Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 20, 2007
POLITICS: The Wrong Way To Argue About Abortion
Not only did Roe [v. Wade] not . . . resolve the deeply divisive issue of abortion; it did more than anything else to nourish it, by elevating it to the national level, where it is infinitely more difficult to resolve. National politics were not plagued by abortion protests, national abortion lobbying, or abortion marches on Congress before Roe v. Wade was decided. Profound disagreement existed among our citizens over the issue - as it does over other issues, such as the death penalty - but that disagreement was being worked out at the state level. As with many other issues, the division of sentiment within each State was not as closely balanced as it was among the population of the Nation as a whole, meaning not only that more people would be satisfied with the results of state-by-state resolution, but also that those results would be more stable. Pre-Roe, moreover, political compromise was possible.

Roe's mandate for abortion on demand destroyed the compromises of the past, rendered compromise impossible for the future, and required the entire issue to be resolved uniformly, at the national level. At the same time, Roe created a vast new class of abortion consumers and abortion proponents by eliminating the moral opprobrium that had attached to the act. . . Roe fanned into life an issue that has inflamed our national politics in general, and has obscured with its smoke the selection of Justices to this Court, in particular, ever since.

Justice Scalia, dissenting in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 995-96 (1992).

It would, in fact, be a far better world if the President of the United States and the Justices appointed by the President had nothing to do with abortion policy, but in the world made by the seven Justices who made Roe and the four others (plus the author of Roe) who preserved it in 1992, abortion is a matter of federal law, to be addressed mainly by the selection of Supreme Court Justices.

It is possible that abortion opponents, like me, can hope that Justices who may be receptive to overruling Roe could be appointed by a President who is not. That, at least, is the central challenge for the presidential candidacy in particular of Rudy Guiliani, a long-time supporter of legal abortion who now seeks the presidential nomination of the Party of Life. The debate over whether Rudy can be trusted on the courts is for another day, but I must say that as much as I am willing to support him, I am not at all persuaded, and do not expect other pro-lifers to be persuaded, by this Deroy Murdock column arguing that abortion rates fell during Rudy's tenure as Mayor of New York. The problem is, he doesn't really have an argument that Giuliani had anything to do with this. About the only policy Murdock can point to to attribute this to Giuliani is that he was not as bad as Bloomberg:

New York pro-lifers concede that Giuliani never attempted anything like what current Mayor Michael Bloomberg promulgated in July 2002. Eight city-run hospitals added abortion instruction to the training expected of their OB-GYN medical residents. Giuliani could have issued such rules, but never did.

That's something - evidence that Giuliani is hardly a zealot on the issue - but cold comfort in trying to make him out as actively participating in the decline in abortion rates.

In fact, specious claims about rates of abortion have been a staple of abortion's most zealous cheerleaders, including Hillary Clinton, who claimed in 2005 that:

In the (first) three years since President Bush took office, eight states have seen an increase in abortion rates and four saw a decrease.

This was a thoroughly bogus claim that nonetheless survived vigorous debunking, but as you can see from the chart presented by, abortion rates were declining gradually from about 1980 on nationwide, and underwent a particularly sharp drop between about 1989 and 1995, the tail end of which coincided with the beginning of Giuliani's mayoralty.

On the other hand - and this is a very important part - the rates may go up and down, but no matter how you slice them, the overall number of abortions in this country is horrifying, and you can play with the charts all day long and not get them to where that is not true. (Compare the number of abortions to the number of executions some time, if you don't believe me). Trends and blips don't change that reality, which is why the issue is still, fundamentally, whether abortions should be thinkable at all in a civilized society.

I know Murdock, like many conservative New Yorkers, believes that the nation needs Giuliani's brand of leadership and just wants to help. But if there's one lesson Giuliani will need to fully absorb if he is going to succeed in wooing pro-life voters, it's that we have heard a lot before and we are not easily fooled. Rudy has one, longstanding position on Life, and we have another. Pretending otherwise will not help. The middle ground, the sensible, moderate position, is what Justice Scalia spoke of 15 years ago - democracy, federalism, getting the Supreme Court out of the business of making the rules off the top of its head and restoring to individual jurisdictions the power to make their own rules in line with the varying standards of their own communities. Which is why the judiciary is the whole ball of wax, one that can't be sugar-coated.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:03 PM | Law 2006-08 • | Politics 2008 | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)

I like Giuliani, and although I care about the abortion issue, it isn't a show stopper for me. I agree with your point; what matters is judicial appointments. If Giuliani can make and emphasize that he'll appoint con judges he'll go a long way towards getting social cons to be willing to support him.

