Politics & Policy

Ground Zero for Human Rights

New York can set us free.

In New York City, 41 percent of babies are aborted.

It’s even worse than that, actually.

As the Chiaroscuro Foundation has pointed out, “The Bronx has the highest abortion-to-live-births ratio with 48 percent, and 60 percent of African-American pregnancies in New York City were aborted in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available. In a ten-year period beginning in 2000, more than 900,000 pregnancies in the city ended in abortion — nearly one-eighth of the entire city population of just over 8 million.”

Abortion, of course, is a hot-button word, bringing up all kinds of emotions for all kinds of people.

Though legal, it’s generally not considered a good. Which is why groups that advocate its ease of access — and expansion — typically go to great lengths to avoid the actual A-word.

And, even though we may tend to avoid the subject at the dinner table and in political speech, there are some areas of consensus. For instance, even enlightened, progressive New Yorkers are shocked by the 41 percent statistic. Earlier this year, McLaughlin & Associates found that 64 percent of New Yorkers think that number is shockingly high — and even 57 percent of self-identified pro-choice women agree.

So what to do? That’s a multi-layered panoply of a million-dollar question if there ever was one. But let’s start here: For as long as abortion is legal, how can a woman in difficult circumstances truly have a choice not to be forced into one out of a sense of economic necessity?

Fortunately, there is an answer. If you live in New York, call the office of the Catholic archbishop. Timothy Dolan, installed as archbishop two years ago, has renewed a promise of that great defender of human life, the late John Cardinal O’Connor: If you are pregnant and you need help, the Catholic Church will help you.

The Catholic Church has faced its well-publicized setbacks, but deep in the heart of its ongoing renewal is its commitment to the most innocent among us. It was a priority of the recently beatified Pope John Paul II, whose superior communication skills, exuding fearlessness and love, expressed the reality that abortion is far from simply a hobbyhorse of the Catholic Church. It is the premier human-rights issue of our day. And it’s an issue of basic fairness. Do you get a shot at life or not?

In the awful numbers in New York, we have both a crisis and, to borrow an approach, an opportunity. Part of that opportunity is to insist, as John Paul II was wont to, on a little truth.

Something significant just happened in the House of Representatives, where a basic promise was kept — one of the pledges the House Republican leadership made in last fall’s campaign.

Shortly after its Easter recess, the House passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. With that, the pro-life majority in the House bipartisanly made a talking point of many a legal-abortion advocate true: It voted to codify the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion. But the long-standing Hyde Amendment is actually a narrow funding restriction, which does not apply to all federal funding. If the House bill were to pass the Senate, the president would be presented with a bill that would, for once, cover all federal funding, permanently. It actually was not any dramatic attack on women’s rights, as the pro-choice crowd claimed, but a conscience protection for the American taxpayer who doesn’t want to be financially contributing to abortion.

And yet it was “appalling,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee insists. EMILY’s List, which supports “pro-choice” candidates for office, warns that it is a precursor to the looming “Dark Ages,” and that it is “only one heinous facet of [House Republicans’] war on women.”

Actually, it’s mainstream.

Just as it’s mainstream to want abortion to be rare, or Bill Clinton wouldn’t have used the word and expressed the sentiment.

An under-the-radar book last fall, Beyond a House Divided: The Moral Consensus Ignored by Washington, Wall Street, and the Media, by Carl Anderson, made the point that at a time when eight in ten Americans want to significantly restrict the legality of abortion, Dark Ages rhetoric is pure nonsense. And that’s especially true when it is used about a fairly undramatic but significant piece of legislation. We are a people who, for goodness’ sake, value life. It’s in our national (and natural!) DNA; it’s in our founding documents. Even if the DNC has made different choices. So the least we can do is not fund abortion.

Even Democrats appreciate that, at least in a lot of their rhetoric. Maybe the debate over abortion funding can become a uniter instead of a divider.

“Man can get used to anything, the beast!” Raskolnikov observes in Crime and Punishment. Not anything. Not completely. Not yet. Even after 38 years of legal abortion, we’re not immune to its brutality. We want options. People like the folks at Good Counsel maternity homes in New York dedicate their lives to making sure women have options. So many of us — especially those whose lives have been changed by abortion — want men to know that they can support life, and that, besides ending a life, abortion will hurt the mother, the father, and many of the people around them. It has long been commonplace to insist that you’re personally opposed even when you advocate legal abortion.

In 1996, during the partial-birth-abortion debate, the late congressman Henry Hyde warned of “the coldness of self-brutalization that chills our sensibilities, deadens our conscience, and allows us to think of this unspeakable act as an act of compassion.” Therein lies a hopeful reality at a time of crisis for some of our most vulnerable: Outraged New Yorkers and a simple funding bill in the House are signs that we’re not dead yet.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.

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