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The Devil is in the Details, so Let’s Avoid the Details
The pro-abortion party tries to defend the practice by not talking about it.
The reported leak of a Supreme Court decision returning the question of abortion laws to the states drove the leftist media into a state of outrage and indignation. But after so many years of fundraising and voter mobilization based on the threat of Roe being overturned, it seems the Left has forgotten its arguments in favor of the unrestricted right to abortion. Instead, it is struggling to find an argument that is consonant with their present focus on race-based injustice as the through line for all social and political debate.
Amid the predictable race-and-gender based invective against the three white men among the five-justice majority indicated by the leaked draft, there is a discernible effort to steer the discussion away from the issue at hand. We are told that this decision will be quickly followed by reversals of the right to contraception access, state-sanctioned homosexual marriage, or interracial marriage. While there is no clear connection amongst these issues beyond a reliance on “substantive due process,” implication is that the Left would prefer to deflect from talking about abortion itself toward more comfortable subjects.
But abortion, even for its proponents, involves very specific ideas about when a human fetus becomes worthy of protection by the state, and the dubious notion of “viability.” It involves distasteful realities that cannot be elided via euphemism. Today’s abortion rights absolutists insist on a right to terminate a developing fetus well past the point of “viability,” and become incensed by any mention of what would be involved in terminating a fetus at 40 weeks.
While abortion remains one of the few issues still framed by progressives as central to the interests of “women” in the old sense, it is also one of the few issues in which race cannot be centralized and the logic of disparate impact cannot be readily employed. The reality that black women get more abortions per capita than anyone else would be widely known if abortion supporters thought it supported their case. But mentioning the prolific number of terminated black pregnancies is not a politically palatable injustice to raise in defending legal abortion.
Fewer black births may not be the intended result of those in favor of upholding Roe, but it was an explicit desire for early American advocates of family planning, including Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg alluded to the eugenic roots of abortion in a 2009 interview, when she remarked that, “at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
As noted in the leaked draft, many of the favorite arguments of pro-abortion activists have grown stale. Single mothers are no longer stigmatized in America in any significant way; about a third of children under 18 live in single-parent households, 75 percent of which are headed by mothers. An astounding 72 percent of black American households are single-parent, so the implied suggestion in the old pro-Roe arguments that single-parenthood is less than optimum is a fraught third rail for abortion advocates, who don’t want to be seen as stigmatizing a way of life that characterizes most black children.
As for employment-related consequences for working mothers, women are protected from employer discrimination based on pregnancy, paid family leave is increasingly common. There are protections for women who wish to give up a child they don’t wish to raise themselves, and adoptions are closely monitored and potential adoptive parents extensively vetted.
Even the reliable slogan, “My Body, My Choice” has lost some of its logical grip, given the recent dedication to vaccine mandates by many of the same activists alarmed by the return of abortion regulation to the states. Indeed, the standby position of the feminist movement, that abortion laws are designed to control women’s bodies, becomes “problematic” for a Democrat party that asserts men can become pregnant, too. California Governor Gavin Newsom forgot this new doctrine when repeating a trope popular among older abortion enthusiasts, “If men could get pregnant, this wouldn’t even be a conversation.” And so the preferred euphemism employed by Democrats for decades when discussing abortion, “women’s health,” is invalidated two ways: abortion is obviously not healthy, and according to the Left’s own standards, it’s not exclusive to women.
But the most problematic aspect of dusting off their old pro-abortion talking points is the lack of a racial angle. The Democrat Party is struggling to portray the opponents of mass abortion in the black community as white supremacists. But complaining that blacks will lose access to a system facilitating the large-scale erasure of their pregnancies does not strike the right note. Worrying that lack of access to abortion in the later trimesters will result in more “unwanted” children (disproportionately black) begs the question of who doesn’t want them. Liberal economist Steven Levitt famously argued that legal abortion led directly to a reduction in the crime rate a generation later; blacks may not be quite as enthused at this clever approach to crime reduction as the Freakonomists.
Many abortion advocates have objected to a potential overturn of the “settled” issue of abortion. But even as blacks continue to experience abortions at a rate that elsewhere might be described by progressives as a disparate impact, the overall abortion rate in the U.S. is falling. The abortion rate increased from 1973, the year of the Roe decision, to 1980, but never reached that level again and is now lower than at any time since Roe. One might infer that the popularity of abortion with the American people is not completely settled.
The vehemence of the arguments in its favor has never been able to conceal the reality that abortion is deeply unpleasant. The Mississippi law referenced in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health prohibits abortion after 15 weeks. It is not a heartbeat law, as heartbeats are discernible much earlier. The 15-week standard comes from the understanding that most abortions after 15 weeks require “dilation and evacuation procedures which involve the use of surgical instruments to crush and tear the unborn child.” It is no surprise that advocates shy from discussing these devilish details.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.