The Corner

Politics & Policy

Some Answers for Nicholas Kristof

Pro-life demonstrators pass the U.S. Capitol during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2020. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

The New York Times columnist uses a series of “questions” — not all of them phrased in a way that would be acceptable on Jeopardy — to urge religious conservatives to adopt a more “nuanced” position on abortion.

Q: “Why do so many [Christians] see fervent opposition to any abortion as a religious dictate when the Bible never directly discusses abortion?” A: The same reason that many Christians believed (and believe) that Biblical faith demanded that they oppose chattel slavery. The Bible never directly condemns it, but tells us a lot that, upon reflection, clarifies where we should stand. In the case of abortion, that reflection — about, for example, the meaning of Exodus 20:13 among many other Biblical passages — should incorporate what we know about biology. Not all Christians see the Bible’s implications for abortion as pro-lifers do, of course, but that should not dissuade those of us who see them — just as William Wilberforce did not let himself be dissuaded by those Christians who thought slavery had a Biblical sanction.

Q: Why should human embryos receive legal protection when “half of zygotes never implant and establish a pregnancy”? After all, “we don’t mourn those zygotes or establish national commissions to improve zygote survival.” A: How much we mourn a death can vary for all kinds of legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with whether it is just to take action designed to cause death. People unknown to us die every day, and we never mourn them because we never hear about them. It doesn’t mean it would have been permissible for us to kill them. People in their 90s have a high natural death rate, too, and it shouldn’t be acceptable to kill them either. No one’s rights should depend on how other people react to their misfortunes and mistreatment.

Q: “If you’re troubled by abortions, shouldn’t you thank President Barack Obama for reducing them?” A: If the evidence bears out Kristof’s contention that increased contraceptive coverage thanks to Obamacare resulted in fewer abortions, pro-lifers should certainly acknowledge that positive side-effect of his policies. Kristof provides no evidence for this contention, however, and a graph of the history of the U.S. abortion rate does not show any inflection around the time of the law’s implementation that’s visible to the naked eye. If the contention is true, however, it would not imply that pro-lifers should rest easy about the advocacy of taxpayer-funded abortion by Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. Perhaps Kristof should devote a column to urging them to embrace a more nuanced policy, especially since their views have a greater near-term likelihood of being imposed than some of the anti-abortion views he writes about.

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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