McCain, despite his fawning media support, is deeply vulnerable because conservatives do not trust him - not because of a single issue here or there (although CFR gets close here) but because if you listen his bloviating over time you realize he isn't conservative at all and is really misrepresenting himself.

I have about figured out I am a character voter more than an issues voter.

Posted by: Dwilkers at January 21, 2007 9:47 AM

Dwilkers - you are right, McCain is Hillary in sheeps clothing. I trust him about as far as I can throw him and as I have stated here before, I will not vote for him. I too am not anti-Giuliani. I like a lot of things about him, I just do not believe he is the Conservative leader we need. My problem is at this time I don't see that Conservative.

I really bothers me when politicians, especially supposedly religious politicians, come out against the death penalty, but turn right around and profess that it is OK to kill an unborn baby. One it can easily be argued is murder. The best arguement I have heard against the other is that it is only payback. I prefer to see it as justice, but either way I don't see how you can back one and oppose the other. Especially since if that same baby was killed in an attack on the mother the perp would be charged with murder. Just doesn't add up.

Posted by: maddirishman at January 21, 2007 12:15 PM


You hit on the key point. This is not an issue for a president or any politician to decide. It is a matter of whether we are a decent and civilized society or not. The best analogy I can find is the issue of slavery. Nearly all of us understand how immoral it was for some humans to own other humans. Yet at that time there were many people who argued the opposite. The fact that 200 years ago a majority may have believe slavery was okay didn't make it so. Similarly, whether a majority of people today are fine with the idea of killing little kids has little to do with the obvious immorality of the practice. We can only hope that a hundred years from now people will look back at these times the same way we look back at idiots who defended slavery. Which group would you like to identify with, the defenders of the immoral idea (slavery/abortion) or the denouncers of that which is clearly wrong.

I'm sure this thread will bring out the guys who say that guys have no say over what a woman does with her body. BS! That's a cop out. The child has a completely separate DNA. Beyond that, we have thousands of laws written by people not directly affected by those laws.

Posted by: largebill at January 21, 2007 5:16 PM

OK, now from a Pro-Choicer. Actually, I agree with Crank, it's something that has morphed into a national issue, but probably only in part because of Roe. It's an issue whose time would have come anyway. Maybe there wasn't a lot of national protest on it, but then, at the time, women were only then starting to feel once again like sufragettes, second class citizens.

You want to ban abortions? Fine. Be prepared to deal with coathangers and such. Also, where do you draw the line with NO abortion? In case of rape and incest? Then you defeat the argument about a baby having separate DNA. And anyone who would force a woman to carry a rapists baby to term, if they don't want to, is one cruel SOB. There are no easy answers. And where do you stand on birth control? The Bushies are big on not permitting abortion, and also big on not allowing the disemination (pun very much intended) of information regarding birth control. And opponents had better put their money where their mouth is and start adopting lots of babies. If not, then how about paying, or at least helping to pay for them until they are 21.

No copout, but then, no easy yes or no answer either. And let's recall, many of us in NY were really sick of Rudy by the end. If you want to rule by a personal style, you had better be Lincoln or FDR, and make your subordinates think it's their own idea.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 21, 2007 10:44 PM

The coathanger argument is as bad as the rest. It is like saying if you outlaw rape be prepared for rapists to use knives or guns. You don't decide not to pass a law just because the lowest element of society will still break it.

I'm against rape and incest as well, but I think the crook should be punished not the child of the crook. If that makes me a cruel SOB in your opinion that's fine. Personally, I think someone who would kill a child because of the sins of the father is more cruel.

Folks on the left throw out comments that the current administration is against disemination of birth control information. You have any proof of this charge? My own kids attend public school and they have received this information as part of health class.

As far as the paying or helping to pay for them until 21 question, I assume you have heard of the myriad of social welfare programs where those of us who pay taxes are paying daily to raise other peoples kids. Beyond that, most (if not all) churches have outreach programs to help folks. The church I attend is currently raising funds for the downtown pregnancy center.

I hope that addresses all the canards thrown out there.

