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Tilting at Windmills

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June 9, 2009
By: Hilzoy

Ross Douthat Makes No Sense

Ross Douthat has a very peculiar column on abortion in the New York Times. In it, he asserts, falsely, that "under current law, if you want to restrict abortion, post-viability procedures are the only kind you're allowed to even regulate": in fact, it is possible to regulate abortions before viability, and the Supreme Court in Casey upheld precisely such restrictions. He claims, also falsely, that "Americans aren't permitted to debate anything" besides post-viability abortions (which would surely come as a surprise to the First Amendment), and that abortion needs to be "returned to the democratic process." As Freddie at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen notes:

"Setting aside the banal fact that the judicial system is a part of our democratic process, there is a clear, straightforward and well-known way to overturn Roe v. Wade -- pass a constitutional amendment criminalizing abortion. That's how you override Supreme Court decisions; that's how Dred Scott was effectively overturned. That's how the federal income tax was passed. There's a method for overturning Supreme Court law you don't like, it's well known, it's time tested, and it's as open to abortion foes as it is to anyone else."

But what's really odd is his reasoning. Try, if you dare, to make sense of this:

"The argument for unregulated abortion rests on the idea that where there are exceptions, there cannot be a rule. Because rape and incest can lead to pregnancy, because abortion can save women's lives, because babies can be born into suffering and certain death, there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever.

As a matter of moral philosophy, this makes a certain sense. Either a fetus has a claim to life or it doesn't. The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn't enter into the equation.

But the law is a not a philosophy seminar. It's the place where morality meets custom, and compromise, and common sense. And it can take account of tragic situations without universalizing their lessons."

First of all, the claim that "where there is an exception, there cannot be a rule" does not make sense as a matter of moral philosophy. If it's possible to distinguish clearly between the exceptions and the other cases, there's no problem at all with having a rule. This is why we can have such rules as: No parking in a handicapped spot, unless you have a handicapped badge. When it's not easy to tell the exceptions from the rest, whether or not it's OK to have a rule depends on how bad it is to miss those exceptions, and how bad it is not to have a rule.

There are surely circumstances in which it would be fine to drive on the left, but we do not normally think that these should prevent us from having a rule about which side of the street to drive on. On the other hand, the existence of people who have been falsely convicted of capital crimes is a much more compelling argument against capital punishment: even one mistake is a horrendous injustice.

More importantly, consider this sentence:

"Because rape and incest can lead to pregnancy, because abortion can save women's lives, because babies can be born into suffering and certain death, there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever."

How on earth is that supposed to be evidence for this?

"Either a fetus has a claim to life or it doesn't. The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn't enter into the equation."

The whole point of bringing up cases of rape and incest is to argue that the circumstances of a fetus' conception are relevant to the question whether abortion should be legal. If we were convinced that a fetus was a full person, they wouldn't be: we do not think it's OK for a mother to kill her five year old child on the grounds that it is the product of rape or incest. Likewise, the point of bringing up the fact that "babies can be born into suffering and certain death" is to say that the state of the fetus' health is relevant, not that it isn't.

What Douthat wrote makes about as much sense as saying: "The argument for not hitting yourself on the head with a hammer is that it would cause you a whole lot of pain. As a matter of moral philosophy, this makes a certain sense: hitting yourself on the head with a hammer is either right or wrong regardless of how it makes you feel." To which the only possible response is: Huh???

Douthat's column begins with a rather lovely meditation on the hard cases that George Tiller had to deal with: abortions on "women facing life-threatening complications, on women whose children would be born dead or dying, on women who had been raped, on "women" who were really girls of 10." He doesn't actually say much about how we should deal with these cases, other than the part I already quoted: the law "can take account of tragic situations without universalizing their lessons." How it should take these cases into account, and why it shouldn't universalize their lessons, are left shrouded in mystery.

And yet, somehow, he ends up here:

"If abortion were returned to the democratic process, this landscape would change dramatically. Arguments about whether and how to restrict abortions in the second trimester -- as many advanced democracies already do -- would replace protests over the scope of third-trimester medical exemptions.

