Ethics: January 2006 Archives

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.

Kate Michelman's Testimony

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I was following along with Kate Michelman's testimony at the Alito confirmation hearings, thinking her story presents a fairly hard case for the pro-life position. She and her three girls were abandoned by her husband, and she was forced to go on welfare. She then discovered she was pregnant and after much soul-searching decided to get an abortion. She had to sit before a committee who asked her offensive questions before she could be permitted to have an abortion, and they then required her to find the husband who had abandoned her and ask his permission to have an abortion, a truly demeaning situation to be in. I had no problem seeing what she was saying as a strong consideration for allowing abortion (not that I'm convinced that even in her case it's morally ok, but perhaps it's a reason for legally allowing it in such cases).

But then she just went loopy. She claimed that Alito had no consideration for people like her in his Casey ruling. She said that he would have forced people like her to do exactly the sort of thing she had to do before Roe. But people like her weren't involved in the law in question. She was abandoned by her husband. In those cases, spousal notification was clearly not required by the law in question. It was explicit about that. She also ignores the distinction between spousal notification and spousal permission. She was forced by law to get permission from her husband who had abandoned her. The law Alito said would not have created an undue burden simply required a woman to tell her husband that she was doing it. He wouldn't have to agree that it was right. He wouldn't have to give her permission. As far as the law was concerned, he could forbid it, and she could still have the abortion. Isn't it slander to make morally evaluative claims of someone in a public forum based on misrepresentations of the facts? Whatever her situation as a young woman was, if she's so unconcerned about the truth that she'll cover it over for the sake of political results then in this context she's going to have a hard time retaining my sympathy. She undermines her whole story designed to earn sympathy when she demonstrates how far she is willing to go in service of evil. Someone can have a hard time earlier in life, but it doesn't justify false testimony.

It also doesn't justify an entire career focused on making abortion an absolute right no matter the circumstances but trying to promote that through a public face that spekas mostly of hard cases like her own. This instance of serious misrepresentation of the facts behind some serious moral issues is not just an isolated case with Judge Alito. This is the standard pattern of most pro-choice activists, and her testimony is simply one example of the sort of deception usually involved in that movement as a whole. I'm not questioning her motives. I think her desire is generally good but misguided. What she places of highest value is something that I think is of lower value than the right to life. But that's a disagreement on a moral question. People can disagree on those. What angers me is that her public argument is usually to bring out her difficult case as if it's a reason for allowing abortion-on-demand and a reason to criticize anyone who seeks (or even allows, as in this case) any restrictions on abortion in any circumstances. That's intellectually dishonest.

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