Ramesh Ponnuru objects to my post about Ron Paul and abortion, but fails to address most of the points. To respond to each of his arguments in turn:
- Ponnuru calls my argument that bans on “partial birth” objection do not protect fetal life — and hence (unlike a general ban on the procedure, at least in the abstract) cannot be defended in libertarian terms — “absurd,” but doesn’t explain why. On the question of whether such bans may result to injury to women, don’t take my word for it; believe Focus on the Family’s VP, who correctly points out that in some cases beinf forced to perform the D&E no woman would be prevented from terminating her pregnancy,” which is just self-evidently true; a woman prohibited from getting a D&X can always get a D&E. I have no idea what the libertarian justification for such an irrational federal statute could be, and Ponnuru doesn’t provide any assistance on the point.
- On the question of whether Paul’s record is consistent with the assertion that abortion is a state issue, this seems pretty straightforward. When you say that abortion is a state issue and then vote for a federal abortion regulation…I think the contradiction is fairly ironclad. Admittedly, Paul’s inconsistency is lesser than most other “overturning Roe will send the issue back to the states” types; he has, for example, consistently voted against legislation making it a crime to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion. This is in contrast to Ponnuru’s favorite candidate John McCain, who while arguing that abortion should be sent back to the states has not only voted for pretty much every federal abortion regulation to come down the pike but also supports a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all 50 states. I don’t think elaborate argument is required to demonstrate the inconsistency of such policy positions with the proposition that abortion should be a state issue, but this is pretty much the standard Republican position. While in some cases the federalism dodge may involve a simple error in judgment, when you simultaneously claim that abortion should be a state issue and favor federal abortion regulation I don’t think claims of dishonesty are particularly unfair. Ponnuru also claims that “there are good reasons to expect stalemate at the federal level.” This is probably true insofar as a flat-out ban on abortion is concerned, but 1)there are plenty of abortion regulations short of a ban which may have a chance of being passed (and some of which already have), and 2)such claims often involve the assumption that the abortion debate will displaced to the state level, which given that most opponents of Roe also favor (and logically should favor) federal abortion legislation is quite clearly false.
At any rate, I stand by both of my points: supporting federal “partial birth” abortion legislation is consistent with neither libertarianism nor leaving abortion as a state issue.
UPDATE: I was probably too generous to Paul above. As Tom points out, Paul has also sponsored legislation that would define the fetus as a “person” from the moment of conception. In other words, as long as the 14th Amendment remains in force Paul would make abortion first degree murder in all 50 states, and federal agents would also presumably have to routinely investigate miscarriages, etc. It remains unclear to me how this is consistent with the position that abortion should be left to the states.
Ramesh Ponnuru makes an interesting point about Ron Paul: “What strikes me is what a throwback Paul is among libertarians. Hard money and anti-interventionism move him, but he seems utterly uninterested in the lifestyle questions that have taken up so much of Reason for the past decade.” Indeed, he’s not merely indifferent to all such questions but in fact is a proponent of using state coercion to force women to carry pregnancies of term. Gillespie and Welch try to get around this by using the classic federalism dodge, asserting that Paul “nonetheless believes that federal bans violate the more basic principle of delegating powers to the states.”
As Ponnuru also notes, however, this won’t wash because he voted for the federal “partial birth” abortion ban. Moreover, from a libertarian perspective the “partial birth” ban is, if anything, less defensible than voting for a total ban. Libertarians could in theory justify a ban because most would see the protection of human life as a legitimate use of state power (although in practice criminalization does very little to actually protect fetal life, and Paul’s libertarian positions on other issues would almost certainly increase abortion rates by a massive extent.) The ban Paul voted for, conversely, does nothing to protect fetal life, but simply tries to force doctors to perform abortions using less safe methods in some cases. Even on its face, therefore, such legislation is about regulating female sexuality and punishing women for making choices the state doesn’t approve of, which is as inconsistent with any coherent set of libertarian principles as it is with “states’ rights.” Paul is more consistent than most Republican-affiliated “libertarians” — he’s not willing to make up ridiculous arguments in favor of the Iraq War, for example — but his libertarianism doesn’t seem to apply to these kinds of issues of individual freedom.
The lesson here is the obvious one: like libertarians, people willing to forego strongly-held substantive preferences in the name of federalism “are as rare as pieces of the True Cross.” And when almost anybody tells you that by advocating the overturn of Roe they want to “send the issue back to the states,” they’re almost certainly lying.
