Saturday, May 12, 2007

Safe, Legal and Rare

I’ve been re-reading Bill Clinton’s autobiography. It’s an incredible attempt at self-justification on his part, which makes for a sometimes amusing and sometimes frustrating read. However I just came across a line in his book which I’ve also heard Hillary use. Both the Clinton’s have stated that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”. I don’t know which one of them thought of this, or whether in fact it is the mantra of the pro-abortion crowd. But I think this phrase requires some thought.

Politicians have often used the expression, “I’m personally against abortion, but I support a woman’s right to choose.” This makes the politician sound sensitive to the concerns of pro-life voters, and yet reassures the pro-abortion crowd that they will make no changes to current laws (or in Canada no change to the current lack of laws, because in Canada a woman can have an abortion at any time in her pregnancy for any reason right up until the time she goes in labour). However this politically useful phrase is less useful among thinking voters. After all, why is this politician personally against abortion? What’s wrong with abortion? Which leads intelligent pro-lifers to conclude one thing; this politician has no sense of morality. If you are against something because it’s bad, why do you allow it? Enough people have pointed this out, so this expression is becoming less useful. Note that I say “less useful” rather than “useless” because it does still have some value among the incredibly naïve.

The diminishing of the value of the “I’m personally against abortion” expression increases the utility of the Clinton’s phrase. “Abortion should be safe, legal and rare.” Again it reassures the pro-abortion side that it’s still open season on the unborn, but the inclusion of the idea that abortion should be “rare” gives wishy-washy pro-lifers a sop. But we need to think about this word “rare” and its implications.

Why should abortion be rare? Is there something wrong with abortion? Why is it that abortion is something that we would not want to occur, except rarely? The only answer I can think of is that abortion must be something that is both significant and undesirable. It must be significant. Nobody ever campaigns for the insignificant. While none of us like warts or ingrown toenails, nobody ever has the need to stand up and declare that warts should be rare. The very act of declaring that abortion should be rare declares to the whole world that this is something which is both significant and undesirable. So when we hear politicians declaring that abortion should be “rare” we need to ask them, “what’s wrong with abortion, that it should be rare?”

Now the liberal-minded do have an answer to why abortion should be rare. They will say that it is not the abortion that they object to, but the conditions that would lead a woman to decide that an abortion is her best option. The two conditions that come to mind are poverty and crime. And so the left-leaning will use this as justification to increase the range of government sponsored social programs, while wringing their hands about their inability to reduce crime against women.

But here too we need to apply some logic and consistency. We need to ask our politicians whether abortion should still be legal (or in Canada, whether abortion should still be completely unregulated) when poverty or crime are not present. And when they reply “no, I still support a woman’s right to choose” we need to blow them out of the water about their fiction of believing that abortion should be “rare”. Logically they do not believe abortion should be “rare”.

Now I realize all of this is written for the person whose opinion is swayed by logic. And this does not apply to the vast majority of voters and politicians. However there is one question that still can be raised, which I believe is an emotional crack in the armour of the “abortion for any reason” zealots. The question is this, “Do you believe a woman in our country should be allowed to have an abortion if she is pregnant with a female fetus and she comes from a society that places more value on male children?” This question plays off the concepts of equal rights for women with the rights of a woman to have an abortion for any reason.

The fact is, the pro-life side is incredibly ineffectual. They have placed all their hopes in a law forbidding abortion. Their idea is that if they can just elect the right government, they’ll get their way. But they won’t, or even if they do it will be short lived until the next government comes along. The only way to protect the unborn is to play the game a whole lot better. A strong and sustained change in public opinion is the only way to change the law. We need to look for strategic ways to change public opinion. I’ve just presented one way. Play off abortion rights against the nationally felt belief that female babies are as valuable as male babies. Use this aspect of public opinion to introduce laws. In Canada, the first step is to have a law regulating some aspect of abortion. It doesn’t matter how unusual the circumstances, provided we get some sort of initial law against abortion. Perhaps a law against having an abortion based on the sex of the baby for women who are in the top 1% of income earners. It doesn’t matter how rare the case is. In fact, it would be better if it were incredibly rare. The purpose of an initial law is not to save 100,000 children a year because we’ll never get a law that will save 100,000 children a year. The purpose of an initial law is to get an initial law that can then be built upon. And the way to get an initial law is to get public opinion on our side. All the marches and letter writing campaigns in the world have done nothing and will do nothing. We need to play the game much, much better.

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