Contra Frum
An argument within the family.


Hadley Arkes

In reporting to us that Rudy Giuliani shares an aversion to abortion, he tells us that Giuliani has declared “his personal revulsion at abortion.” Does David not recognize this as the old line of “personally opposed, but …”? That is, the line that treats an issue as a matter of personal feeling or personal taste and conspicuously not as a matter of moral judgment of right or wrong. Giuliani does not say, “I am personally opposed to racial discrimination, or the use of drugs, but who am I impose my personal revulsions on anyone else?” He treats those issues with the logic of a moral judgment, the judgment he conspicuously avoids here. This late in the seasons of our experience, why would David offer this argument with a straight face as though we were witless enough to be taken in by it? (Scene from a campaign among the Incas: “I’m personally opposed to child sacrifice, and I’d even offer people tax incentives to avoid it, but I’m not prepared to impose my judgment on them in place of their own, deep convictions.”)

Giuliani may indeed work to persuade people to choose adoption over abortion, and that would indeed be a good. But has Frum failed to notice that this approach leaves entirely undisturbed this governing premise: that we still confirm in the hands of people the freedom to destroy an innocent life, without the need to render a justification, or give any reason at all that rises above convenience.

If the American people come deeply to absorb that understanding, something will have altered for the worse in the American soul. And for David to ask us to acquiesce in these propositions, is to ask us to make ourselves suggestible to the understanding that abortion may indeed be addressed and understood as a matter wholly lacking in moral significance; a matter to be treated decisively as a matter of personal taste, with no need to justify to anyone else, the taking of an innocent life. I pose the question, then, from my piece: When we add these things up, do we not indeed find a move to induce the rest of us, in the style of Stephen Douglas against Lincoln, not to “care” too much about this issue, and put it in a secondary or peripheral place in the scale of our concerns. What part of that argument has David managed to dislodge?

As I noted in my own piece, I haven’t given up entirely on Rudy, for in slow steps he may yet take a turn. I suggested different things he might do to offer assurances to pro-lifers, as in the selection of a running mate, or an Attorney General. But since David must be in touch with the Giuliani camp, I would offer this suggestion, which he may try: No Republican White House, under Reagan or the two Bushes, has had a member of the staff who bears responsibility for devising and overseeing an integrated strategy on abortion. That is, there has been no one who has been assigned the distinct task of orchestrating a scheme of strategic steps, moving with a combination of executive orders and legislative measures, designed to put premises in place and advance, with each step, the cause of protecting life. Each Administration has people who can be in touch with the pro-life movement and go out in public occasionally to “make nice” to the pro-lifers. But Rudy could send a notable signal if he announces his intention to create a post of that kind, and appoint to it one of those notable lawyers who commands the respect of the Federalists and the pro-life movement. Then we could go forth with the sense that his heart and his head are truly in it.

— Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College, and one of the authors of the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act.