The result would be laws with more respect for human life, a culture less inflamed by a small number of tragic cases -- and a political debate, God willing, unmarred by crimes like George Tiller's murder."

Because, as we all know, giving terrorists what they want is the surest way to prevent more terrorism.

There are arguments for making abortion illegal. I don't accept them, but they exist. Douthat should try making them sometime.

Hilzoy 9:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (56)

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Comments

Wake me up when the United States of America finally declares women sentient human beings and not two legged household pets with a uterus that is subhuman and requires the permission and approval the of every freaking arsehole in the nation to make a decison or they will murder anyone who helps her to force her submission.

Does pet smart hold obedience training for American women?

Posted by: Silver Owl on June 9, 2009 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

is "dout' some old gothic german for "ass"?

this guy makes my skin crawl. his language, his arguments, ke-ripes, even his picture.

i remember dudes like him back in seminary... real damn convinced of their own personal interpretation of theology.

but in the final analysis, when mr. jesus doughboy grows a uterus i'll listen to what he has to say about abortion. until then, he's whatcha call a "secondary" resource -- and one with a very sad and tragic ideology...

where does the new unimproved ny times get this shit?

Posted by: neill on June 9, 2009 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

I think Douthat's bizarre remark about "where there are exceptions, there cannot be a rule" reflects not so much that he is grappling with any real pro-choice argument, but rather that he is trying to fight off an anti-abortion argument by anti-abortion people who are more extreme than he is. Those more extreme people say, in effect, what are you talking about, Mr. Douthat, how can you say that abortion could ever be allowed, even in the horrible cases you discuss at the start of your column (the rape cases and 10-year-olds and extreme physical problems of fetus and/or pregnant woman) - if a fetus is really a person, none of those considerations can count.

And that's just the problem. The extreme anti-abortion position is extremely unappealing from a moral or humane point of view: it really would condemn 10-year-old incest victims to carry pregnancies to term, and so forth. It is horrific and deeply out of step with modern ideas about morality. Ross Douthat can't swallow that position, and/or he knows Americans won't. So he has to retreat to different ground. And the retreat involves acknowledging that in a whole array of circumstances, abortion is justified (where murder of a person would not be). Thus, a fetus is not _really_ exactly the same as a person after all. Pull too hard on this thread and much of the anti-abortion position begins to unravel.

Posted by: Joey on June 9, 2009 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

So let's apply Douthat's logic to another controversial social issue:

"If segregation were returned to the democratic process, this landscape would change dramatically. Arguments about whether and how to restrict blacks' options for schooling and housing -- as many advanced democracies already do -- would replace protests over the scope of allowing blacks to freely mix in white society.

The result would be laws with more respect for human life, a culture less inflamed by a small number of tragic cases -- and a political debate, God willing, unmarred by crimes like the unfortunate lynchings that have been taking place."

Yes, according to the Douthats of the world, all this terrible violence wouldn't be necessary if only [insert demographic here] would give up their rights under the law. Thus has it ever been and ever shall be.

Posted by: trex on June 9, 2009 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Setting aside the banal fact that the judicial system is a part of our democratic process . . . ."

The judicial system is part of our republican process. It is a check on the democratic parts of our government.

Posted by: aaron on June 9, 2009 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

brilliant analogy, trex! merci!

Posted by: neill on June 9, 2009 at 10:35 PM | PERMALINK

Douhat is a whole new level of crazy-stupid. Why did anyone hire him for anything?

Posted by: jamie on June 9, 2009 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK
is "dout' some old gothic german for "ass"?

Posted by: neill

Pure. Frickin'. Genius.

**applauds**

What AssDouthat seems to be proving is that:

1.) There's still many men -- even younger ones -- who are, for some reason, convinced that women are too weak/dumb/pregnant to make their own decisions and, thus, society as a whole should make them;

2.) There're way, way, WAAAYYY too many pundits lacking the guts/intellectual fortitude/time-before-deadline to actual propose a solution or quote the "some" who "think" what they claim;

3.) Conservatives will never be happy until they can control every part of our personal lives, while still arguing for "less government" (mainly because "let corporations do whatever the hell they want" polled poorly with the focus groups).

