Some Hopefully Non-Partisan Thoughts on Abortion

(Note that I will not here attempt to demonstrate that life, or "personhood," begins at conception or at birth. Obviously, the question of when "personhood" begins is the crux of this issue - and I won't directly address it. Nor will I address at all the issue of reproductive rights. That is why I hope this is "non-partisan." All I am trying to counter is the notion that people who believe life begins before birth cannot fight for that belief in the political arena. America, as a democracy, should allow all voices to be heard.)

A lot of the abortion debate doesn't really make sense to me.

Consider this professor's take on Sarah Palin's pro-life views: "...I object strongly when anyone (and especially anyone with political power) tries to take their theology out in public, to inflict those private religious (or sexual) views on other people."

As far as I can tell, what she is saying is not, technically, that Sarah Palin's belief that life begins before birth is wrong; she never addresses or refutes any claim of that kind. Rather, she disapproves of anyone who would impose a religious view upon someone else.

The conclusion that I must draw is that Professor Doniger believes Sarah Palin and other "pro-lifers" should not attempt to ban abortion, even if they think aborting fœtuses is wrong. This conclusion is not unique; in fact, it is echoed by many who personally believe abortion to be wrong but do not wish to impose upon the will of others.

Joe Biden summarizes the reasoning well: "I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society."

I find this reasoning to be terribly flawed.

Let us assume that I am walking down the street and see a murder taking place. The person being "murdered" is actually not a person at all, but a life-size doll. I, unfortunately, am unaware of that important fact. Should I deter the alleged murderer?

If I believe I am witnessing a murder - even if there is, in fact, no murder taking place - it is not only my "right" to "impose my will" upon the murderer by stopping him; it is my responsibility. You can argue, of course, with my assertion that a murder is actually taking place - but can you argue with my duty to prevent everything I believe to be murder?

If you cannot argue with that duty, I do not see how you can argue with the duty of those who believe personhood begins before birth to fight for the "unborn" - whether or not you agree with them.

It is true that "pro-choicers" believe "pro-lifers" are imposing their views upon women - and they are - but "pro-choicers" are themselves imposing their views upon millions of fœtuses. Clearly, imposition of will is not the problem. In fact, all law can be construed as an imposition of will. After all, we regularly impose our will upon would-be murderers, rapists, and thieves, because we believe murder, rape, and thievery are wrong.

But abortion is different, many say - because opposition to abortion is religious.

That is generally (but not necessarily) true. (One counterexample is Nat Hentoff, an atheist who is very critical of abortion.)

(Of course, it was also generally true of those who opposed slavery. In the 1800's, mostly Christian abolitionists mercilessly imposed their will on slaveholders, who saw it as their fundamental right to do whatever they wanted with their property.)

However, let us assume it is necessarily true; that is, let us assume that all opposition to abortion is religious. Then, the argument is that political opposition to abortion is groundless because it is religiously based.

Nowhere in the Constitution do I see anything which prohibits the influence of religious beliefs on public policy. Obviously, there are limitations on religion's influence on public policy - but, in this instance, no one is imposing religious beliefs on anyone else. Abortion is not a religious issue, but an ethical and social issue profoundly influenced by religion; the distinction is huge. No one is forcing anyone else to go to mass or to pray to Mecca five times a day. This is a far, far cry from "respecting an establishment of religion."

The Supreme Court itself had this to say in Harris v. McRae:
"Although neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally 'pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another'...it does not follow that a statute violates the Establishment Clause because it 'happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.' That the Judæo-Christian religions oppose stealing does not mean that a State or the Federal Government may not, consistent with the Establishment Clause, enact laws prohibiting larceny. The Hyde Amendment [an amendment banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortions], as the District Court noted, is as much a reflection of 'traditionalist' values towards abortion, as it is an embodiment of the views of any particular religion."
Supreme Court Justice David Souter, in an opinion of his concerning the First Amendment, stated that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion." Most people would agree with his assessment. So let me ask this question: If government is religiously "neutral," is it fair to privilege secular opinions on abortion over religious opinions? Should Sarah Palin's opinion be excluded simply because it is founded on religious belief? Can that be reconciled with Souter's statement?

I think not.

It is anyone's right to disagree with "pro-lifers" and to vote for the expansion or protection of reproductive rights. But to demand that those opposed to abortion recuse themselves from the political discussion, as Doniger does, seems unfair to me.


The Two Tax Plans

McCain's economists think McCain has the better tax plan.

So do Obama's.

(Online, of course, you can find criticisms of both tax plans.)

My question is this: If the economists can't agree on the economy, how can we?

(Tentative answer: Differences in economic goals - normative economics - are at least partially responsible for the deviation. Therefore, as a general rule, we can listen to the economists with whose normative judgments we agree.)

But seriously, the debt our government is racking up could be "catastrophic" - and I've seen non-partisan articles (which I can't find anymore) suggesting that either candidate would increase our deficit by trillions.

Mo' gov'ment, mo' problems.