In the last week two very different sources seem to be saying the same thing. Small restrictions on abortion at the state level have significantly reduced the number of abortions in this country. In an article at the Heritage Foundation site, University of Alabama political scientist Michael New has addressed one problem in arguments for this conclusion. It's unclear if laws restricting abortion cause a drop in abortions or an underlying factor explains both the drop in abortions and the election of those who would pass such restrictions. In this case that underlying factor might be a value change in the populace. New's study compares laws that pass (and thus reflect the value change) but get overturned by courts (which don't reflect value changes) with laws that pass and remain on the books. It turns out that, even taking into account value change, there is enough of a decrease in the number of abortions to justify thinking that abortion restrictions do reduce the number of abortions.
Dawn Johnsen, law professor at Indiana University and former lawyer for the Clinton Administration official and NARAL, complains at Slate about exactly this effect. She thinks the senators have focused on entirely the wrong question at the Alito hearings. We shouldn't care so much about whether he would vote to overturn Roe outright. What we should care about is whether he will continue to allow such ridiculous restrictions as Sandra Day O'Connor has allowed in the past, e.g. allowing parents to have some role in the weighty moral decisions of their morally immature children, not allowing people to make such a grave choice in the spur of the moment except in emergency situations, ensuring that women who seek abortion have been made fully aware of all the options, and restricting a procedure that my pro-choice Norwegian friend (who is extremely liberal on any ethical issue you can name) calls the most vile procedure he's ever heard of.
What's strange is that she thinks these restrictions limit abortions as much as a criminal ban would. What's also strange is that she thinks reducing the number of abortions is a bad thing, as if abortion is good incarnate. She further thinks that women have a right to having the government make it extremely easy for them to attain an abortion. Otherwise it wouldn't be immoral on the part of the government for it merely to be a fact that the closest abortion clinic for some people is hundreds of miles away, as if the government not only has an obligation to allow abortion but has some further obligation to make sure it happens for anyone who wants it. Remember that the government has no obligation to preserve my life at all costs, just an obligation to protect it to the best of its ability. It doesn't have to pay for expensive operations to save my life simply because my insurance won't cover it. It doesn't have to hire a bodyguard for me to prevent me from being mugged. So why does it have to ensure that anyone who might want an abortion should get one if the basis for the right to abortion is simply that it's supposed to be wrong to restrict abortion in certain kinds of cases? Besides, don't hospitals routinely perform abortions for any reasons that are genuinely medical and thus not merely for convenience? It's simply false that lack of a nearby clinic means the unavailability of abortion.
This confirms my repeated claim that many liberals on abortion don't really mean it when they say they want abortion safe, legal, and rare. My chief evidence for this is that they don't support laws on the very restrictions that would contribute to its rarity. How can you think rare is a good thing while acting as if it's immoral simply to reduce the number of abortions? Not everything Johnsen says is of that form, but enough of her dissatisfaction with these restrictions seems to stem purely from the fact that these laws reduce the number of abortions. It's as if the mere presence of a desire to have an abortion makes that abortion a good thing and thus makes the world better as a result. I'm the first to insist that for many pro-choice people abortion is viewed as a necessary evil, but that just doesn't seem to be how many pro-choice leaders see things, and it seems Dawn Johnsen is in the latter category. With that sort of view, I think she's just going to be making the pro-life case for us. Given the assumption of the ordinary moderate that abortion is bad but sometimes necessary, most (but not all) of what Johnsen says is going to make these laws sound good. They have the right effect given the moderate pro-choice goal. I can't see that as helping her cause, and I think it just reveals how out of step with ordinary people the NARAL mindset really is.