Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 21, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

IDEOLOGICAL PURITY....There's a new progressive web magazine out called The Gadflyer. You should put it on your bookmark list.

Amy Sullivan has moved her blog to the Gadflyer site, which is one good reason to head over there daily, and she also had a pretty good column there on Wednesday, which is another reason to check it out. In it, Amy suggests that liberals need to relax a little bit on the ideological purity front, and in order to make sure she gets plenty of hate mail she names names: labor, teachers unions, the black community, and pro-choice groups. Of the latter she says:

Ladies, say it with me: Abortion is not good. (Yes, it's sometimes necessary; yes, we need to protect the rights of women and doctors to use the last resort of abortion when they absolutely need to.) But no one wants to raise abortion rates in this country.

Yet if you listen to the rhetoric of choice groups and if you watch the way that some of them threaten Democratic lawmakers who dare to consider policies that would restrict abortion you might be mistaken in thinking that any drop in the abortion rate is bad thing.

The funny thing is that in one sense I guess I'm actually stronger on the pro-choice front than Amy, since I frankly don't care if the abortion rate goes up or down. In fact, I get a little tired of having to maintain the "necessary evil" pretense in order to demonstrate my moderate bona fides. As far as I'm concerned, early term abortions aren't any more a necessary evil than getting your tonsils removed.

On the other hand, the flap a couple of weeks ago in Utah over Melissa Ann Rowland, the woman charged with murder because she refused a caesarian section that would have saved the life of her twins, demonstrates the kind of thing Amy is talking about. As pro-choice law professor Jonathan Turley says today:

When it comes to reproductive rights, NOW and other groups reject even the most basic limitations leaving reproductive rights so sacrosanct that even the most depraved acts by a mother cannot limit her "right to choose."

Though authorities' decision to charge [Rowland] with first-degree murder (rather than manslaughter) seems excessive, I see no reason why Rowland should not be charged criminally. These twins were not immature fetuses at an early stage of development but were at full term and completely viable outside the womb, yet she knowingly withheld a common, safe surgical procedure while the life drained out of them.

No one would disagree that, if they had been delivered, Rowland could be charged criminally for any physical abuse. However, NOW is insisting that the babies had no rights until delivery, and that a mother can feed them cocaine, refuse pleas to save them and potentially cause the death of two fully developed babies at any time until birth a position that has little legal support and even less basis in morality.

It is almost certainly true that Rowland is mentally disturbed and has been sadly neglected by a system that should have been able to help her. Still, that hardly makes her a poster child for abortion rights.

I don't pay much attention to militant pro-life groups because I think that equating a tiny clump of cells the size of a pinhead to a living, breathing human being demonstrates an appalling disregard for human life. At the same time, though, equating a nearly full-term baby to a tiny clump of cells the size of a pinhead also shows an appalling disregard for human life.

Recognizing this would be the right thing to do for pro-choice groups, it would help their cause among moderates whose support we need, and it would make their complaints about truly objectionable laws more credible. A little bit of compromise, rather than a knee jerk reaction to any issue regarding abortion no matter how outrageous, could go a long way here.

Kevin Drum 3:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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