June 10, 2015

The news that the number of abortions being performed has declined has ignited a debate about who deserves the political credit. Are abortions declining because of legal restrictions on the practice enacted in red states across the country, or are they down due to increasing use of contraceptives and sex education? Is this good political news for the pro-choicers or the pro-lifers? Enter Jeff Jacoby who, in his latest Boston Globe column, argues that young Americans are less inclined to get abortions thanks to the efforts of those who have pushed gruesome images of aborted fetuses and distorted the issue by pretending that all abortions, at any stage of pregnancy or for any reason, are morally and legally equivalent. The pretense of moral equivalence is juvenile. The pretense of legal equivalency is flat stupid.

Jacoby writes, that millennials have “grown up amid the grim images of abortion and its aftermath. For many, the willful destruction of life in the womb seems less an act of “reproductive freedom” than an act of violence against an innocent victim. All of them know someone who has had a legal abortion; they need only look in a mirror to see someone else who could have been lawfully aborted.” He continues, “It has been a long time since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in every state, and, in the companion case of Doe v. Bolton, effectively proclaimed a right to destroy an unborn baby at any stage of pregnancy. But making abortion lawful didn’t make it right.”

Anyone looking for actual evidence to support Jacoby’s spin here will be sorely disappointed. What the Globe’s resident anti-intellectual has done here is combine a bunch of narrowly true statements about polling data with tired old wingnut spin about abortion. He is trying to use good news (i.e. fewer women are choosing to have abortions) to justify some of the religious right’s most contemptible political propaganda. In fact, there is zero evidence that abortion rates are declining because anti-abortion zealots have paraded gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses. Nor did the Court proclaim (effectively or otherwise) “a right to destroy an unborn baby at any stage of pregnancy” in Doe v. Bolton. It proclaimed that doctors, not lawyers, have the authority to make decisions about how a pregnancy impacts a patient’s health and to base their medical decisions on medical science, not politics or religion.

Jacoby brings his own particular brand of exaggeration to the argument with the assertion that “all” millennials “know someone who has had a legal abortion” and are aware (thanks to the efforts of anti-abortion propagandists) of the fact that, they too “could have been lawfully aborted.” Really Jeff!?! I know there is no systematic evidence for these melodramatic assertions, and I’d bet that I have talked to a lot more young people about this issue than Jeff has and I can assure you that they don’t all know someone who has had an abortion and few if any dwell on the possibility that they could have been aborted. I’m guessing Jeff hoped this kind of naked stupidity would benefit from or be camouflaged by its proximity to his recitation of statistics from public opinion polls.

Jacoby’s assertion that “making abortion lawful didn’t make it right” is what I call “self-righteous stupid.” It’s a juvenile way of implying something illogical, in this case that support of abortion rights requires one to see abortion as a virtuous act rather than a horrible choice to have to confront, by asserting something that is logical in the abstract, but contextually irrelevant or absurd. It’s akin to the stupid that sees the pregnancy of a pro-choice leader as evidence against the pro-choice policy position and the kind of stupid that sees snow storms as evidence against the science of global warming.

So, if you are interested in probing the causes of the recent good news about abortion in America Jeff Jacoby’s latest column will not be helpful. The proposition that pro-life activists have played a role in bringing about this good news, however, is not stupid. Surely, it’s a debatable claim. Jacoby could have written a thoughtful column on how some anti-abortion activism is deserving of some credit. He could even have offered a “means justify the ends” type of argument; that the ugly, ignoble variety of anti-abortion propaganda has, nonetheless, contributed to the decline in abortion, but by pretending that it is righteous and morally virtuous to peddle distortions (logical, medical, and legal) all Jacoby is doing is trying to “put lipstick on a pig.”

Jeff Jacoby, Abortion, Doe v. Bolton, Roe v. Wade

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