THE FORCED PREGNANCY...

THE FORCED PREGNANCY JUSTIFICATION THAT DARES NOT SPEAK ITS NAME: Jill Filipovic finds noted crank Bill Napoli arguing that "[i]f you vote to repeal [South Dakota's unconstitutional abortion ban], you'll be voting for the death of 800 babies that didn't have anything to do with rape or incest" and "[i]f you love babies, and see those cute little babies in the park, grocery store, mall, or cafe, think very carefully about your vote to repeal." Napoli (of "sodomized virgins" fame) is trying to argue that -- while he supports a rape or incest exemption -- a draconian ban is better than no ban. But his defense of these positions is rife with the kind of gross illogic and internal inconsistency that are endemic to the American anti-choice movement. First of all, in terms of moral standing no fetuses (or "babies") have anything to do with "rape or incest" -- their mothers may be victims of these acts, but that's a different issue. (Which is reflected in the fact that nobody thinks that infanticide should be legal if a child was conceived through rape or incest.) And his second comment proves rather too much. If you goal is maximizing the number of cute babies you see in the park, you should focus your efforts on banning contraception, not abortion.

All of this silly question-begging and diversion is necessary, of course, because 1) abortion bans without rape and incest exemptions aren't popular even in states as conservative as South Dakota, but 2) such exemptions are transparently indefensible if your justification for abortion is that fetuses are the moral equivalent of children. Which is the problem with support for rape and incest exemptions: it gives away the show. They fatally undermine the only legitimate justification for abortion bans. Via Quaker at Crescat Sententia, consider Jim Talent's feeble question-dodging on Meet the Press this weekend:

MR. RUSSERT: Then why do you favor exemptions in abortion law for rape�exceptions for race�rape, incest or, or life of mother? If it's a human being, why are you allowing the taking of that life?

SEN. TALENT: OK. Well, I've, I've supported those exemptions over the years. It's a situation where the pregnancy was not voluntary, and I think the law ought to draw a different balance under those circumstances. But as I said before, I mean, I support...

Aha. Talent, needless to say, doesn't explain which factors he's balancing, but note that it's not the moral status of the fetus but the moral status of the mother that changes; reproductive rights attach in this case, apparently, because a woman who is a rape victim isn't engaging in moral behavior that Jim Talent disapproves of. Which serves to remind us, again, that the policies generally favored by the American pro-life movement display considerably more commitment to regulating female sexuality than to protecting fetal life. Republican politicians have to dance around questions like this (as well as the question of what legal sanctions should be applied to women who according to Talent are committing murder) because using legal coercion to promote reactionary sexual mores is a foolish (and politically unsalable) position, and whatever the superficial appeal very few people are willing to accept the consequences that logically flow from the claim that a fetus and baby are morally comparable. Under such conditions, keeping abortion legal makes far more sense than using bad arguments to prop up irrationally constructed and arbitrarily enforced legislation, even if you find pro-life moral premises more compelling than I do.

--Scott Lemieux

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