Politics & Policy

Laurence Tribe’s Fact-Free Defense of Abortion Rights

Laurence Tribe outside the Supreme Court in 2000. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
The Harvard Law professor has trouble with basic facts — or perhaps he prefers to disregard them to suit his agenda.

A  cherished myth of abortion-rights supporters is making the rounds again, this time peddled by someone who should know better: Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe. Despite having argued dozens of cases before the United States Supreme Court, Tribe evidently has difficulty uncovering basic facts. Or perhaps, like most blind defenders of the right to kill unborn human beings, he simply disregards them as needed to suit his agenda.

On Sunday, the esteemed professor asserted that white supremacists oppose abortion. He then used this false claim to insinuate a sinister connection between racist and pro-life views:

Here Tribe manages to get everything wrong but the part that undermines his argument. There is indeed a link between abortion and white supremacists’ concern about “non-white replacement.” It is precisely because of this fear that white supremacists and members of the alt-Right have long supported legal abortion, applauding the fact that minority women abort their children at disproportionate rates.

Nevertheless, assertions such as Tribe’s frequently appear among those who advocate abortion, most often in an effort to dismiss the entire pro-life movement as tarnished by the support of racists. It’s a nasty, dishonest campaign, and even Tribe has shame enough to know it. After facing criticism for botching the facts, he wrote another tweet yesterday morning, insisting he hadn’t implied that all abortion opponents are white supremacists. One would think a man who instructed current Supreme Court justices would be intelligent enough to develop a more convincing defense.

But this wasn’t Tribe’s first foray into nonsensical attacks on the pro-life movement. In May, as controversy over state abortion laws dominated the news, he offered this insight:

It is one thing — and a heinous thing, at that — to privilege a woman’s right to autonomy so highly that it overrides even the rights of a distinct human being growing inside her. But it is another entirely to declare that those who favor protecting every human being’s right to life are, in fact, “pro-death.” In defense of abortion on demand, Tribe has little use for salient arguments and even less for intellectual rigor.

One need only do the barest amount of research to discover that Richard Spencer, a leading white supremacist, is highly supportive of legalized abortion, because, as he puts it, “the people who are having abortions are generally very often black or Hispanic or from very poor circumstances.” White women, Spencer notes, avail themselves of abortion “when you have a situation like Down Syndrome” — an acceptable use, in his twisted view. Meanwhile, Spencer says, “the unintelligent and blacks and Hispanics . . . use abortion as birth control.”

Statistically speaking, the legal-abortion regime in the U.S. has lived up to white supremacists’ hopes. An African-American woman is nearly three times as likely as a white woman to have an abortion, according to pro-choice research group the Guttmacher Institute. Centers for Disease Control data indicate that African Americans accounted for 36 percent of abortions in 2015 despite being only about 13 percent of the population.

In some parts of the country, the effects of this reality are particularly stark. Recently, for several consecutive years, the number of black babies aborted in New York City was higher than the number of black infants born there. Though she was a proponent of birth control and not abortion, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger would probably be thrilled with this outcome of our liberal abortion laws. Elliot Kaufman summarized Sanger’s relevant views well in a 2017 article on NRO:

Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, wanted “to make the coming generation into such physically fit, mentally capable, socially alert individuals as are the ideal of a democracy.” In other words, she sought to improve the human race.

However, she faced an obstacle — the same one that so troubles Richard Spencer and his acolytes: “The feebleminded are notoriously prolific in reproduction,” wrote Sanger in Woman and the New Race. This would be a problem with a solution to which Sanger devoted her life’s work: controlling the birth rate, especially among the “unfit” (read: the poor, blacks, and Catholic immigrants).

Not only is Tribe wrong about white supremacists opposing abortion, then, but he ignores the eugenic roots of the pro-abortion movement. The earliest advocates of loosening restrictions on abortion were closely tied to the population-control movement, and many of today’s most vigorous abortion-rights organizations spend much of their time and resources pushing abortion and contraception on women in Africa who want none of it.

It would be wrong to use Tribe’s own weak reasoning to suggest that the eugenicist sympathies of abortion proponents and the disproportionate effects of legal abortion on minorities mean that the entire pro-abortion movement is grounded in racism. In declining to echo that charge, critics of the grisly status quo show Tribe and his ilk a great deal more charity than they have shown to pro-lifers — or to the millions upon millions of unborn children that their say-anything activism has ensured will never see the light of day.


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