Posted by: largebill at January 22, 2007 8:48 AM

No canards, or any other duck largebill. The Bush administration has pushed, for its international programs, as well as federally funded programs, that abstinence is the only form to be taught. I happen to agree that abstinence, especially among teenagers, is a good thing. However, if anything human history has shown, it's not happening, never has, never will. And my kids get such info too. It's not from a federally funded program and won't be.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 22, 2007 9:48 AM

The title of the post:

The Wrong Way To Argue About Abortion

is exemplified by that post about coat hangers Daryl.

Surely there is some compromise between outright banning and having abortion legal up to the moment of birth, but as long as people are popping off with that coat hanger crap we'll never even talk about that possibility.

Posted by: Dwilkers at January 22, 2007 10:13 AM

Well, not really crap. I've written enough here for you to know when I am trying to go extreme for a purpose. Yes Dwil, there HAS to be a compromise. However, both sides are so extreme; frankly I think I am a compromise. It should be allowed, it should be early, it should be discouraged, but the "coat hanger" argument is shorthand for people (as they always will) who will find ways to do things they want illegally when it's not legal, and they won't always do it in a safe manner.

Until opponents do a lot more than say, "You can't, I won't let you" and demand "surrender" terms that are absolute (and frankly, if you are against abortion on religious grounds, you can't really have a middle ground), and proponents realize they aren't always right either, we won't get far.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 22, 2007 11:15 AM

The compromise is what we have is protected as legal if the woman so chooses, and it is deemed to be socially unacceptable in many circles, which makes it not that frequently used. This dismissive attitude about women's bodies on here is most troubling. Quite clearly a male blog, but even so it is creepy. The change a woman's body goes through for any pregnancy, including legally forced pregnancies, is massive, and the danger to her health is real. I see it as more akin to self defense, frankly. As a man, I'm glad women have that choice and exercise it.

I think with population explosion, more abortions are the future (if birth control methods don't become easier and more available). Why have unwanted pregnancies when there are already too many wanted ones?

Posted by: AstroFan at January 22, 2007 11:49 AM

"...the Party of Life..." Barf.

Posted by: jim at January 22, 2007 12:40 PM

I apologize Daryl.

I really get tired of us having this childish manner of argument, wherein everyone has to be assigned to one "team" or the other, but there I go doing it myself.

What I think would be a good compromise would be abortion (including morning after pills or whatever they're called) readily available in the first trimester, really damn hard to get in the second trimester, and damn near impossible in the third trimester, even outright impossible after fetal viability. I think abortion is a nasty business but I don't think I have any right to cram that down someone else's throat. By the same token, I think anyone that supports late term abortion or abortion after fetal viability...well I guess the nice thing to say is they're being too dogmatic.

And Astrosfan, abortion is hardly "not that frequently used". Hell there's an abortion clinic in within 2 or 3 miles of my home, and I have no idea what the tally is now but a few years ago it was something like 40 million abortions since Roe. That ain't rare.

Posted by: Dwilkers at January 22, 2007 9:40 PM

40 million? I'm not arguing it, I really have no idea. So I'll figure as I write. It's been almost 35 years since Roe, and the abortion clinics have been more open than not in the middle. There were probably not that many the first few years, and very few Ob/Gyns do them now. That means about 1,100,000 per year. I assume you mean in the US.

As I said, I'm not arguing the figures; in a population of say 230,000,000 (it's more now of course), that is a rate of .0047% of the population. Which means we are doing something really screwed up with how we raise our kids. Considering AIDS has been with us for almost as long (well longer, but in the public awareness), then howinhell can so many people have so many unwanted pregnancies? I give rape as an example, but that is clearly a small minority of cases. And on the other hand, looked at cold bloodedly, do we really want 40,000,000 unwanted kids raised by parents who don't want them running around? It's a side issue, but is it really? If we have an honest abortion discussion, everything should come into play.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 22, 2007 10:37 PM

The Party of Life? Hmmm...I was waiting for the corollary: the Democrats are the "Party of Death", yes?

Posted by: Matt S at January 23, 2007 1:58 AM

That's a flawed method of calculating the rate Daryl. The most glaring flaw being that half the population of the US is male.

A quick googling got me this BBC article which reports a US annual rate of 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women. I didn't study this, just googled it up real quick, I have some time constraints today. It says the rate in DC is 68.1 per thousand.

