The Corner

Politics & Policy

‘That’s Barbaric’

The Washington Post fact-checker, Michelle Ye Hee Lee, investigated the following claim:

“Seven out of 198 nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”

— statement of Trump administration policy, Oct. 2, 2017

After a lot of explanation and apparent consternation, the Post came to the following conclusion:

We award the elusive Geppetto Checkmark when a factoid surprisingly turns out to be true, as in this case.

The “surprisingly turns out to be true” line has come in for some ample mockery on Twitter. But I find the confession refreshing.

Anyway, it reminded me of this passage from an article by John O’Sullivan from 2006:

As someone who goes to political dinner parties on both sides of the Atlantic, I have the following two experiences on a regular basis:

Experience One:

American Liberal:  “Mr. O’Sullivan, our American obsession with abortion is so embarrassing. Why can’t we be like Europe? They’re much more sophisticated. It’s not even a political issue there. Please pass the blue sweetener.”

Myself: “Well, that may be because the laws in most European countries are much stricter than those in the U.S. Women have no constitutional right to an abortion. In Britain, for instance, except in cases of severe handicap, abortions are not permitted after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy.”

American Liberal: “What! That’s barbaric.”

Experience Two:

European Sophisticate: “My dear John, you Americans are too absurd. This sexual abstinence, your fundamentalist Christians, all this political fuss about abortion. How do you explain such an obsession? This Armagnac is delicious, no?”

Myself: “Yes. Well, that may be because the courts have ruled that there can be no restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. An abortion can be performed on a fully viable fetus — even, in the case of partial-birth abortion, as the baby is leaving the womb.”

European sophisticate: “What! That’s barbaric.”

In other words what people think about abortion is strongly influenced by what they know. But the ignorance of most people, including usually well-informed people like my dinner-party companions, about a topic that has been as controversial for as long as abortion does seem to call for explanation.


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