HOW ABOUT EVERYONE AGREE WITH ME INSTEAD?

In light of the anniversary of Roe, you'll be thrilled to know that William Saletan has an exciting idea for advancing the abortion debate. The solution is: everyone should just concede that William Saletan is right about everything!

To pro-choicers: Talk about abortion the way you've been talking about teen sex, embracing an ideal number of zero. To pro-lifers: Accept that the best way to advance toward zero is through voluntary prevention.

On the latter point, I suppose it would be nice if American "pro-lifers" were more concerned about protecting fetal life than regulating female sexuality, but alas you go to war with the reactionaries you have. While we wait for the forced pregnancy lobby to abandon criminalization and focus instead on contraception access and health care I'll take a pony and an ice cream castle in the air. Saletan's advice to pro-choicers, similarly, fails to explain how arguing that abortion is icky will help advance an argument for its legalization, and also fails to explain why people who don't already should agree with Saletan's moral intuitions.

In a new moralistic twist, however, pro-choicers are supposed not only to claim that the ideal number of abortions is zero, but that the ideal amount of teen sex sex is zero! The former is at least narrowly true; I guess it would be nice if the number of abortions was zero in the sense that it would be nice if the number of appendectomies was zero. But in the real world unwanted pregnancies will happen just as burst appendixes will happen, so talking about an ideal abortion rate of 0% can do nothing expect undermine the case for keeping it safe and legal. Why I'm supposed to be outraged that 17 year-olds are having sex, on the other hand, is beyond me, and Saletan doesn't help by providing, say, an argument for this position apart from citing Nancy Keenan's unfounded assertions. I might agree that the ideal rate of teen pregnancy -- and, for that matter, unwanted pregnancy -- is zero, and while we're at it I'll take three ponies and the next four winning Powerball tickets.

For bonus wankery, Saletan praises what was perhaps last year's most disingenuous argument for forced pregnancy:

Last year, in a New York Times op-ed, journalist Melinda Henneberger (now a Slate contributor) argued that public sentiment against abortion was hurting Democrats. "Most people differentiate between a fetus in the early weeks of development and at nearly full term," she wrote, citing the party's defense of partial-birth abortions.

It's remarkably how much wrongness can be packed into so little space. First of all, "partial birth" abortions do not just occur "at nearly full term," and in fact bans on the procedure proscribe even the ones that take place before viability, which is why pro-choicers who actually know what they're talking about opposed them. Secondly, neither Saletan nor Henneberger have any argument for their claim a D&X is more morally problematic than a D&E performed at the same time of gestation, most likely because such a distinction is transparently irrational. And finally, neither Saletan nor Henneberger provide any evidence that being pro-choice causes a net loss of votes for the Democratic Party. But when you remember that Saletan actually argued that the Democratic Party's position must be unpopular unless they win pretty much every single election -- they're all, apparently, referenda on abortion, even the ones held during wartime! -- bare assertion is probably the better approach.

--Scott Lemieux

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