Wednesday, November 12th, 2008
There’s been some interesting reconsiderations of abortion lately, on the left and the right.
Some of the hardiest culture warriors in the conservative camp are beginning to realize that abortion is the new Prohibition, morally justifiable but not worth the political cost: making abortion abolition a litmus test for candidates (knocking several off McCain’s short list for vice president, when threatened with a convention floor fight), is as futile and foolish as keeping up the fight against moonshine and demon rum.
Writing in The Weekly Standard (Nov. 17), P.J. O’Rourke argues that one of the conservative movement’s failures has been “our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people’s business,” particularly about abortion. “Democracy–be it howsoever conservative–is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it’s rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don’t know if I’m one of them….
“If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal–and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so–then give the issue a rest.” There’s room “with the public’s blessing” to reconsider using taxpayers’ money for abortion, or the idea of parental consent for underage girls, let alone to “tar and feather teenage boys and run them out of town on a rail.” But O’Rourke concedes, “The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.”
(O’Rourke adds, “Our impeachment of President Clinton was another example of placing the wrong political emphasis on personal matters.”)
Meanwhile, on the left, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, recently e-mailed a challenge to the usual leftist orthodoxies about abortion. He is not in favor of mandatory parental consent or notification but is in favor of some other form of a cooling-off process between the demand for an abortion and the procedure itself.
In defiance of almost all liberal rabbis who justify abortion (in terms of Jewish law) with the argument that Judaism sides with the health of the mother over the survival of the fetus, Rabbi Lerner argues that abortion has too often become a form of belated birth control and that the mother’s health usually has nothing to do with it.
Lerner writes: “I believe that an abortion should be thought of as ‘justifiable homicide’ rather than as an act like cutting one’s hair or removing unwanted growths on one’s face. It is a serious act. And despite the yowlings of some that ‘every woman takes this act very seriously and suffers the emotional pain,’ I know that this is not true.
“I worked for several years at a public sponsored clinic in Richmond, California, in the years when I was getting my training for my license as a psychotherpist after I had received my ph.d. in psychology, and I witnessed numerous (yes, numerous) instances in which abortion was essentially a form of birth control for many young women.
“And I’ve personally known many other couples where the abortion was done for reasons that I’d consider rather light.
“In the final instance, I believe that this decision cannot be governed by law but should be in the hands of the woman who has to carry the pregnancy to term, or not. But I do believe that a process of meeting with a female psychotherapist, a female spiritual counselor, a female financial counselor, and a feminist rights counselor for an hour or two sometime before an abortion takes place, and in circumstances that guarantee absolute confidentiality, could be a reasonable condition that a society might set before financing such an abortion.
“I think that such mandatory counseling could be a statement by the society that we take seriously the lives of the unborn, that we are prepared to offer various supports for women who do carry a pregnancy to term (including financial supports for after the child is born), and yet that we acknowledge that it is a woman’s personal right to make this decision for herself once she has participated in this counseling.
“…. I do wish that liberals, progressives, and feminists would create in our communities an ethos that supports this kind of process rather than simply leaving the whole thing to the desires the individual woman without any public display of support or caring for her such as that which I propose. Creating an ethos, of course, is very different from creating a law, and it is the law approach that I oppose.”