Abortion and the 'Mainstream

Author: Joseph Sobran

Celebrate Life May-June 1995, p. 39


copyright 1995 Joseph Sobran

PRESIDENT CLINTON HAS often said that abortion should be "safe, legal-- and rare." This is a way of endorsing legal abortion while maintaining a stance of, if not disapproval, at least a slight moral reservation, becoming to a "New Democrat." Hillary Clinton too has said flatly that abortion is "wrong."

Yet early this winter, after the resignation of Joycelyn Elders as Surgeon General, Mr. Clinton appointed an abortionist to replace her. There was some confusion at first as to whether Dr. Henry Foster had performed "only" one abortion, or fewer than a dozen, or several dozen, or even several hundred--as if the important distinction lay between these numbers. The only distinction that matters lies between zero and one.

Even so, Dr. Foster told "Nightline": "I abhor abortion." Clearly the administration sensed that most of the country abhors it too. Most Americans who want to keep it legal also feel that it should be barely tolerated, not blessed or encouraged or sanctified as a "right."

Contrary to pro-abortion propaganda, even the Supreme Court did not declare abortion a right, let alone a "fundamental constitutional right." In Roe v. Wade, it merely said that there is a penumbral right of privacy, which, in the absence of definitive scientific proof that a human fetus is a human being, covers a woman's decision to abort. By implication, this extension of the right of privacy might be rolled back by further scientific knowledge. So the "right" to abort was highly contingent--hardly "fundamental."

The Court's reasoning was so jerry-built that even many constitutional scholars who favor legal abortion find it embarrassing. They don't put it this way, but the seven-man majority was obviously determined to impose legal abortion on the entire country by any means necessary. The liberty to abort is nowhere in the Constitution, but it was very much in the air--the very thin air the justices were breathing.

In effect the Court struck down the abortion laws of all 50 states, the most liberal as well as the most restrictive. Its ruling meant that not a single state had ever interpreted the Constitution properly. Unlike most rulings, in which one state, or a few, may be found to be out of line with the Constitution, this ruling found all the states at all times out of line--out of line with a devious bit of reasoning that had never been heard before!

Furthermore, no previous justice of the Court itself, throughout its history, had ever suggested that any of these 50 laws were at odds with the Constitution. The very idea was so novel as to be bizarre. It had nothing to do with the Constitution; it was simply a whim, reflecting the current liberal agenda.

But when the White House saw the Foster nomination in trouble, it went on the attack. It smeared opponents of the nomination as "extremists." It argued that Foster, after all, had merely performed a "legal procedure" a few times.

If any reasoning could be stranger than that of Roe itself, it was this. The Court had professed to be neutral, even agnostic, about the morality of abortion, more or less as it claims neutrality about religion. Supposedly we were left free to disapprove of abortion.

Now the White House was arguing that because abortion is legal, it should also be regarded as moral. And those who persisted in defending the morality that had formed the consensus of the country before Roe --a morality the Clintons themselves ambiguously profess to share-- were now "extremists"! Vice President Albert Gore, who not long ago publicly opposed legal abortion, joined the campaign against the "extremists" who still believe what he himself used to avow. Dr. Foster too was soon denouncing his opponents as "right-wing extremists."

The White House campaign rode on a larger media campaign to read pro- lifers out of the "mainstream" and confine them to the margin of public life. The news media, which like the Court profess neutrality, actually try to limit political participation to those whose views fall within a range they consider acceptable. Those within that range are the "mainstream"; those outside are "extremist." And, as with the old Communist party line, today's mainstream may become tomorrow's extremism.

Unfortunately, this campaign isn't just political. Politics itself is no longer "just political." The media now seek to change the very morality of the West, or what used to be called "Christendom." They promote the "New Morality" and demand virtual approval of it from everyone. So a seemingly technical ruling of the Supreme Court is expanded into a moral orthodoxy and abortion has moved from the back alleys to the White House. Even the "conservative" "Wall Street Journal" editorialized that it would be unfortunate if the uproar over the Foster nomination meant that nobody who had ever performed an abortion could ever hold public office.

And so a crime has become a right, defense of the innocent has become extremism, and abortionists have become respectable citizens, eligible for national leadership.


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