I’ve always looked cockeyed at my Republican friends1 who’d in good faith argue for a states’ rights approach to the abortion question. Roe is a bad idea, they’d say, because it imposes certain coastal urban mores on the heartland where the more pious folk chafe under them. “This is exactly the kind of decision that ought to be made at the state level.”
Fine, I’d say, but what happens next? States where abortion is already a rarity would ban abortions, and states where they’re readily available today would vote to continue allowing them. As such, do you really think your religious colleagues under that big Republican tent of yours, invested as they are in the sanctity of unborn human life, would be satisfied?
Well, my favorite social conservative intellectual, Ross Douthat, has quite candidly fleshed out some of his thinking on the issue. As the cliché goes, read the whole thing. It’s very thought-provoking—and quite revealing. It’s certainly reinvigorated my thinking on the issue.
Three things jumped right out at me in Ross’s post. First: banning abortions requires completely scuttling the Republican Party as we know it today.
But over the short term, there’s no question that it would require conservatives to temporarily table many of their longstanding policy goals - from cutting illegitimacy rates to reducing welfare dependency to limiting the size of government – in the name of the pro-life cause.
Small-government Republicans are not an easily expendable faction within the party, are they? The blurb at Amazon for Douthat’s upcoming book intimates that he’d attempt to keep these types under the tent by ensuring that government is kept small despite its newly activist nature. I’ll withhold judgment on the likeliness of such a thing coming to pass until I’ve read the book. Suffice it to say for now, though, that Douthat’s vision is at minimum highly disruptive to party unity.
Next: pro-lifers have a utopian bent to them which I’ve never properly appreciated before.
Over the long run, my assumption is that a ban on abortion, by changing the incentives of sexual behavior and family formation, would actually end up reducing out-of-wedlock births, welfare spending, and all the rest of it, and that a short-term investment in a pro-life welfare state (and an acceptance of the short term spike in illegitimacy, dependency and government spending that would presumably accompany it) would prove a boon to conservatism in the end.
I just don’t know where to even begin with this, except to say that I 100% disagree with the analysis. The fundamental error is, as far as I can discern, the assumption that abortion is the key to solving out-of-wedlock births, welfare spending, “and the rest of it”. It’s as if Ross thinks that abortion is the root cause of many societal ills—that people could be much better off if they’d only be relieved of the ability to screw indiscriminately.
As those who know me personally will attest, I’m the last person to advocate for limitless individual liberty.2 But just like I don’t see the death penalty as a proper deterrent of violent crime, I don’t see “changing the incentives of sexual behavior” as a solution to promiscuity. Violent crime and illegitimacy are essential human realities. Not understanding this is pure utopianism—dangerous utopianism.
Which leads me to the final point: there’s a strain of Bolshevism in Ross’s pro-life stance which I’ve also not fully appreciated before.
And just as obviously, the scenario I just sketched out probably never come to pass; even if *Roe* disappears, I suspect that the country will settle into an equilibrium more pro-choice than pro-life, with more chances for experimentation with abortion policy but not all that many more. But if real opportunities do arise and the pro-life movement seizes them, I think it’s safe to say that the results will look, in policy and practice alike, unlike any abortion regime that now exists, or has ever existed before.
I agree that the country would opt for a pro-choice equilibrium if Roe were overturned—the ruling reflects a majority of the populace’s broad preferences. So what is Ross talking about with “opportunities arising” and the movement seizing them? Whatever he means, the end result would be a subversion of the popular will.3 This unexplored “abortion regime” is a chilling thing to ponder indeed.