I actually agree with two points that Ross Douthat makes here. First, I think that there’s a tendency to assume that Roe‘s popular support made its upholding inevitable, but this really isn’t the case. If Reagan had appointed Bork and Scalia in reverse order, for example, Roe would have been overturned. Although most sophisticated observers understand that the Supreme Court is better understood as an adjunct to national governing coalitions than a stalwart protector of unpopular minorities, it’s easy to push this too far; the Court wouldn’t have been prevented from overturning Roe any more than the Warren Court was prevented from issuing Everson and Miranda. (Indeed, as all three examples suggest it’s entirely possible for positions to be broadly consistent with current elite governing coalitions and be unpopular among the public at large.) Second, he is of course right that Alito and Roberts are doctrinaire conservatives who will never find an abortion regulation unconstitutional, although their fake “minimalism” may mean that even with a fifth vote we’ll see the complete gutting rather than the explicit overturning of Roe. (Of course, at this late date nobody but Ann Althouse could think otherwise.)
On the other hand, we have the tired claim about of a “shameful-but-effective Democratic smear campaign against Robert Bork.” Obviously, the Senate being a political body, criticisms of Bork were not expressed in the tones of an academic seminar. But the core of the case against Bork was that he 1)entirely rejected any implicit right of privacy, meaning that the state not only had the authority to pass arbitrarily enforced laws requiring a woman to carry her pregnancy to term but also to pass arbitrarily enforced laws preventing people from using contraception, 2)he had a consistently awful record on civil rights including public claims that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional and hostility to claims of gender equality, and 3)took an exceptionally narrow view of free speech rights. This campaign was effective because it was accurate — there were at the time enough moderate Republicans to oppose his views on privacy and no Southern Democratic Senator (given that they required near unanimous black support to be competitive) could have supported someone with Bork’s record on civil rights. Some of these issues have become less important over time — conservatives have largely adopted libertarian positions on issue #3, and many reactionary nominees are now young enough not to have contemporaneously opposed the Civil Rights Act. On issue #1, however, justices like Roberts and Alito are easier to confirm than Bork not because their positions are more popular but because the lesson they learned from Bork is to simply refuse to state their position explicitly. Hence the high comedy of Republicans who had admired Alito for being a doctrinaire conservative suddenly reacting with outrage against those pointing out the obvious fact that he held very conservative positions on legal issues as soon as he was nominated. This silliness, of course, could stop as soon as he was safely on the Court. This kabuki does, however, make “Borking” more difficult (or, as the case with Thomas, be reflected through discussions of marginally relevant personal issues.) This is not, however, a good thing.
Alaska court throws out law requiring parental consent — not notification, which is useless enough, but consent — to obtain an abortion. [Via Ann.]
Garance has an interesting excerpt from a speech by John Kerry, in which he asserts that the Democrats are “too pro-choice” and E.J Dionne asks “Why do you think you didn’t give a speech like this in, say, May or June of 2004?” Dionne’s implication is that such a speech would have been politically useful. But would it?
I can certainly see some political value in signaling respect for respect for supporters of abortion criminalization, and I don’t believe that Democrats running for national office can say all the same things about reproductive freedom that I would. But in the particular form Kerry articulates it here, the argument seems the worst of all worlds. First of all, very annoyingly it claims (straight out of the anti-choice Book of Myths) that “science” is substantially changing the abortion debate and greatly altering viability, when in fact there’s no evidence that this is true and the vast majority of abortions continue take place before viability. Kerry’s argument in general concedes (wholly unearned) moral high ground to the abortion criminalization lobby and, even worse, never bothers to explain why it shouldn’t have its way. The structure of Kerry’s speech is essentially “abortion is really bad but should remain legal because it just should.” That’s only a good approach if you want to set up the debate to lose, and as long as you have nominally pro-choice policy positions you’re unlikely to receive credit for it anyway. (After all, Kerry was in fact very squishy in defensing abortion throughout the 2004, but never gets retrospective “credit” for it anyway; you apparently can never be squishy enough. Which in a way makes sense; if I was an anti-choicer, I would want a politician who supports my substantive positions, not one who says that he or she “respects” me.)
If Democratic politicians have to signal respect for “pro-lifers,” it seems to me that rather than saying that abortion is immoral but should remain legal for reasons we won’t get into, much better is to focus in what abortion bans would actually do. Wouldn’t something like this be both better in the merits and more effective strategically?
