest rates of teenage and “unwanted” pregnancies.

    Hmmm…
    Causal relationship, between those and lack of sex education and easy and cheap availability of contraceptives?
    Nah!
    Can’t be!!!

    Jesus don’t roll that way!
    They were sinners, either born, or bred!

    • DocAmazing

      Indeed. If Douthat likes French law so much, he can advocate that we emulate its formal anti-clericalism. That should be good for some splashy displays from our God-bothering neighbors.

  • The argument typically made by pro-choicers is subtly but crucially different than the one described by Douthat. Pro-choicers (myself included) point out that a significant number of abortions are performed even when they’re formally banned…

    I’m not sure I understand what the import of this argument is supposed to be to someone with Douthat’s premises. It seems to me that if someone (like you, and like me) who doesn’t think abortion is simply, flat-out wrong (but is either morally neutral, or varies on a case by case basis, or has some moral problems but not at the level Douthat would say, etc) hears this, then it is persuasive. To people like us it resembles, perhaps, comments on the drug war — it doesn’t stop drugs anyway (although it reduces them), it produces other harms, let’s try something else.

    But it seems to me that if you begin with Douthat-like premises that abortion is simply murder, then this point doesn’t say much. Laws against murder don’t stop all murders either, but we don’t care because (among other things) stopping even one is significant.

    So am I missing something? Is this an argument pitched only to people who are, if not already pro-choice, at least not committed prof-lifers (mushy “abortion is icky” types, perhaps)? Or is there some aspect of this argument that’s supposed to resonate with someone who is genuinely, fully pro-life?

    (Again: I agree with your premises, not Douthat’s. But the only reply I’d think to make to Douthat would be on the normative level, not on the empirical impacts of policies. I’m curious what you’re trying to get at here.)

    • Jerry Vinokurov

      Yeah, this is exactly right. Yeoman’s work by Scott and worth doing if only for the possibility of convincing people who are actually open to being convinced by empirical evidence, but Douthat is not one of those people and has never been. It’s unfortunate that even the beginning of an engagement with him requires the granting of the good-faith assumption that Douthat is able to actually change his mind about this, when no actual evidence for that assumption exists. Douthat is emphatically uninterested in being convinced by anything whatsoever and the fact that he’s a seething miasma of moving goalposts should be all the evidence one needs to see that. He’s already convinced a priori that abortion is bad and that women who have sex should be punished, and it’s not like he’s going to let go of those beliefs in the face of such paltry things as the dismal failures of actually existing regimes of abortion prohibition.

      • BigHank53

        What’s a few more dead bodies when you’re trying to make half the world pay for that screwup with the apple?

        I can comprehend the Christian dogma that insists we are all sinners. I just don’t see how two X chromosomes make someone even more of a sinner.

    • Scott Lemieux

      But it seems to me that if you begin with Douthat-like premises that abortion is simply murder, then this point doesn’t say much. Laws against murder don’t stop all murders either, but we don’t care because (among other things) stopping even one is significant.

      Well, I guess, but the initial Douthat piece was about why there isn’t pro-choice liberalism.

      • mpowell

        Yeah, I take it that the point of responding to Douthat is not to convince Douthat. It’s to point out that his arguments that more people should hold his views on abortion are wrong. That’s important and likely to be effective if done well.

      • the initial Douthat piece was about why there isn’t pro-choice liberalism

        Assuming this was a typo for “pro-life liberalism” (as per the title of the post), I don’t see how that affects my question: a hypothetical pro-life liberalism would still be pro-life, i.e. thinking any reduction is worthwhile since each instance is a terrible thing.

        Again, I see your point as far as mushy-centrists go, and I don’t think it’s necessary for committed pro-choice proponents (like both you and I). But I don’t see how Douthat is supposed to be affected by this argument one way or the other.

        • Hogan

          It matters insofar as Douthat’s argument is based on misunderstandings or mischaracterizations of the pro-choice position, which are what Scott is responding to.

