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A Pox On the House of False Equivalences


Karen Tumulty has an account of Carhart II that fits squarely within the extremely annoying pox-on-all-their-houses genre endemic to media coverage of the subject. First, she has to claim that both sides are being dishonest in the D&X debate. The anti-choice lobby is criticized because the distinction between methods at the same stage of gestation is completely arbitrary; in other words, their position is genuinely incoherent and unprincipled, and the issue is purely a ginned-up political tactic. Pro-choicers (although not any of their specific statements) meanwhile, are criticized 1)for making statements about the relative rarity of the procedure that are in fact accurate, and 2)for claiming that the procedure is used for medical reasons although “there are alternative ways to perform the abortion safely, though perhaps not as safely as when intact D&E is used.” Uh, what? Since when does using a procedure that reduces medical risk not count as a medical decision? If a doctor chose to prescribe an anti-cholesterol medication with the same positive effects but less risk of producing heart attacks, this wouldn’t count as a medical judgment? This is just a bizarre claim. And it’s unclear why women should be burdened with any degree of greater health risks at all given that the two procedures in question are morally indistinguishable.

In addition to this blaming-both-sides-regardless-of-the-facts, which seems to be a contractual obligation for this kind of article, she also makes the strange claim that despite further watering down of Casey “I don’t expect the court decision this week to have many larger implications.” She explains:

The fact is, where the two sides of the issue are at war over abortion and always will be, most Americans long ago decided what they think about it. They want abortion to be legal, but they don’t want it to be easy. And their qualms about it grow as a pregnancy progresses. As with everything else about this debate, the absolutes will always give way to the individual.

This is just a non-sequitur. The fact that public opinion is relatively stable does not mean that the statutory obstacles put in front of (some classes) of women will remain stable. Public opinion didn’t change much after Webster or Casey, but the number of regulations increased a great deal. Most of these regulations, moreover, have nothing to do with the stage of pregnancy at which an abortion is contained (and indeed these centrist regulations make later abortions more likely.) When legislation is used to close abortion clinics, for example, those clinics remain just as closed for first-trimester abortions. The fact that the Supreme Court has assumed that women are irrational is not only appalling in itself but makes virtually any obstacle short of a ban defensible. And finally, one thing these regulatory regimes do not do is “give way” to the “individual.” Their effect is the opposite: to permit reliable access to safe abortions for affluent urban women irrespective of the circumstances, and to make it more difficult for poor rural women to obtain abortions irrespective of the circumstances. The law is simply too crude an instrument to make these kinds of subtle moral distinctions. If you want individual circumstances taken into account, the solution is the “extreme” pro-choice position of leaving decisions about abortions between a woman and her doctor. As Ann says, “letting individuals make personal decisions about abortion is not the “middle ground.” That’s a flat-out pro-choice position.”

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