The first is the Douthat probably doesn't even realize, the second is probably how he got the gig in the first place, and the last is ... well, that's just the hypocritical, un-self-aware GOP of today.

Posted by: Mark D on June 9, 2009 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Also, the Casey opinion got only three votes. Technically, the Court upheld only women's right to choose. Moreover, the pre-viability restriction those three upheld did not interfere with a woman's right to choose an abortion. I wish people would read the law before waxing pontifical about it.

Posted by: aaron on June 9, 2009 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

Why do men think that they have any right to an opinion on a woman's body and what she will do with it? Especially when a big part of what leads to a woman contemplating an abortion in most cases is an irresponsible (or worse) man. Its like hearing Rush talk about why Donovan McNabb was an affirmitive action hire.

What I want to know is when are we going to pass laws against a man masturbating, what with the thousands of potential scientists-who-would-have-cured-cancer being, well "shot to hell" for lack of a better term. Sorry men, you lose future-viable-lives, you'll have to quite pleasuring yourself NOW!!!!

(I can see the pro-life billboard slogan now: "I had a tail and could swim BEFORE I was a gleam in my daddy's eye")

Posted by: So on June 9, 2009 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

I read the column yesterday and I wondered what in the world this guy had been chemically abusing. I had much the same reaction as Hilzoy does, and I really don't think that this is someone whose judgment should be trusted in anything important. He should never be allowed on a school board, for instance. The man just is not in the world of reality.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on June 10, 2009 at 12:20 AM | PERMALINK

One thing I'd like to point out in the fight for all women to have full sentient human status in America is that it is not just conservative "men" but women also that seek to deny women their human status.

America does have men that stand up for and fight for our right to be recognized as full sentient human beings.

America is by and large pregnancy and female biologically stupid, by choice. Being exceptional in stupid is not something I'd strive for but obviously the United States is not quite so exceptional from a "conservative" stand point.

When we have people like G. Gordon Libby that can not even handle the normal biological functions of human females that have been going on for eons, we have problems with a high stupidity factor.

Libby craps out of his ass and shoots live sperm from his penis but he gets unglued because women get rid of dead tissue on average 21-28 days. LOL! That arsehole sheds more dead skin on a weekly basis than I shed freaking dead uterus tissue in a year. He shoots more live useless sperm than I do dead uterine tissue and eggs in 40 years I've been ovulating.

Smarter Americans would be a huge bonus to humanity.

Posted by: Silver Owl on June 10, 2009 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

Douchehat is an idiot. His thinking is on par with what I'd expect from my cat.
Doesn't he realize that at least one state, Colorado, put the question of the personhood of a fertilized egg to the democratic process in 2008? And it lost.

Posted by: CParis on June 10, 2009 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

Silver Owl said: ...it is not just conservative "men" but women also that seek to deny women their human status.

Ann Coulter, for instance. I bet Michelle Malkin also qualifies. Sigh...

Posted by: Alan on June 10, 2009 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

Ross Douthat Makes No Sense

Isn't that like saying water is wet?

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on June 10, 2009 at 2:06 AM | PERMALINK

If abortion were returned to the democratic process, this landscape would change dramatically.

Like Hilzoy, I find lots of examples of abortion in the democratic process. In the stat of California, for example, voters were permitted to vote (about a year ago?) on a parental notification law. The law wasn't as bad as those things sometimes go (a child could get an attorney to help petition a judge for an exemption -- if you can imagine a child rape or incest victim doing that), but a majority of CA voters voted against it. It isn't just a matter of what correct action should be, or what the law should require, but whether government officials will do more harm than good in trying to enforce the law (that's a common coservative or Burkean argument.)

The law was debated publicly and settled democratically. In fact, most people in the US live in states that democratically removed the restrictions on abortion, either before (California, New York) or after Roe v. Wade. After Roe v. Wade it was redundant, but states beat back attempts to impose new restrictions seemingly compatible with Roe v. Wade (Florida, iirc.)

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on June 10, 2009 at 4:35 AM | PERMALINK

Millions of fetuses, especially in India and China, are aborted *because* they are female. This is a victory for women's rights... how?

