Mother Jones Misinforms, Rationalizes It

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Yesterday I noted that the Sanctity of Life Act, which Rep. Paul Ryan co-sponsored, did not criminalize abortion, let alone criminalize it with no exceptions for rape and incest. Buzzfeed, to its credit, corrected an article that had gotten this wrong.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones thinks that I’m being persnickety at best:

Why are extreme pro-lifers so skittish about their own beliefs? This is a bill that would give a fertilized egg “all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” There are (a) no exceptions for eggs fertilized by rapists or by your own father, and (b) Ryan is a cosponsor. Logic chopping aside, this means that Ryan has cosponsored a bill that has the plain intent of “effecting” a policy that allows states to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.

In fact, if this bill were passed and the Supreme Court upheld it, I’ll bet that a rapist could go to court and sue to prevent his victim from getting an abortion. He’d argue that the fetus was legally a human being, and the court has no power to discriminate between one human being and another. He’d probably win, too.

The second paragraph proves either that Drum is not a lawyer or that he is a really bad one. The first paragraph shows that he thinks “logic” is the same thing as “logic chopping.” The plain intent of the bill is to put Congress on record that legislatures should have policymaking authority over abortion so that they will use it to protect unborn life. I am perfectly open to the view that pro-lifers who make exceptions for rape and incest can’t make a coherent argument for that view. (Note, incidentally, that Drum’s argument assumes that the “extreme” pro-life view is the only pro-life view that can possibly be logically tenable; it is, in other words, simply “the pro-life view.”) The law doesn’t incorporate that understanding.

Does it matter, given that Ryan may well think that abortion should be banned even the rare cases of rape and incest? Well, yes, it matters, for two reasons. First, journalists ought to be accurate. Saying the law Ryan co-sponsored would ban abortion, let alone that it would ban abortion even in the rare cases of rape and incest, is inaccurate. Buzzfeed, at least, was able to grasp that. Second, it means that Ryan has not been quite as aggressive in the abortion wars as the false reporting suggests he has.

Many Republican politicians have supported Supreme Court justices who favor overturning Roe v. Wade. They never say that it should be mostly overturned but states should still be blocked from restricting abortions in the cases of rape and incest–even though, by and large, they support those exceptions to a ban themselves. I have never run across anybody making the claim that these politicians therefore support bans on abortions even in those cases–perhaps because it would be so obviously a false claim. There’s no difference in this case.

But Drum’s not done! He goes on:

In other abortion news, Stephanie Mencimer reports that the same bill would likely have the effect of making in-vitro fertilization illegal. My Twitter feed is full of outrage that Stephanie would say this, but what else can you conclude about the law? In IVF, multiple embryos are created, and only a few are used.

What you could conclude is that the law would put Congress on record in favor of legislatures’ having the authority to regulate IVF (though not to make it illegal). If, that is, you were into being accurate. Drum and Mencimer don’t appear to be.