The Corner

Lithwick’s Contortions

I’m pretty skeptical of Dahlia Lithwick’s premises in this Slate article: that John McCain’s opposition to abortion is a political liability, that American women are overwhelmingly pro-choice, that their support for legal abortion goes a long way toward explaining the gender gap. But it is more likely I would have been persuaded to them had Lithwick actually argued for any of them. She just takes them as givens and ignores the plentiful evidence to the contrary (such as the consistent poll finding that women and men do not differ much in their views about what abortion policy should be).

To her limited credit, on two occasions she cites data that, if true, would buttress her argument. In the second sentence of her article, Lithwick declares, “Few Americans (less than 20 percent) want to return to an America in which abortion is almost always illegal, and if they knew McCain’s true views on the subject, most would not vote for him.” That’s a ridiculous reading of the cited poll. It shows that 18 percent of Americans want abortion to be illegal, period. They’re to McCain’s right on the issue.

It further shows—well, I’ll just quote Linda Hirshman on the subject. “About 60 percent think [abortion] should be allowed under certain limited circumstances. If you unpack that crucial 60 percent, however, even these ‘centrists’ only firmly support abortion in cases in which there is rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life or health.” Hirshman’s write-up of the poll appeared nine days before Lithwick’s article, in a publication called Slate.

In the next paragraph, Lithwick links to a write-up of a NARAL poll that purports to show that pro-choice voters turn away from McCain when given a bunch of NARAL talking points about his position on abortion. No doubt many of them would turn away from McCain even if given accurate information about his position (as opposed to what NARAL gives them). But since pro-choice voters are not the entirety of the electorate, that is information of limited usefulness. We’d have to know whether pro-life or ambivalent voters would turn away from Obama upon learning, for example, that he favors taxpayer funding for abortion and has in the past voted to keep some forms of infanticide legal.

Lithwick notes, accurately, that McCain once called for changing the Republican platform to say that abortion should be allowed in the cases of rape and incest, and now says he wants to leave the platform unchanged. But she misleads when she writes that the platform “calls for a human-life amendment banning all abortions and provides no exceptions for rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother.” Actually, it’s silent on the subject of whether all abortions should be banned or whether there should be exceptions. At most it could be said that it implies what Lithwick claims that it says.

Other than that, good article.

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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