Posted by: Get Real on June 10, 2009 at 5:46 AM | PERMALINK

Here's an hypothesis: maybe the Times is operating as a deep cover operation for the Liberal Conspiracy. By providing broader distribution to people like Kristol and Douhat it shows how intellectually bankrupt conservatism is. If they don't renew Douhat next year and replace him with Gingrich, I'll consider this proven.

Posted by: jhe on June 10, 2009 at 7:00 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Get Real - It's all about patriarchy whether it's forcing women to abort as in China or giving males a higher status in the culture as in China and India or restricting women's right to choose here. It's all the same.

Posted by: mudcity on June 10, 2009 at 7:18 AM | PERMALINK

A conservative lies in an opinion column, and the so-called "liberal media" lets him get away with it? You don't say!

Posted by: Gregory on June 10, 2009 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

If abortion were returned to the democratic process, this landscape would change dramatically. Arguments about whether and how to restrict abortions in the second trimester -- as many advanced democracies already do -- would replace protests over the scope of third-trimester medical exemptions.

In additions to the many falsehoods hilzoy pointed out, Asshat's entire premise is false.

The questions aren't what Douthat claims they are; instead, they're the forced pregnancy lobby passing laws without exceptions for rape, incest, etc. -- laws so restrictions as to form the basis for a challenge to Roe. That this strategy has so far been unsuccessful in overturning Roe, and that the ultra-restrictive laws themselves have been struck down, is irrelevant; the situation simply isn't what Douthat claims it is. The forced pregnancy lobby is on record as advocating laws with no exceptions whatsoever -- and extremists of that sort have no business whatever asserting control over women's bodies, no matter how much they might like to.

Posted by: Gregory on June 10, 2009 at 7:31 AM | PERMALINK

Millions of fetuses, especially in India and China, are aborted *because* they are female.

I thought conservatives were the ones always screaming about how we Divinely Chosen Amurkins shouldn't give a shit what people in other countries think.

Or does that only apply when they're asking us not to invade another sovereign nation?

Posted by: Keori on June 10, 2009 at 7:34 AM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy's real name is Publius. And she's mean. So there.

Posted by: Dont Douthat on June 10, 2009 at 7:45 AM | PERMALINK

The last line of the post is great. "Pro-lifers" get alot of mileage out of being "against abortion" or Roe v Wade, but rarely put forth actual positions as to what laws and regulations they want to see in effect.

This gives "pro-lifers" a sense of enormous political importance, where none actually exists. "Pro-life" is a range of opinion, and if Douthat actually voiced one, he would have as many negative comments from fellow lifers as he does from pro-choice advocates.

Posted by: esaud on June 10, 2009 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

"Wake me up when the United States of America finally declares women sentient human beings..."

If American men think it's OK to suggest what I do with the products of my uterus, I get to suggest what they do with their reproductive organs. It won't be pretty.

Posted by: MissMudd on June 10, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

esaud's comment on the sense of enormous political importance felt by 'pro-lifers' touches upon the aborticentrism which fuels the movement. The entire movement is based on an allegorical struggle against their own fear of death; seeking to overcome their powerlessness against their descent into nothingness, they seek to make themselves immortal by becoming "heroes" according to the definition they sell to society. To feel politically important is to have a sense that they are transcending death.

Posted by: cgregor on June 10, 2009 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

If American men think it's OK to suggest what I do with the products of my uterus, I get to suggest what they do with their reproductive organs.

