Friday, April 29, 2005

This Is Very Good News

Democrats For Life Propose the 95-10 Plan, a set of policy initiatives with the ambitious goal of reducing the abortion rate in America by 95% in the next 10 years. They think this goal is attainable through policy because, like me, they believe that the current culture and standing policies create huge barriers, real and perceived, to bearing an unplanned child.

While reading the blog After Abortion, I am struck by the frequent stories of women who went to have an abortion, believing before and after that it was wrong, but who felt they had no other viable option. These women write that abortion was not some empowering choice for them, but a false promise of a solution to an impossible situation. They often write that the support they needed didn't exist for them, or that they didn't know of the existing institutions.

So it stands to reason that such policies as a national toll-free help line, safe haven laws, abortion counseling on college campuses, or extra support for adoption, will lower abortion rates substantially.

At first glance, I support the vast majority of these proposals (you can probably guess which one I would lobby them to drop, and which one I might lobby them to alter). I am glad, even more, that the Democrats for Life are doing this. I truly believe that if the status quo of 4000 abortions a day is to change, the impetus must come from the Democratic Party.

Currently, it looks like the Democratic Party has been presented with two strategies to win back those voters it lost in 2004, who are on most issues allied with the Democrats but couldn't let themselves support an abortion plank straight from NARAL. The first strategy looks to be a repackaging of the same policies, a marketing job in which Democratic candidates mention God a lot and call abortion "tragic", but refuse to do anything different besides shed a tear. The second is the path presented by the Dems for Life, that of substantial work to combat what is at the very least an endemic social ill. I pray that the Democratic leadership decides on the latter strategy.

But of course I want to go farther with this. I want to see such changes in policy, but I want direct changes in abortion law too. In fact, I believe them both necessary.

Much is made of the high number of illegal (often dangerous) abortions done in the 1960s. What is not as often considered is that there were far fewer abortions per capita in previous decades, after the feminists of the 19th Century succeeded at prohibiting it in the first place. A recent systematic study* concludes that not only was the number of illegal abortions between two and three hundred thousand in 1961, but that it was one-fifth that in 1950 (a difference far surpassing the demographic shift caused by the baby boom). What happened to make the difference? I say it's culture- in the 1960s, the incentives for risky premarital sex increased, while the difficulties of bearing an unplanned child stayed the same (or even increased; motherhood was a far less respected status in general).

So a repeal of Roe v. Wade without better social policies would bring us back to the 1960s, with illegal abortion still all too common. But a change in law coupled with a change in policy would be another thing entirely.

But why not just the policy side? Why legally forbid the practice of abortion as well? Isn't this being harsh on the women in difficult situations about whom I was just talking?

Three things.

1. Laws need to reflect the way human nature actually is- otherwise the falsehood grows within the system. (The chief problem with many communist systems, it seemed to me, was that they were based on a false concept of human motivation, and because of that flaw the idealists didn't see that eventually the workers would stop caring, the officials would turn to corruption, and the leaders would resort to oppression.)

The ideology implicit in Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood is that personhood is determined at society's convenience. There is no philosophical basis for the moment of birth as the stage of life at which we ought to regard a human being as deserving of rights, and the supporters of abortion in general make no such argument. The rationale seems to be that there is no objective truth of the matter, there is no such thing as a person deserving of human rights, and we might as well apply our laws to just those human beings that happen to suit us. I think this is wrong, in an extraordinarily dangerous way, and that it bodes ill for societies like ours and the Netherlands (where they are currently in the process of legalizing euthanasia for infants with Down's syndrome and other disabilities).

2. The fundamental laws are not suspended in cases of need; a starving man is not given license to steal food. The justice system may (and ought) show mercy, direct him to a shelter instead of sending him to jail, but this is not an exception to the laws of private property. Similarly, I (and the mainstream pro-life movement) see no justice in prosecuting the women desperate enough to seek abortions, but we ought to direct them to resources rather than allow them to do that deed. I only intend that the abortion clinics close their doors.

3. The other important reason has to do, again, with the mother and with the image of abortion as an easy way out of pregnancy. It is increasingly clear that abortion is, for many women, no such thing. See the Silent No More campaign. The problem with leaving it legal is that abortion offers the false promise that it will be as if the pregnancy never was. Any person in a difficult but manageable situation is strongly affected by a claim for an easy way out, even if they think it's immoral, even if they believe they'll regret it later. The "choice" for abortion is really a strong temptation, day in and day out, to escape through something that nobody would choose for itself. That's why I believe that the choice itself is toxic.

Well, thanks for listening. I know that some of you disagree with me strongly. I ask all of you to be cordial in the comments. And I ask those of you who disagree with me on the legal side to decide whether you can agree with the Dems for Life on the policies they suggest. I am not satisfied with just a reduction, but a significant drop in the numbers would still be a cause for great joy.

*Syska, Hilgers and O'Hare: An Objective Model for Estimating Criminal Abortions and Its Implications for Public Policy. It's currently in the Reg; I'll look it up and double-check the methodology.

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