The Corner

Saletan’s Baby, Ctd.

Last week William Saletan wrote a not-terribly-persuasive article for Slate dividing pro-lifers into “militants” and “pragmatists” based on whether they agree with his longstanding view that the solution to the abortion wars is to increase federal funding for efforts to promote contraception. (I criticized the article at the time.) This week he follows up with a convoluted attack on Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee. (Democrats for Life of America is collateral damage.) What Saletan demonstrates is that if he explicitly abandons his own intellectual standards in favor of the lower ones he attributes to his opponents, and then adds some illogic of his own, he can make those opponents look pretty bad. Why this exercise was worth going through is not entirely clear.

The gist of the criticism is that the NRLC is secretly opposed to contraception, not just abortion and embryo-destructive research, and that is why it criticizes Rep. Tim Ryan. Saletan suggests that the NRLC’s problem with Rep. Ryan can’t be his position on stem-cell research, for example, because it hasn’t gone after other professed pro-lifers who take it with nearly the same level of hostility. It’s really against him because he supports the contraception funding. But, um, this isn’t a secret. The NRLC has openly opposed contraceptive funding when that funding flows to Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider. It reasons that money is fungible and therefore giving money to the group promotes abortion. The NRLC thus supported the Pence amendment to hold contraceptive funding steady but redirect it from Planned Parenthood. You can disagree with that view, as Saletan does–rather incoherently*–but there’s nothing here for a journalist to uncover.

Anyone who reads Saletan’s article with a little attention can grasp this point. He quotes an NRLC statement in opposition to a provision ”requiring the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide such pro-abortion organizations with certain U.S.-funded contraceptive supplies.” Saletan then writes, “Ryan flunked this test. He voted, in NRLC’s words, to provide ‘U.S.-funded contraceptive supplies.’” Well, sure, those are NRLC’s words, but they have rather obviously been taken out of context. If NRLC had objected to a law that gave Planned Parenthood money for administrative expenses rather than for the provision of abortion, would Saletan deduce that NRLC had some hidden animosity toward administrative expenses?

Meanwhile, Rep. Ryan now supports a health-care amendment that congressional pro-lifers of both parties believe would lead to much wider-scale taxpayer-financed abortion. NRLC objects, so I suppose it can expect another lashing from Saletan.

* Saletan writes:

Ryan voted to let the D.C. budget go through because, as he put it, “Congress shouldn’t tell the District of Columbia that it can’t use its own money to fund abortions.” NRLC’s position is that there’s no such thing as D.C.’s own money, since even the District’s “locally generated revenues” are “appropriated by Congress.” That’s a defensible position. But while invoking this bookkeeping technicality, NRLC rejects such technicalities in the case of Planned Parenthood.

No. NRLC’s position is that Congress shouldn’t be funding abortion either directly, through appropriated funds, or indirectly, through funding for Planned Parenthood. There’s no inconsistency here.

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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