The Corner

About That 20-Week Abortion Bill

A note to House Republicans:

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade. I never need reminding of which anniversary it is — it’s always the same as my age. I was one of those who entered the world through a pregnancy of the sort we call “unplanned,” though as a Hayekian type I do not object to being the “result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.” I was born about three months — call it a “trimester” — before Roe.

In my case, the result was an adoption. Mine wasn’t, as it turns out, the sort of success story you’d put in a brochure; my adoptive parents were divorced only a few years later, and there was subsequently a great deal of unpleasantness in my home upon which I do not intend to dwell. Some had happier families, some far worse. Eventually, I discovered that I had certain talents, which friends encouraged and teachers helped me to develop. I had the uniquely American experience of playing high-school football in West Texas (for what was the losingest team in our district’s history; we were everybody’s homecoming game, and I still expect to experience pain every time I see a mum), learned a trade at the (mighty, mighty) Daily Texan at the University of Texas, and then moved to India to apply it. I was editor-in-chief of a small newspaper before I was 30, and started a daily newspaper in Philadelphia a few years later. I failed at that, but it was tremendously fun, and on our better days we put out a more interesting broadsheet than the Inquirer. I’ve published a few books, had a few rejected, walked in the foothills of the Himalayas and driven a convertible through the Alps, gotten into bar fights, played Bach’s Prelude II Cm as part of a classical-guitar duet. I work at the only magazine I’ve ever really wanted to work at, and Bill Buckley once asked me for a word he was unable to call up in the moment (“lapidary”). There have been a few rough stretches and some that have been nearly perfect.

None of it was optional.

It is not as though I do not sympathize with women who feel that they are not ready for a child. I, too, have had many developments in life for which I was not ready. Adoption is, like all human institutions, imperfect. But imperfect situations can be improved upon. They are not final.

People like me — we “unplanned,” the millions of us — now live the first part of our lives outside the protection of the laws of these United States. Our lives, and very often our deaths, are instruments of the convenience of others. That was different, in my case, by a matter of a few months. It is impossible for me to know whether the woman who gave birth to me would have chosen abortion if that had been a more readily available alternative in 1972. I would not bet my life, neither the good nor the bad parts of it, on her not choosing it.

I write a great deal about taxes, budgets, fiscal issues, and regulation. But whether the top marginal federal income-tax rate is 39.5 percent or 34 percent, life will go on. Life goes on, except when it doesn’t. I never went through any naturalization ceremony — if I wasn’t an American the minute before I was born, I don’t see how I became one the minute after. If I’m to live under a government that considers my life nothing more than an accounting entry, then there are any number of states that might claim my allegiance. The Swiss at least know how to keep a proper ledger.

The House of Representatives and its Republican leadership had a chance to take a vote on the question of extending the protection of our nation’s laws to people like me, at least to some of us. The bill was, strangely enough, essentially identical to one the House had already passed. I do not expect that, even had it passed, the bill would have become law. Senate Democrats would have filibustered it, and though that filibuster might have been overcome, President Obama, who should know better, would have vetoed the bill. But it would have been something to have the House of Representatives at least take the vote on the question. I could respect the “No” voters, in a way. At least they’re willing to say what they think. But pulling the bill because Renee Ellmers and Jackie Walorski don’t have the guts or the principle to vote one way or the other? That is — let us all acknowledge the plain fact — cowardice. Ellmers told her voters she planned to vote for the bill at the very moment she was maneuvering to escape doing so.

This is especially shameful considering that the vast majority of voters support the provisions in the bill. This bill was not a problem for Republicans, but for a handful of House members. Majorities of men support these changes, as do majorities of women—for that matter, only 17 percent of the people who describe themselves as “pro-choice” support the current anything-goes abortion regime. On a question that really matters, the House of Representatives had a rare chance to take “Yes” for an answer.

I can only conclude that that was not the answer you want.

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