        • politicalfootball

          I don’t see how that affects my question: a hypothetical pro-life liberalism would still be pro-life, i.e. thinking any reduction is worthwhile since each instance is a terrible thing.

          Well, on those terms, it would be lovely to have a pro-life movement that was actually pro-life. As it is, woe be unto the pro-lifer who suggests in good faith that Americans should seek to reduce abortions in the manner that the French have. I’ll start worrying about this stuff when the Pope starts promoting the use of contraception.

          • Pat

            They could be against wars of choice too, and the death penalty.

            They could strive to reduce gun-related deaths, by restricting possession of weapons created solely for the purpose of killing as many people as possible to active duty soldiers.

            But then they’d be hippies, natch.

          • Origami Isopod

            Well, on those terms, it would be lovely to have a pro-life movement that was actually pro-life.

            Only if their definition of “pro-life” didn’t extend to fetuses. Abortion will always remain necessary, and there should be no grand plan to “reduce its numbers” other than in indirect ways such as education and subsidized contraception.

  • Oh FFS, Douthat trying to be clever about abortion is even more odious than Douthat trying to be clever about anything else.

    He’s a rabidly anti-choice misogynistic pigdog bastard. The fact that he doesn’t (to our knowledge) stand outside clinics calling the patients whores doesn’t change that one bit.

    • TribalistMeathead

      My dentist’s office is next door to Planned Parenthood’s headquarters. Protesters mainly consist of priests and abuelas.

      • DocAmazing

        He’d be right at home in that crowd, except that he’d be irritated that the abuelas weren’t content to simply be grannies and that the priests weren’t as up on their Origen as he’d prefer.

        • Karen

          Origen died a heretic, so he doesn’t count. Douthat would be quizzing the priests on St. Thomas Aquinas, especially the parts about women being defective men.

          • DocAmazing

            I kneel corrected.

    • With Douthat, you can leave out the “oxy” part of the headline.

    • mpowell

      pigdog is a great insult

      • Monty python or georgette heyer? Inquiring minds want to know.

        • guthrie

          Old boy’s comics that featured many foreigners who shouted things like “Achtung” and “Schweinhund” and generally tried to shoot the (usually male, usually British or maybe american) hero.

          Although it would certainly liven up Heyer novels.

        • It just came to me, but isn’t it from the Holy Grail?

          • guthrie

            It might have been used in the Holy Grail, but the origin is the pidgin german used in boys comics since at least WW2 and possibly earlier, the sort of thing that the Pythons will have read when growing up.
            Or maybe it was a really common insult around their way, but I doubt it.

            • Yes it’s the holy grail. Heyer has her character Leonie call people ” pig person!” And coffee “pig wash” in these old shades.

              • Hogan

                And coffee “pig wash” in these old shades.

                I’m not sure whether I want this decrypted.

      • Rob in Buffalo

        It made me think (for the first time since the 80s, probably) of this.

  • Another Halocene Human

    I’ve very pro-life. Pro people’s lives. Anti-violence. Does not follow that I would be in favor of cruel, unscientific, authoritarian abortion bans.

    If people matter at all, then the choice of abortion is a mitzvah, not a sin.

  • Kevin

    Define liberalism, though–why isn’t it possible to be a pro-life socialist? This was the policy of the British Labour Party that built the welfare state after World War II, after all, and when abortion was legalized in Britain, it was on a free vote with mostly Labour opposition. I don’t see any obvious problem with supporting nationalizing major industries, universal health care, guaranteed employment, and being pro-life.

    Of course it is a problem if liberalism is more of a lifestyle than an economics worldview though.

    • TribalistMeathead

      Because the vast majority of pro-lifers don’t give a shit what happens to the kid after it’s born. It’s certainly possible to be a pro-life socialist, and a hell of a lot less hypocritical than the current batch of pro-lifers.