Others have pointed out that if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

Posted by: Gregory on June 10, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

I tried to make sense of Douthat's incoherent argument that (as far as I can understand it) the fact that circumstances matter to whether abortion should be legal proves that circumstances do not matter to whether abortion should be legal. I disagree a bit with your response to this, however. You write, "The whole point of bringing up cases of rape and incest is to argue that the circumstances of a fetus' conception are relevant to the question whether abortion should be legal. If we were convinced that a fetus was a full person, they wouldn't be: we do not think it's OK for a mother to kill her five year old child on the grounds that it is the product of rape or incest." The personhood of a fetus is not the whole issue here, especially in case of rape or involuntary pregnancy. Perhaps this explains Douthat's obscure reference to philosophy seminars (although, if it does, he didn't understand them). There's a famous philosophy paper by Judith Jarvis Thompson arguing that in cases of involuntary pregnancy, even if the fetus is a person, it is still morally acceptable for the person to abort the fetus. She imagines that one is hooked up to a living person who requires one's kidneys (say) to filter his/her blood. Then, the question is, would the person be morally obligated to remain hooked up to this kidney-freeloader, sustaining his/her life, for nine months when one was forced into the situation. If we think it is morally acceptable to unhook the living person who depends for his/her survival on the involuntary participant, then we must think that even if the fetus is a person, it is still morally acceptable for a rape victim to have an abortion. Now, this doesn't really explain Douthat's bizarre argument, but it does mean that there's a disanalogy between the 5-year-old and the fetus even if they are both persons. The fetus requires the pregnant woman to undergo considerable physical difficulty and limitations on her freedom for another person whose life she did not agree to support, whereas the 5-year-old does not require that. So, personhood, at least in rape cases, is not the whole point. (You may still disagree with Thompson's analogy, but at least the contrary claim is not obviously true.)

This is a minor quibble, and I compliment your yeoman's (yeoperson's?) work in exposing Douthat's incoherence.

Posted by: arithmoquine on June 10, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy, you misunderstood parts of the column. Specifically, the part following your exhortation to "Try, if you dare, to make sense of this". I can make much more sense of it than you can.

Douhat: "A fetus has a claim to life or it doesn't". Nothing else in the article is meant to be evidence for this claim. It at first may appear to be a tautology, but this is not the intent. The proposition Douhat is considering here is something along the lines of, (*) "Either *every* fetus is a person with a soul, imbued by God with certain inalienable rights, or no fetus is such a person." Let us be charitable and assume not that Douhat is claiming that (*) is necessarily true, but that it's plausible and arguable as a matter of moral philosophy.

He's pointing out that if you accept proposition (*), and if you accept that abortion should be legal in certain cases, then you could readily conclude that "there should be no restrictions on abortion" (or at any rate, no restrictions based on supposed rights of the fetus). I'll call that proposition (**).

The post asks, roughly, "How on earth is (**) supposed to be evidence for (*)?" But (**) is not intended to be evidence for (*). Instead, Douhat is pointing out that (*) can be used to support (**).

Douhat's problem (in this section) is that he claims not just that (*) can be used to support (**), but that this is essentially *THE* argument for unregulated abortion. And that's a silly claim.

Now I'm getting redundant, but: Douhat is not at all claiming that "where there is an exception, there cannot be a rule" make sense *in general* as a point of moral philosophy. He's saying that in the particular case at hand it might make sense, if you accept (*).

Posted by: Frolician on June 10, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Others have pointed out that if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

And they'd probably have obnoxious abortion jingles just like in the Viagra commercials.

"Viiivaaaa abortion!!"

Posted by: MissMudd on June 10, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

"If American men think it's OK to suggest what I do with the products of my uterus, I get to suggest what they do with their reproductive organs."

Nitpick: Outsiders have no claim on the *contents* of one uterus. They have a legitimate interest in the *products*.

Posted by: Grep Agni on June 10, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

They have a legitimate interest in the *products*.

But they do a piss-poor job of showing any interest at all in those "products" once they're born.

Posted by: Gregory on June 10, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

worth noting that Douthat has ALWAYS been like this. His writing is a miracle of obfuscation, most of the time. This must be a valued quality at places like Princeton. Sort of like writing a scholarly article that no-one can understand.

I have been baffled for years by Douthat's success as a pundit. Or Expert. Or Two-Bit-Moral-Philosopher. He's just a dope who's made his reputation by being against abortion, but making his arguments in such squishy ways that he gets published in major magazines and newspapers.

Sheesh. It's a weird world.

