Bench Memos

Womb With a View

In today’s Washington Post, William Saletan observes that after Gonzales v. Carhart, the next logical stop for pro-life activists is to require women seeking abortions to see ultrasound images of their unborn children.  To his credit, Saletan is in favor of this scientific information helping to shape the choice women make, as long as the government pays for what it requires.  Noting that “[w]omen aren’t too weak to face the truth,” he even calls ultrasound “a test of pro-choice sincerity.”

Still, Saletan can’t resist the dig against pro-lifers, however illogically constructed.  He thinks there is something hypocritical in the pro-life tactic of requiring ultrasounds, saying that “[t]hey rigged Mississippi’s ultrasound law with a clause that would ban nearly all abortions if Roe is overturned.”  But what’s the inconsistency?  So long as women are free to choose abortions under the Roe regime, pro-lifers are interested in any requirement that stands a decent chance of reducing the number of abortions women procure.  But that’s a means to an end.  The end isn’t “choice,” even informed “choice.”  The end is life.  If they can get it, pro-lifers will embrace any legal avenue to banning as many abortions as possible, because unlike Saletan but like Abraham Lincoln, they believe there is no right to do a wrong.

Saletan might respond that he too agrees with Lincoln but does not believe abortion is a wrong.  But I wonder if he can follow his own train of thought.  When he considers the informative value of an ultrasound, Saletan addresses women considering abortion this way:

If you don’t want to look at the video, you don’t have to.  But you should look at it, and so should the guy who got you pregnant, because the decision you’re about to make is as grave as it gets.

What makes it so grave?  Only one thing.  What you see in the ultrasound is a human being like yourself.  If it is not such a being, there is no reason to be so sober about it.  Is there?

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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