    • JL

      Where by “lifestyle” you mean “justice for all people, including people whose bodies can incubate fetuses, people who have same-sex attraction, etc”?

      The inability to access abortion, in addition to the problems it poses for bodily autonomy, has an economic impact – pregnancy can be expensive, actually having the baby is expensive, being the caretaker of a child costs money and sometimes limits income, poor people having to pay for abortions out-of-pocket exacerbates wealth inequality. Reproductive justice is economic justice.

      • Origami Isopod

        Reproductive justice is economic justice.

        This. But I didn’t bother to be polite about it because I’m fucking sick of these “progressive” dudes who can’t be arsed to actually empathize with women as people and consider our issues as real.

        • ChrisTS

          +1

    • Origami Isopod

      why isn’t it possible to be a pro-life socialist?

      Sure it is. There are plenty of manarchists who don’t know shit about women’s rights, nor want to know.

      Of course it is a problem if liberalism is more of a lifestyle than an economics worldview though.

      Good to know that unwanted children don’t affect a woman’s earning ability or her ability to remain above poverty level. It’s just a “lifestyle choice,” like getting our nails done or something. Asshole.

    • Sly

      Define liberalism, though–why isn’t it possible to be a pro-life socialist?

      There’s nothing much in socialism – especially early 20th century (and prior) socialism – that necessitates the recognition that women must have autonomy over their own bodies. Being a movement that focused exclusively on the labor question, and being that labor was conceived of as being intrinsic to the male identity, questions of female empowerment were only on the agenda in so far as they conformed to that convention. This leaves plenty of space for other kinds of identities (religion, paternalism, patriarchy, etc) to occupy.

      Of course it is a problem if liberalism is more of a lifestyle than an economics worldview though.

      Liberalism had to become more than economics to answer other questions. In the United States, the biggest question was (and likely always will be) over race. Prior to the 1950s and 1960s, there was a significant chunk of the labor movement that was perfectly willing to embrace white supremacy as a means to “protect” workers, and those forces certainly still exist. Just not in liberalism.

      • Origami Isopod

        labor was conceived of as being intrinsic to the male identity

        As as Erik notes, women’s domestic labor was devalued and disappeared. And we’re still paid less for our work outside the house. Another reason unwanted children take a severe toll on our earnings.

        • d

          “Our” work. LOL!

          • Origami Isopod

            Uh, yeah, asshole, I’m a woman.

            • ChrisTS

              Well, really, you ought to signal that in some idiot-proof way. Why should others be expected to think they are speaking to women on the intertubz?

              • firefall

                What, someone let women write on the intertoobz? someone let women learn to write?? whatever next?

            • d

              No, you’re a man who voluntarily paid money to get his genitals mutilated and play dress-up.

    • joe from Lowell

      It is entirely possible to be a pro-life socialist.

      Liberalism, however, is primarily concerned with a vision of individual rights and autonomy that is significantly less important within socialism.

      One doesn’t have to have any connection with feminist values whatsoever to be a good socialist, but one cannot be a liberal without them.

      • CaptBackslap

        That sounds about right. The self-described socialists I’ve known have mostly been fairly authoritarian and/or downright socially conservative.

        • DocAmazing

          “Liberal” is a broasder and less-inclusive term than “socialist”, which just describes your belief in a specific economic arrangement. It is entirely possible to be a liberal socialist; nothing about liberalism closes off a specific economic arrangement (unless that economic arrangement is inherently anti-liberal; “liberal feudalist” is unlikely to be heard as anything other than an insult).

          • DocAmazing

            Sorry, first line should be “more-inclusive”, obvsly.

          • The Barons

            Stop yanking our great chain!

    • Pseudonym

      Well in a sense the pro-life viewpoint is intrinsically socialist in that it believes in public/state ownership of the means of reproduction.

      Of course that’s not a problem if pregnancy and child-rearing is more of a lifestyle than an economics worldview though. You know, since it doesn’t really concern the folks involved in and having views on the economy, i.e. men.