Posted by: LL on June 10, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Douthat is a devout Catholic. His true position on arbortion is that a foetus is a human being with a divinely-invested soul, whose destruction is a mortal sin against God. Everything he writes or says is for the purpose of advancing that position. He takes inconsistent, incoherent, or facially compromising positions as a matter of tactics but on his actual beliefs, he's entirely consistent and constant. There's no point in trying to understand what he purports to be arguing because he will say anything that he believes advances the pro-life cause.

Posted by: Bloix on June 10, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

are aborted *because* they are female

Sure-- no safety net and generally lousy social/economic prospects for women make daughters a bad investment of parental resources, since sons are a) more likely to achieve financial stability and b) take care of their aging parents. Feminism covers more than reproductive choice, believe it or not.


Others have pointed out that if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.

I saw a comment recently that claimed if men could get pregnant, the Second Amendment would guarantee a right to abortion instead of guns. Made me LOL .


They have a legitimate interest in the *products*

Only when complete and off the 'assembly line'; plans for production and managing the process are completely internal operations (pun intended), and not subject to outside demands.

Posted by: latts on June 10, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

"As a matter of moral philosophy, this makes a certain sense. Either a fetus has a claim to life or it doesn't. The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn't enter into the equation."

On the simplest level, Douthat is correct, that either a fetus is a human being, or it isn't. If it is a human being, then the circumstances of it's conception and health don't matter. Clearly, on a more complicated level, if the fetus is a human being, then it has the same standing in moral dilemmas as any other human being. We have laws that apply to any other human being not competent to decide for themselves and we have laws that permit the balancing of one individual's rights against the rights of another.

In this statement, Douthat has identified the central argument in the abortion debate from the viewpoint of social conservatives. In the statement following that one, he has identified, in code words, what I believe is their main argument against abortion at any time - our obligation to do MORE for the fetal human being, to balance in favor of the fetus in almost all circumstances because the fetus cannot speak for itself.

Social conservatives perhaps recognize that once we attempt to balance rights, their arguments don't hold up well, as the mother has rights equal or superior to the fetus. In asserting that we have an obligation to act in defense of the fetus' right to life, they bypass all the normal rules of rights balancing.

This belief in an obligation is rooted in a recognition of something imposed upon human beings. As such, it is not actually subject to logic or discussion - it is a first principle.

If you believe that God told you that you were obligated to protect human life from the moment of conception, then you only have two choices - obey, or disobey. If we credit anti-abortionists with good intent (surely a place to start for all good liberals?) then we can see how difficult "choice" is for them.

My difficulty lies in just who decides what God wants, because she surely isn't giving me any clues. Which is why Douthat refers to "custom, compromise and common sense" - code words for religious beliefs. Except the compromise part. :)

Jake

Posted by: Jake - but not the one on June 10, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

But what's really odd is his reasoning. Try, if you dare, to make sense of this:

I tried, and this is what I came up with: "If killing a late-term Down Syndrome fetus isn't murder, then killing a late-term non-Down Syndrome fetus isn't murder, either, which means that it must be OK."

I get the first part (although I don't need to be convinced on that score). But the second part is just weird. It's certainly possible to consider abortion a crime, albeit something less than murder. But I also wonder why pro-life arguments always hinge on the theoretical, instead of the actual.

Posted by: Halfdan on June 10, 2009 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

"There are arguments for making abortion illegal."

Yes, and these arguments are regularly subjected directly to the democratic process from the local to the state to the federal level. The events in S. Dakota a year or so ago being a recent dramatic example. How is it possible for someone like Douthat to actually make a living from writing such crap? That is the real question philosophical and moral issue from this.

Posted by: digitusmedius on June 10, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

There is no place for any male of the species homo sapiens at the table of women's health care. Frustrating as it may be, our participation in these decisions occurs before the pregnancy. After the fact, we can only support our partners.

I've said for decades, somewhat tongue in cheek, that we should change the name of capitol punishment to "extreme post-natal abortion" and aborting a fetus to "pre-emptive capitol punishment". This become less wit and more seriousness every time the "we hate women" club pushes closer to becoming the American Taliban.

As a husband, but just as importantly, as a father of two daughters, the decisions of woman's health is best left to the woman, her physician and whichever God she prefers.

