In an article entitled Obama's Promise to Pro-Lifers, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne urges President-elect Obama to follow through on his promise to end four decades of political and cultural strife over abortion by proposing an intellectual package deal. Using the abortion issue as a cover, he calls for program after program aimed at making abortion “safe, legal and rare”, to quote President Clinton.
Here Mr. Dionne is conflating two different issues, while completely side-stepping the essential moral consideration of the abortion issue.
No where in this piece does Mr. Dionne tell us why abortion should be legal. Instead, he dances around this all-important question by calling for a myriad of new initiatives to make it “rare”…and then calls this a solution to “cultural and religious wars that have disfigured American politics for four decades.”
And here-in lies the key to his approach. Mr. Dionne calls for “appropriate education [for] our youth”, “helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby”, and “expanded health coverage for women and children, more child care, adoption help and income support for the working poor.” These are all worthwhile goals. But education, child care, health insurance, offering or accepting charity…these are all properly the province of individuals making uncoerced, personal judgements based on their own values and life circumstances.
But, in the classic collectivist tradition, Mr. Dionne simply assumes that our lives belong to the state…and proposes to confiscate other peoples’ earnings to pay for his pet causes…which means, expanded government control of our lives, especially children’s lives. By what right does anyone claim to usurp the responsibility of parents’ to educate and care for their children? By what right does anyone claim to force others to pay for his “solutions” or charitable causes? But the issue of rights…specifically, individual rights (the only kind that exist)…is the missing ingredient in Mr. Dionne’s entire argument.
The answer to the question Mr. Dionne evades…the why…can only be addressed by reference to individual rights. Specifically, a woman’s unalienable right to life…which means, the unfettered right to chart the course of her own life, to act upon her own judgement, in the pursuit of her own happiness. The profoundly personal, solemn decision on whether or not to terminate a pregnancy does not belong to “society”, the state, or any religious sect claiming to act on the “word of God”. Nor should it be subject to coercive pressure from a government (or politician) seeking to make abortion “rare”. It belongs solely to the woman whose body carries the unborn child. If it is not her decision…then whose decision is it?
But those same unalienable rights, possessed equally by all people, also forbids the kinds of wealth confiscation and extensive government interference into peoples’ lives implied by all of those programs he proposes to fulfill President Obama’s campaign promises. A government’s proper role is to protect individual rights, not to manipulate peoples’ lives by violating their rights. In a free society, anyone who opposes abortion and wishes to make it rare is free to engage in non-coercive social activism, based upon rational persuasion and public educational campaigns. Whatever assistance pregnant women seeking to avoid an abortion may need and desire, should be supplied only through the voluntary, uncoerced charity of people of genuine good will and generosity, and not through government coercion.
Mr. Dionne is being quite disingenuous here. He offers social conservatives a “deal”…or more specifically, an intellectual package deal. Give up your quest to legally ban abortion, and help us expand the welfare state. He proposes to defend his pro-choice position, by trampling the only moral justification for legal abortion…individual rights. This position is untenable. But Mr. Dionne simply employs that ever-present tool of all statists…evasion.
If Mr. Dionne really believed in keeping abortion legal, he should simply take the principled stand and state the obvious…it is a woman’s unalienable right.