    • ChrisTS

      Liberalism is first and foremost a political perspective. It might have economic implications, but those are – indeed – merely implications.

  • joe from Lowell

    You’re moving up in the world, Scott. A New York Times columnist singling you out with “most notably by Scott Lemieux…”

    Props. You deserve the name you’re making for yourself.

    • bspencer

      Agree.

    • Origami Isopod

      +1

    • Murc

      One of the dirty little secrets of a lot of the high-readership political and social commentary out there is that they depend rather heavily on the work of people with actual expertise.

      Sully is a great example of this. He has no formal policymaking chops or credentials in any kind of practical field at all. Nine-tenths of what keeps his blog going is links to… well, to here. And to a shit-ton of other “second tier” blogs run by guys who have actual expertise. Brad deLong is a real live economist. Scott and Erik have very deep academic CVs, SEK is an actual teacher, Farley is a real expert on IR.

      • Pseudonym

        I believe SEK is no longer an actual teacher, just a plain old rhetorician. I am however assured that bspencer is in fact bunny-eared. I have no idea what Paul Campos’s BMI is.

    • Pseudonym

      Agreed, though I admit that phrase did more to raise my opinion of Douthat than Scott. I still wonder if Douthat would condescend to read or address either essay were they not to have appeared in The American Prospect or The Nation. What sort of readership or feedback do you get on the former site, Scott, versus here at home? Also, how pathetic is the NYT for wanting me to pay a subscription fee for the privilege of reading more of Douthat’s blog? Can’t the Holy See just sell off a few relics and pieces of the True Cross to fund the hosting costs of its evangelism?

      • DocAmazing

        Can’t the Holy See just sell off a few relics and pieces of the True Cross to fund the hosting costs of its evangelism?

        I remember as a kid being asked to bid on Peter’s pants. Never won them, though.

      • The Pale Scot

        Just use anonymouse.org

        • Pseudonym

          But then I might encounter more of Douthat’s writing.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Thanks all!

  • Loud Liberal

    I think your premise is false. I think you can be pro-life and liberal. Being pro-life/anti-abortion is not the same as seeking to criminalize abortions, and, therefore, not mutually exclusive of being pro-choice. You can personally oppose abortion and, at the same time, respect someone else’s right to choose abortion.

    I, on the other hand, am neither pro life, nor pro choice. I support mandatory abortions for all republicans and conservatives.

    • sharculese

      Being ‘pro-life’ is about a rabid desire to stick your nose in other people’s abortions.

    • Origami Isopod

      You can personally oppose abortion and, at the same time, respect someone else’s right to choose abortion.

      That’s called being “pro-choice.”

      • Pseudonym

        But Sarah Palin told me that liberals were angry at her for not aborting her babby!

  • CynthiaSobchak

    Standard of care is that the woman is THE patient. Granted that anti-choicers are aggressively infiltrating women’s healthcare, the Catholics have a different standard of care and it’s unhelpful to conflate concern about the spread of the Catholic standard with the false claim that the secular standard is other than what it is. Informed consent doesn’t vary with pregnancy status. Doctors can’t force you to accept or forego treatment for the fetus’s good. In fact many women cause death or severe disability to their fetuses at term by substituting untrained hippie midwives for real providers. Part of what makes the Catholic position so awful is that it’s almost never actually possible to save baby at mom’s expense; they both just die, as in the Halappanavar case. Secular OBs understand this perfectly well, so it doesn’t even come up. That OBs routinely mistreat and disrespect women is a trope of natural childbirth woo, closely associated with anti-vaccine woo and the like.

  • Manju

    So what if its an oxymoron? Free spending conservatism may very well be oxymoronic, but such morons do indeed exist.

    The way you guys think about ideology is basically one big no true Scotsman fallacy.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Don’t forget the role of superior (i.e., “reality-based”) sex education in reducing the abortion rate in France and elsewhere in Europe.

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