Politics & Policy

The Imaginarium of Harry Blackmun

Demonstrators celebrate the Supreme Court abortion decision, June 27, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
The Supreme Court’s most recent contemptible decision

The Supreme Court has added another chapter to the body of law rooted in very little more than the imagination of Justice Harry Blackmun, who, with the assistance of a few of his fellow legal fantasists, delivered the constitutional right to abortion, Athena-like, from his head into the waiting world.

At issue were a number of regulations in the state of Texas governing abortion clinics and the meat-cutters employed therein. (Not meat? Then what?) Texas, with its relatively light regulatory regime, is sometimes regarded in the coastal cosmopoles as something between late-Seventies Hong Kong and the fever dreams of Ayn Rand, but it isn’t quite. Texas in fact regulates all sorts of things, some of them (mortgage lending) rather well. It also regulates health-care facilities, and abortion clinics, under the pretense that they are health-care facilities. Texas passed some rules: Surgeries were to be conducted in surgical facilities, and physicians performing serious medical procedures were obliged to have admitting privileges at nearby (30 miles or less) hospitals.

These regulations were aimed at inconveniencing abortionists, and they succeeded in doing so. The abortionists sued, and the Supreme Court, as it reliably does, stood with them. New acts of imagination were deployed to defend Justice Blackmun’s imaginary constitutional right to abortion. My lawyer friends, many of whom are brilliant, set about dissecting the arguments and conducting the usual exegetical exercises on the majority opinion and Justice Thomas’s dissent. They might as well have been arguing that their local astrologer made a mistake in his charts or that Madame Sosostris committed an error in interpreting her wicked pack of cards.

This is not a question of constitutional law, and it never has been. Not from the first. The issue is that some Americans, a non-trivial number of them, would rather put their unborn children to death than be burdened with the responsibilities of parenthood, even if they are only short-lived responsibilities. I myself was born about one trimester before Roe was decided, and, those being slightly more civilized times so far as parenthood was concerned, my adoption was (as generally was the case) arranged well before I was born, the transfer of custody happening on the third day after. Better that the young woman’s duties should be short-lived than that I should be, I think. Life went on for both of us.

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There is a great deal of dishonesty in the abortion debate, which is necessary: Otherwise, we’d be obliged to think about the horror of what we perpetrate and what we endure, and that would be very difficult. Instead, we hear a great deal about extraordinarily rare catastrophes of pregnancy, which are heart-hurting but which also are, in the vast majority of cases, entirely beside the point: These cases are as a statistical matter nearly nonexistent. Even the usual hedge offered by office-seeking pro-life Republicans — the exemption for children conceived through rape or incest — approaches statistical insignificance. (Never mind the moral insignificance, as though we could murder a four-year-old, or a 38-year-old, because he was conceived via rape.) We hear dark warnings about a new Torquemada and a rising theocracy, as though an atheist such as my good friend Charles C. W. Cooke doesn’t know a baby when he sees one, as though the world were not full of agnostics and outright heathens who still have enough civilization in them to know better than to accept butchering unborn children as normal.

You cannot foist a philosophy of man-as-meat on civilized people without a great quantity of lies, some of which will be published in the form of Supreme Court opinions.

A culture that treats pregnancy as a horrible disease and classifies its children as liabilities rather than assets is a culture that is, strangely enough, childish. For most of our history, we marked adulthood from the moment of sexual maturity, i.e., from the age of fertility in women and the roughly corresponding age of men. Granted, these were young, inexperienced, ignorant adults — but we knew that they were at the age of responsibility, if only barely. We eventually learned to tell ourselves a different set of stories about that, and in anno Domini 2016 we have men in their late 20s, perhaps with a grey hair or two in their beards, perhaps with their hair showing the first signs of starting to thin, worried about being kicked off Mommy’s insurance policy. “I didn’t think I was ready,” I’ve heard any number of women say, sometimes with regret that could absolutely waylay you. No doubt there are men thinking the same thing, though you don’t hear them talk about it very often. The women always say the same thing: “They lied to us.”

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Of course they lied. You cannot foist a philosophy of man-as-meat on civilized people without a great quantity of lies, some of which will be published in the form of Supreme Court opinions. That is why those who oppose the philosophy of man-as-meat are denied political recourse, and why the authorities in backward places such as Ohio have tried to quash their First Amendment rights, too. Man isn’t meat, and the political model built on insisting that man is meat cannot withstand much scrutiny or debate. It must rely on brute force, which sometimes comes disguised as a Supreme Court ruling. How many people throughout the ages have been convinced of the most indefensible nonsense by similar figures in black ceremonial robes? Think on that the next time you feel inclined to snigger at Iran’s Guardian Council.

But when the hysteria subsides and the blood dries up, reality is still there, and we’re still putting millions of unborn children to death because Caitlyn doesn’t want her prom ruined and because Rachel is living out some third-rate HBO fantasy in Brooklyn, or some place she wishes were Brooklyn. Harry Blackmun didn’t imagine that, but it is his legacy — and our indictment.

– Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.


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