Bench Memos

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In Washington, Barack Obama could easily pass as Senator from the state of NARAL — the National Abortions Rights Action League. He has voted against every abortion restrictive bill to cross his path, including several which would sought to relieve taxpayers of the obligation to fund what many of them consider to be murder.

Obama may therefore have surprised a few people (perhaps especially over at NARAL) on Friday, when he declared that he is not — repeat: NOT — pro-abortion. No one is pro-abortion, he declared. “Abortion is never a good thing.”

But not so bad, either. When he was an Illinois State Senator, Obama voted against an infanticide ban (in cases where a baby was born during an attempted abortion), because — he said — the ban might chill women’s right to abortion.

The law passed anyway. An identical federal law passed with overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle. In my presence during a House hearing on that bill, one Democrat who proclaimed himself the “most pro-choice person on the face of the earth” declared his support. Common sense told him, he said, that once the baby is born, that’s it — it can’t be killed. Common sense might even tell someone who believes that abortion is never a good thing that chilling it just a bit — by banning infanticide — might be OK. But, then, Obama is a uniter, not a divider.

According to the report Obama thinks that he has nonetheless earned the support of pro-lifers. “It may be that those who have opposed abortion get a sense that I’m listening to them and respect their position even though where we finally come down may be different.”

But what could it mean for an abortion zealot like Obama to”respect” the pro-life “position”? I have no “respect” for the flat-earth “position,” precisely because I think it has no more validity than Obama thinks the pro-life “position” has.

Obama may really mean that he has “respect” for pro-life PEOPLE notwithstanding his utter rejection of their “position.” But this is hard to fathom, too.

Obama was recently quoted as saying that he would not oppose his daughter’s having an abortion. Why? He would not want to “punish” her for her mistake by saddling her with a baby. Why, would Obama — or anyone else — “respect” a “position” which visits such “punishment” on girls unhappily pregnant.

Obama’s posturing may seem peculiar. But it is not unusual, and certainly not original. It is the standard liberal bait-and-switch on abortion. This trick has two steps. First, Obama changes the object of the discussion — and of any nearby legal right — from the deadly act of abortion to the indvidual’s faculty of choice.

But this move has now all the zip of a Henny Youngman one-liner (“Take my wife, please!”). To see why, conduct this experiment. Stand in front of a mirror. Bring to mind now, not abortion, but slavery, or running illegal migrants across the border in sweltering containers, or, even, Michael Vick’s dogs. Now talk the way Obama does about abortion. I promise that you will lose “respect” for your own “position” within minutes.

Second, following in a long line of liberal academics (see, for example, John Rawls’s infamous abortion footnote in his book, Political Liberalism), Obama wants to make the abortion discussion into a bull session about us. The important matters have nothing to do with abortion (or slavery or Michael Vick). The key questions are: How are WE getting along? Do WE respect one another, despite our disagreements? Does each one of us, at the end of the day, believe that our positions have been treated as the positions of citizens of a democracy ought to be treated?

If Obama seeks unity in the abortion debate, it is the unity of those who are not at risk. His unity is thus scripted: “I see that you favor infanticide, while I just cannot agree. Bloody awkward for those babies, I suppose. But I am so glad that we talked; I even noticed that you were listening. Thank you, ol’chap. Merlot or Chardonnay?”

Pro-life folks want to save lives. It is not about them.

It is all about equality of respect for the unborn. I know many more pro-life people than Barack Obama. I am certain that almost all of them would sacrifice the respect that others have for them and their positions if, by doing so, they could save a single baby’s life.

Barack Obama will not succeed in “uniting” pro-lifers to himself. His achievement is different but still impressive: he has expertly melded staleness with silliness in the one abortion riff. His message is this shop-worn invitation: “Pro-lifers of the world unite — with me. Throw off your yokes, for our burden may be made easy. The way is narrow but well-marked: stop worrying about those you call unborn babies. Let us talk some more and listen some more. And then call it a good day.”


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