Many people in the audience believe that abortion is morally wrong. And no matter what people’s moral position is, we can all agree that preventing unwanted pregnancies is better than abortions. However, our opponents take very extreme positions that are unlikely to achieve these goals anyway. The Republican platform supports a constitutional amendment that would make abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states; I don’t think most Americans support that approach. But even if it passed, the experience of other countries suggests that there would still be a large number of abortions; the only difference is that more poor women will be maimed and killed in back-alley abortions. That’s not effective, and it’s not fair. Giving women the access to contraception, education, medical and child care they need, on the other hand, will both protect women’s freedom and lead to fewer abortions. State coercion doesn’t work, as our history makes clear. This is something we should all agree on.
I’m no speechwriter, so I don’t know exactly how you’d phrase it, but it seems to be that to be useful any gambit like Kerry’s should 1)make clear why one is pro-choice whatever their moral reservations, 2)should focus on areas where the “pro-life” position is unpopular rather than uncritically accepting opposition frames (or, worse, repeating their erroneous claims), and 3)focus on why criminalization fails to be effective or meet basic standards of equality and fairness even if you support its ends. Kerry’s way of discussing the issue fails on all three counts.
President Bush today announced that he will award a Medal of Freedom to Henry Hyde…because Hyde is a strong defender of life. The Henry Hyde of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion (in case the implications aren’t clear, this means that many many poor women are prevented from getting abortions they badly desire, or that they are forced to choose between an abortion and the electricity).
I think Ann at Feministing put it well:
Because nothing says “freedom” like severely curtailing the reproductive rights of low-income women.
Don’t you just love Bush’s brand of freedom?
Shorter abortion centrists: Me me me me me me me me me me!
Longtime readers will know that this has been one of my pet peeves for a long time, but Dana is of course exactly correct. The idea that California women should be indifferent about abortion rights as long as they have theirs is useful only as a window into the solipsism some pundits project onto others. It’s like saying that African Americans in northern states in the 1950s should have been indifferent to federal civil rights because, after all, they didn’t have to live under apartheid! And the analogy should make clear, again, that the “moral federalism” position is just evading the issue; it’s another way of saying that you don’t consider the right in question to be important. If that’s your position, you should defend it on the merits rather than hiding behind “states’ rights” principles virtually nobody applies consistently.
…Cara has more.
From Slate’s XX Factor:
Following the kerfuffle over birth control for the Hanna Montana set, health officials in Portland, Maine, have agreed to report “all illegal sexual activity involving minors as required by law,” according to an article from a Maine newspaper. That includes any time someone 13 or younger has sex, even if it’s consensual. What this does is basically nullify the idea of providing oral contraceptives for the middle schoolers.
Sigh. And I thought the plan had so much promise.
Do people agree with Becks that there are good reasons not to dispense the Pill to teenagers, even if the motives of wingnuts who complain about the practice are different?
…good discussion with plenty of dissent from Becks’s position, including my colleagues bean and djw. An important point from lt, who argues that “Not to mention, while condoms might have fewer side effects, the pill is controlled by the teenage girl, which is important when negotiating teenage sex.” Elsewhere, Tia agrees with Becks, arguing that the quality of medical care provided is likely to be inadequate.
You may have heard about this embrace of utter crackpottery from new social conservative darling Mike Huckabee:
Speaking before a gathering of Christian conservative voters, GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said legalized abortion in the United States was a holocaust.
“Sometimes we talk about why we’re importing so many people in our workforce,” the former Arkansas governor said. “It might be for the last 35 years, we have aborted more than a million people who would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973.”
Leaving aside the rather problematic economic assumptions here, we have two classic pieces of stupidity and exploitation common to the rhetoric of the forced pregnancy lobby. First, if abortion is a “holocaust,” one wonders why most anti-choicers believe that the alleged primary perpetrators of this genocide should face fewer legal sanctions than if they spat on the sidewalk. And Huckabee would have signed the North Dakota law that also exempted women from punishment for contributing to the “holocaust.” Does Huckabee believe that Eichmann should have been exempt from punishment? Or maybe he should stop using this idiotic and spectacularly offensive analogy?
In addition to the bizarre causal logic, the “Oh no! Giving reproductive rights to women means more furriners undermining the values of Good White Americans by coming here to feed their families!” argument has perhaps broader implications than he intends. If the key problem with abortion is lower birthrates, forget abortion: we need to stop the production and distribution of contraception immediately! Passing arbitrary laws forcing poor women to obtain unsafe abortions will do nothing while Trojans are freely produced! Oh the humanity!
Again, there are few things as bizarre in American politics as “pro-lifers” who demand constant congratulation for having Unyielding Moral Principles as they advance positions that are a moral, legal, logical, and political shambles.