But even that isn't a good measure, since obviously not every woman gets pregnant every year. Far more edifying would be the number of abortions per pregnancy, IE how many women that get pregnant have an abortion vs carrying the child to full term.

In any event my point was to rebut the 'rare' claim. We perform a lot of abortions in this country. It most certainly is not 'rare'.

Posted by: Dwilkers at January 23, 2007 6:57 AM

This from CDC says...well here I'll quote a key paragraph because it is spot on regarding this subject:

"From 1990 to 1999, there was a 9-percent decline in the birth rate (from 70.9 to 64.4 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44) and a 22-percent drop in the abortion rate (27.4 to 21.4), with an overall 12 percent decline in the pregnancy rate from 115.6 to 102.1. These trends and other findings are outlined in a new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which updates and revises pregnancy rates from 1990 to 1999 to include the latest abortion data for 1999."

So roughly speaking an abortion rate of around 20%. I'm fairly confident we can agree that 20% isn't 'rare'.

Posted by: Dwilkers at January 23, 2007 7:27 AM

I'm quite certain that the number of children aborted in this country since 1973 is larger than the total number of deaths from AIDS in the US plus the number of executions in the US over the same time period plus the number of Americans killed in all wars since 1946.

Posted by: The Crank at January 23, 2007 9:55 AM

I had breakfast with someone this morning who is very conservative, and somehow, the issue came up. It's clear, at least by him (and he is against abortion), that it's not a bannable issue, but he feels he should be controlled. In his view, available the first trimester, harder the second, almost impossible the third. We then agreed that there should be some form of control for repeats.

The largest percentage of women in Brooklyn who get abortions are black or russian. Well, not a shock, considering the proportions in Brooklyn, but I recall an article in the NYT years ago, that many women in Russia got as many as 8 abortions. They had no resources for contraceptives, and used abortion as the only available measure.

So as I wrote before, yes we have to talk about it, but both extreme sides have to give up their "no compromise" views. Because if we don't, then all we will have are more litmus tests, political separatism, and the anguish that goes with it.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 23, 2007 11:07 AM

I'm having a hard time parsing these two comments made by The Crank, and similar comments made by other posters who appear to agree with him.

"...the issue is still, fundamentally, whether abortions should be thinkable at all in a civilized society."


"...and restoring to individual jurisdictions the power to make their own rules in line with the varying standards of their own communities."

It seems to me that most "Pro-Life" Arguments (and I am using this label for the argument not per se the group of people making the argument) rest of the basic moral issue of "what is life" or more specifically "when does life begin".

Similarly most "Pro-Choice" arguments (again, labeling the argument not the people making it) rest of the basic moral issue of "the limits one's personal freedom" and "the boundaries on societies rights to control and restrict those freedoms".

These are both very weighty real issues that many people arguing on one side or the other of the abortion issue will take a contrary stance on the fundamental moral issue when applied to a different scenario.

For example, there are some people who will argue for the "right of society to restrict a persons choice" with respect to a complicated medical decision like pregnancy; where they will take the opposite stance when in comes to "societies right to restrict a persons choice" about the ownership of guns or munitions.

I am not suggesting that if you take one stance on a particular moral vector when applied to one issue that you must always take that same stance when that moral question is applied to all issues. I'm simply pointing out that these moral issues are context sensitive just like any other weighty moral issue.

And let us not ignore Daryl's point that this context includes significant side effects... what happens if all these unwanted children are born? That really is a significant moral issue as well.

So where do I land on this? Well, this is hard... I don't know, I am torn by all sides.

I don't want the government controlling my personal medical decisions or those of the several women in my life.

I also don't support the killing of life.

But I also see in an all too personal way how our society treats (or ignores) it's unwanted and underprivileged members. That's no way to live a life.

In the end, I think we've failed to have a real candid discussion of the implications of this decision. Like too many issues, we devolve into name calling and mud slinging.

Can't we all try to work together on these issues? Will Rudy want to work together to make progress? Will Hillary? The last "uniter" we got didn't seem to focus much on working with others. I hope the next one does.

Posted by: ZappoMan at January 23, 2007 9:06 PM

Zappo, you made one comment, and that was the gun control one, that reminded me of something Andy Rooney said years ago. Basically, here was the answer:

One side:
Against, against, against

The other side:
For, for, for

The categories:
Abortion, gun control, the 55 mph speed limit.

He claimed they were all linked; he's probably right.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at January 23, 2007 9:47 PM
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