I hadn't seen the wealthy urban male proposing to "solve" the abortion debate by letting anti-choicers win (hey, women he knows will be able to get abortions, so sho cares, right?) routine in its pure form for a while, but Damon Linker is back to the plate:

How could Obama -- how could liberals, how could supporters of abortion rights -- both win and end the culture war, once and for all? By supporting the reversal or significant narrowing of Roe, allowing abortion policy to once again be set primarily by the states -- a development that would decisively divide and demoralize the conservative side of the culture war by robbing it of the identity politics that holds it together as a national movement.

I've been through this many times before -- most comprehensively in the article linked at the top -- but to summarize some of the most obvious defects in Linker's argument:

  • The idea that overturning Roe would "return the issue to the states" is transparently wrong, and the idea that having constant legislative battles about banning abortion at the state and federal level would somehow "end the culture war" is bizarre.
  • Linker's claim that the pro-life movement was "conjured into being" by Roe is entirely false. Opposition to abortion legalization was very well-mobilized prior to 1973, which is why abortion was still illegal in most states with little immediate prospect for changing policy for the better. If the argument is that the movement expanded, this would seem to be the more trivial argument that winning creates more opposition. Linker's answer that it would therefore be better to lose seems...unconvincing.
  • Linker's grasp on abortion law seems, at best, tenuous. Consider his claim that "in socially liberal Western Europe, where democratically elected legislatures readily place modest restrictions on abortion that would never be allowed to stand under current American constitutional law." My first question: what "modest" restriction of abortion (aside from husband notification laws) would not be permitted under current American constitutional law? (Linker shows no awareness that Casey even exists.) My second question: Does Linker realize that when you consider all factors -- most notably state funding -- abortion is probably more accessible to women in many Western Europeam countries than in the U.S.? I fear he does not, and indeed has never spent much time considering how abortion policy actually works on the ground.
  • Another country Linker doesn't mention: Canada, where abortion is a federally protected right, abortion is both largely unregulated and state-funded, and yet policy has been stable and abortion is not a salient issue in national politics. And since it completely destroys his assertion that the "culture war" over abortion is solely the product of judicial intervention, I think you can understand why.

In addition to these kinds of problems, there's a broader question: why is the fact that people disagree over abortion supposed to be a bad thing, exactly? Politics is about conflict. So talk about "ending the culture war" doesn't make sense. But even if it was a viable and desirable goal, I'm certainly sure that extinguishing the aboriton rights of poor women in red states won't somehow end political conflict over abortion.

--Scott Lemieux

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