Posted by: CybScryb on June 10, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

bloix posted, in part:

His true position on arbortion is that a foetus is a human being with a divinely-invested soul, whose destruction is a mortal sin against God.

This is the part that has always perplexed me. If aborting a horribly damaged fetus is a sin, then all our modern medicine that allows that fetus to survive is a sin too...unless, of course, Douthat's God WANTS newborn humans to suffer horribly for some period of time before they die. Not to mention that the same God wants women to suffer, and often die, if they carry a fetus to term when it might kill them.

Religious people are, at some point, frankly insane to believe in such a cruel God. What is WRONG with them? (rhetorical question...their DNA is wrong with them..that, and 100K years of normative conditioning). Of course, there is the insanity of believing in a god at all, but that's another discussion. Nothing like making your imaginary friend accountable for your own insupportable positions.

Posted by: LL on June 10, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, I see the wingnuts have ceremonies where daughters pledge to remain chaste, standing next to their fathers.
When there are similar ceremonies for wingnut sons, standing next to their mothers, then we're on to something, right?

The female as a conduit for the male seed is a pretty old idea.

Douthat is a nut.

Posted by: SteinL on June 10, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Nitpick: Outsiders have no claim on the *contents* of one uterus. They have a legitimate interest in the *products*.

So when do you start calling for all women to mail their tampons and pads to a central authority for examination and diagnosis? After all, if the government has a legitimate interest in the product of women's uteruses, they should be equally interested in all of the products of that uterus.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on June 10, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

But I also wonder why pro-life arguments always hinge on the theoretical, instead of the actual.

Because if you look at the actual, you have to come to the conclusion that the person carrying the embryo or fetus should have the right to make decisions about it. As Jake said just above you, any attempt to rationally balance the interests of the two would come down on the side of the full-grown woman. The only way that the forced birthers can claim that an 8-week embryo has the same rights as a full-grown woman is by removing all of the rights from the woman and giving all of them to the embryo and making the theoretical "child" more important than the actual person in whose womb that "child" is living.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on June 10, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you for your comment on Douthat and for the chance for me to comment; I tried to comment yesterday at the NYT website but the Comments were closed. Douthat left out an important fact (you can't argue philosophy, morals, law, etc. without all the facts): the majority of pro-lifers want to ban all birth control methods, too. Therefore, it's not really about abortion.

Posted by: MC on June 10, 2009 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

To treat Douhat's column point by point is to give it too much credit. It is appalling stupid from start to finish. There isn't a coherent thought in the piece. It's almost enough to fill me with nostalgia for the days of sharp-witted conservatives like William Kristol.

Posted by: rmenglish on June 10, 2009 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

MC is absolutely right. This isn't really about abortion. It's about preserving "God's Judgement" on wanton hussies who spread their legs, who are being punished for doing so.

It's about sex, and keeping women in their place.

Posted by: Apprentice to Darth Holden on June 10, 2009 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Ross Douthat can't swallow that position, and/or he knows Americans won't. So he has to retreat to different ground. And the retreat involves acknowledging that in a whole array of circumstances, abortion is justified (where murder of a person would not be). Thus, a fetus is not _really_ exactly the same as a person after all. Pull too hard on this thread and much of the anti-abortion position begins to unravel.

To pull on that thread a bit more, if a fetus is, as these people claim, a human person entitled to the full legal protection thereof, then on what basis can they say the murder of Dr Tiller was wrong? It's like saying the Jews involved in the Warsaw Uprising were wrong--rather literally, since the "Abortion is Murder!" crowd frequently and explicitly equate the legalization of abortion to the Holocaust. To me, the fact that acts like this are the exception rather than the rule indicates that most of them don't honestly believe their own rhetoric. Roeder acted in a way entirely consistent and morally justified by that rhetoric, if in fact it were true. To condemn him (viz, Pro-Life Leaders Denounce Murder of Abortion Doctor George Tiller) is essentially to concede that the rhetoric is untenable.

