You know the real problem with the fierce public debate over Roe v. Wade? Roe v. Wade.
Now, granted, the public overwhelmingly supports the basic tenets of Roe v. Wade, but they also want compromise on it, and the only reason they don’t support getting rid of the decision that guarantees abortion rights is that they think that such a step would get rid of abortion rights. Which is, of course, ridiculous.
Thus is the argument of John Schwenkler, via Ross Douthat, and believe it or not, that’s the smarter part of it.
First, it misses the point because if the pro-life position on abortion is unpopular, then so is the pro-choice one; or rather, each is unpopular under certain descriptions and popular under others, in ways I’ll make more precise in just a moment.
So, despite the majority of the American public being pro-choice, they’re actually not if I just say it a certain way. Like, for instance, “the Nazi skullfucking of innocent babies”. Nobody supports that…except the New York Yankees! (Fucking C.C. Sabathia-purchasing motherfuckers.)
When you look at the polling on the issue, what you see is that while there may be a slightly higher preference for the “Always Legal” position than the “Never Legal” one, both of those positions together only make up somewhere between a quarter and a third of the electorate, the vast majority of which occupies the mushy territory in the middle.
Which is true. But Roe v. Wade doesn’t allow for abortions to be “Always Legal”. The “mushy territory” is, well, Roe.
But – and this is the crucial observation here – the first of these views just is the view of the Democratic Party, since so long as Roe v. Wade and the body of jurisprudence that follows in its wake remains in place it is necessarily the law of the land that there can be no meaningful abortion restrictions whatsoever.
Which, of course, explains Planned Parenthood’s Black Friday special on abortions 35 weeks and later. (Free Wiis for the first ten women!) The problem with having a discussion on a “compromise” position on abortion rights is that one side appears to not know – or care, or seek to care or know – what the rights guaranteed by Roe are, or how a fetus/embryo relates to an actual human being, or how a woman’s body works, or anything except that Democrats are extremist murderers, as compared to the far more civil moderate murderers that apparently make up the bulk of our “mushy” electorate.
And so to the extent that the GOP is the anti-Roe party while the Democrats represent the pro-Roe constituency, it is the latter position that is in fact the extreme one, while the former position is itself a mild step that is pretty much a prerequisite to the sort of compromise that Freddie suggests pro-lifers should be agitating for. (On which more, again, in just a moment.)
As we all know, the perfect position for compromise on the scope of a given right is first abolishing that right, then working up from there to a position where the right mainly doesn’t exist, except for the parts where it also doesn’t exist, but in a way that reaches out to the middle. There’s no world in which you can reach a compromise on the nature of a thing by acceding to the side that argues it shouldn’t exist. You don’t reach a compromise on where the couch should go by burning the couch and then claiming that your position allows for a clean start.
Secondly, however, the above observation is complicated by the way voters respond to questions about abortion rights when they are couched in terms of Roe itself: somewhere between a half and two-thirds of the electorate seems to be committed to the claim that Roe should not be overturned, despite the fact that such a position is directly at odds with many of those voters’ commitment to the need for legal restrictions on abortion rights and the fact that Roe rules such restrictions out of court.
We can presume two things here: voters know what they’re talking about and want a legal and expansive right to abortion for all women, and want to work from there towards a tailored set of abortion rights that respect that basic impulse, or they’re too stupid to breathe.
Put slightly differently, and by way of an entirely reasonable bit of speculation about the source of this inconsistency, the point is that the pro-life position on Roe is one that is unpopular only because voters think that overturning Roe would mean eliminating abortion rights altogether, whereas in reality it would make possible exactly the sorts of compromises that most voters claim to want.
Too stupid to breathe it is. Voters think this because IT IS TRUE. There are already dozens of state laws ready to go into effect if Roe is overturned that would entirely outlaw abortion, and it would almost certainly be curtailed beyond recognition in many of the other states. Without something saying that abortion rights exist, I say again, you are left compromising from a position where there is nothing left to compromise over.
Thirdly, and bringing both of these points together, I for one would be happy to see conservatives couch their arguments against Roe (or for a constitutional amendment that would disembowel it, on which topic see my exchange with reader Ed Baird toward the bottom of the comments here) in terms of the sorts of federalist or possibility-of-compromise language that I’ve been using here, but the fact is that I think Ross was right when he recently remarked (somewhere; I can’t find the reference) that such a position would be politically untenable because it would jettison the support of the “extreme” pro-lifers whose dollars and voices presently keep the movement going.
This would make sense, because you’re attempting to describe a pro-life position in a way that makes absolutely no sense in order to convince a pro-choice majority that the only reason they are that majority is because (deep breath here) they’re mistakenly convinced that they need to support abortion rights in order to maintain the rights that they support lest they be taken away by a position which advocates taking them away, but actually just wants to compromise by first taking them away…and then compromising.
But if Freddie and others like him would really like to work toward some sort of compromise, the fact is that the first step will have to come from the Left, not by way of hollow talk of “reducing the need for abortions” (imagine if Civil Rights leaders were told to focus their attention only on the “underlying causes” of racism!), but by working to actualize the sorts of legal frameworks that would make genuine compromise – that is to say, the sorts of late-term-with-exceptions restrictions that Americans overwhelmingly support – possible.
Here’s the problem with the civil rights argument – the pro-choice side is arguing for rights. The anti-choice side is arguing against rights. In this formulation, if the anti-choice side is the embodiment of the civil rights leaders, it would be like Martin Luther King asking us to do away with the Constitution, and then coming to a “common-sense compromise” that allowed for full civil rights for African Americans…but insisting that getting rid of the Constitution for a little bit wouldn’t cause any problems whatsoever. For anyone.
Martin Luther King would never have done this, obviously, because Martin Luther King wasn’t a babbling idiot.
At some point, the conservative movement must come to the realization that it exists as it exists. It is not some great force for conciliatory good outwitted by nefarious liberals’ ability to brainwash the masses, and it doesn’t mean that you can deny the obvious results of your action because you need a way to avoid blame for your own incompetence. We are not going to have a debate over women’s rights from ground zero, and then pretend that we can meet in a middle that recognizes and endorses a view which says there is no middle ground to be had.
The Republican Party being in trouble does not mean that the rest of America has become simpering idiots.