The Corner

Jonathan Rauch

isn’t who I’d pick as an authority on the meaning of conservatism, but he sometimes takes on the role of explaining it to us. His latest effort is just lame. If you really want to assert that Stephen Breyer is a “conservative,” based on some idiosyncratic understanding of the term, you should probably try to defend that assertion and understanding. Rauch doesn’t. His basic arguments are that Roberts’s appointment won’t change a lot by itself, and that there are some reasons for wondering whether even three appointments would. The first claim is not terribly controversial, except among the people who have an interest in denying it, and the second doesn’t have very great force.

Here’s what Rauch says about partial-birth abortion: “First, the Court has already upheld various restrictions on abortion, such as waiting periods and parental-notification requirements; what is at issue is not whether Congress and the states can regulate abortion, but how far they can go. Second, if the Court does knock down statutes because they lack health exceptions, legislatures can pass new laws that include such exceptions. For both reasons, the stakes are lower than they may seem.” But the “restrictions” are not allowed to be prohibitions on any type of abortion procedure at any stage of pregnancy; and the health “exception” means that nobody can ban any type of abortion when any doctor is willing to claim that it is the type that would be safest for the mother. So the stakes are higher than Rauch presents them.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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