Posted by: DrBB on June 10, 2009 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I take Douthat on

Posted by: here on June 10, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Although I was completely incensed at Douthat's column in general, and final paragraph in particular, I think you are misreading a chunk of it in your column. To quote from his original article,

"The argument for unregulated abortion rests on the idea that where there are exceptions, there cannot be a rule. Because rape and incest can lead to pregnancy, because abortion can save women�s lives, because babies can be born into suffering and certain death, there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever.

As a matter of moral philosophy, this makes a certain sense. Either a fetus has a claim to life or it doesn�t. The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn�t enter into the equation."

Because you are looking for a constant string of attacks from Douthat, you claim that this quote is incoherent, when it's not.

Douthat admits that there are reasons why abortions, even late term ones, are perfectly morally defensible (rape, incest, health of the mother and future child). If a fetus had the same claim to life that a born child had, then it would wrong to abort it, simply because it was the result of a rape (The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn�t enter into the equation). Since society agrees that it is o.k. to abort a fetus that resulted from a rape (the exception), then we can't honestly claim that a fetus has the same right to life as a born child (the rule).

As Douthat says, "this makes a certain sense", and it's important to remember. The morally coherent laws against abortion are the ones pushed for by the super-crazy. If you admit that it is o.k. to abort a fetus that came from a rape, you are implicitly admitting that a woman's right to choose what happens to her body is more important that any rights the fetus may have. To restrict her rights in other cases is simply to say that you get to put restictions on what she can do with her body.

Posted by: Ben on June 10, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

If you admit that it is o.k. to abort a fetus that came from a rape, you are implicitly admitting that a woman's right to choose what happens to her body is more important that any rights the fetus may have.

More importantly, allowing abortion only in rape/incest cases makes the woman's sexual consent (or lack thereof) the point of moral judgment. That's more revealing than coherent, but useful to know regardless.

Posted by: latts on June 10, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

As long as the Times continues to inflict MoDo on us, it's difficult to argue that they are required by professional standards to get rid of Douthat.

Dowd is more tangibly offensive, writing as she does in the high school mean girl style that apparently fascinated the Pulitzer judges in a previous century.

Douthat, on the other hand, comes across as a pretentious adolescent philosopher who never has quite enough time to rethink his arguments.

Neither Dowd nor Douthat is in danger of any meaningful contribution to serious public discourse, but I'm fairly certain than Dowd is more likely to damage anyone unfortunate enough to read her more than once or twice a year. Like zolpidem tartrate, Dowd could cause highly unpleasant, even disturbing dreams, that might spill over into one's waking hours, while Douthat is more likely to provide the reader with relatively undisturbed sleep -- the kind that results from profound boredom.

Posted by: oh really on June 10, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

"There are surely circumstances in which it would be fine to drive on the left ..."

And we have them now: when passing and when it's a one-way street.

See, how hard was that?

Posted by: Cal Gal on June 10, 2009 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

"If abortion were returned to the democratic process, this landscape would change dramatically."

But if fetuses (feti?) are "human beings" -- alive and all that -- how can you morally subject their killing to the democratic process?

Jerk (but not off, that kills too many viable lives).

Posted by: Impeach Jay Bybee on June 10, 2009 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Nitpick: Outsiders have no claim on the *contents* of one uterus. They have a legitimate interest in the *products*."

How can you possibly say this? If they had no claims on the contents of one uterus they could not object to disposing of those contents. By definition, a fetus IS the contents of a uterus.

Posted by: Cal Gal on June 10, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Let's be honest. A fetus is a parasite.

Posted by: Truth on June 10, 2009 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

"More importantly, allowing abortion only in rape/incest cases makes the woman's sexual consent (or lack thereof) the point of moral judgment. That's more revealing than coherent, but useful to know regardless."

Sort of, except that you are conflating "rape" and "incest." The point of distinguishing the two, I would think, is that the "incest" they are talking about is consensual.

And it is precisely HERE that this common "exception" breaks down. What the heck makes a fetus conceived in consensual incest any different that any other fetus conceived in consensual incest? It must be the assumption of some kind of gross deformities, but proven gross deformities are not grounds for abortion to these folks, so what the heck IS it about incest that makes it OK to abort a fetus of incest? Huh?

Posted by: Cal Gal on June 10, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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