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The Master of the Hot Take


In researching my myths-of-Roe piece, I had to revisit some canonical contrarian hot takes. And, certainly, my eyebrows were singed, there were second-degree burns, there was heat stroke. But to this day nobody can melt your face like Mr. Richard Cohen. [Pulls up a chair] listen up kids: you are about to get some HOT TAKE HISTORY here:

A very long time ago, I had a friend who had a girlfriend who became pregnant and did not want the child

Yes, a friend. I assume his name was Alberta and he now lives in Vancouver.

By then my friend had disappeared and the young woman was alone — she was in fact from Germany — and asked me to arrange an abortion for her. With little thought, I did so. She went home to Germany and I never saw her again.

I would do things a bit differently now. I would give the matter much more thought.

See, your typical contrarian would start off his “actually, Roe sucks” article with some hard case anecdotes that is passed off as representative, like an apocryphal woman who wanted to get a third trimester abortion because it would interfere with her drinking schedule or something. Cohen starts off with an anecdote about a woman with a particularly compelling case to get an abortion, and also make Cohen look like a massive dickbag. [Strokes chin] “My word, come to think of it, maybe the state should have forced this young woman with no partner or discernible means of support continent away from her home to carry the pregnancy to term.” [Orders third Scotch and Soda.]

no longer see abortion as directly related to sexual freedom or feminism,

Anyway, I’m sure if he’s OK with the state forcing a desperate young woman to carry a pregnancy to term, he has some very sophisticated legal and moral reasoning to justify it!

This is not a fashionable view in some circles, but it is one that usually gets grudging acceptance when I mention it. I know of no one who has flipped on the abortion issue, but I do know of plenty of people who no longer think of it as a minor procedure that only prudes and right-wingers oppose.

“I know lots of old rich people who, for some reason, have become more ambivalent about whether younger and less well-situated woman have access to critical medical services. Now watch this drive.”

That shift in sentiment is not apparent in polls because they do not measure doubt, only position: for or against.

“Systematic polls of public opinion do not match my random anecdotes.”

But between one and the other, black or white, is a vast area of gray where up or down, yes or no, fades to questions about circumstance: Why, what month, etc.?

1)If one is morally ambivalent about abortion, why shouldn’t the choice by made by the woman being affected, as opposed to the random whims of some clueless old man? 2)Even overlooking the fact that it isn’t desirable, you can’t construct an abortion law regime that permits abortions for reasons you consider good and forbids them for those you don’t. Overruling Roe just means some women can still get pre-viability abortions for reasons they consider sufficient and some women can’t get them for any reason. So this is all pointless wankery.

Abortion is a different matter. It entails so much more than mere birth control — issues that have roiled the country ever since the Roe decision was handed down in 1973 — and so much more than mere privacy. As a layman, it’s hard for me to raise profound constitutional objections to the decision. But it is not hard to say it confounds our common-sense understanding of what privacy is.

“I admit I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I’m going to critique it anyway, by confusing a particular legal doctrine and the colloquial meaning of a word.”

If a Supreme Court ruling is going to affect so many people then it ought to rest on perfectly clear logic and up-to-date science. Roe , with its reliance on trimesters and viability, has a musty feel to it, and its argument about privacy raises more questions than it answers. For instance, if the right to an abortion is a matter of privacy then why, asked Princeton professor Robert P. George in the New York Times, is recreational drug use not? You may think you ought to have the right to get high any way you want, but it’s hard to find that right in the Constitution. George asks the same question about prostitution. Legalize it, if you want — two consenting adults, after all — but keep Jefferson, Madison and the rest of the boys out of it.

“It’s very odd that an opinion about a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy would mention ‘trimesters’ and ‘viability.’ Technology, something something. Anyway, Bobby George came up with a transparently specious analogy, so sorry ladies, no reproductive freedom for you.”

I’m reminded of Katha Pollit’s observation in re: Christopher Hitchens and abortion that “it wasn’t just the position itself, it was his lordly condescending assumption that he could sort this whole thing out for the ladies in 1,000 words that probably took him twenty minutes to write,” although twenty minutes of both thought and writing time would be generous in this case.

Conservatives — and some liberals — have long argued that the right to an abortion ought to be regulated by states. They have a point. My guess is that the more populous states would legalize it, the smaller ones would not, and most women would be protected. The prospect of some women traveling long distances to secure an abortion does not cheer me — I’m pro-choice, I repeat — but it would relieve us all from having to defend a Supreme Court decision whose reasoning has not held up. It seems more fiat than argument.

“Look, as a stalwart pro-choicer, I don’t like the fact that women will use the time and money they all have, like me, to travel to other states to obtain abortions. But I can see an upside to it: I wouldn’t have to do research and develop a coherent defense of Roe, something that certainly isn’t a job I’m well compensated to do or anything. Also, my understanding is that basically nobody lives in Texas or Florida or Tennessee or Arizona or Georgia anyway.”

The thing is — every one of these takes by an affluent and usually male pundit always reaches the same “this will hurt you more than it hurts me, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” bottom line. Cohen is just unusually ham-handed about it.

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