There are pro-life arguments¯or perhaps that’s the wrong word. Talking points, maybe, or tropes or rhetorical gestures. Anyway, there are things one hears in pro-life presentations that I’ve never understood the force of.

That many of the suffragettes and early feminists (and even birth-control advocates such as Margaret Sanger) were against abortion, for instance. The claim seems intended mainly to suggest that there is nothing in feminism that demands the legality of abortion, and thus, by a kind of illicit conversion, to imply that pro-lifers cannot be labeled anti-feminists simply for being against abortion. The logical force of this point is weak, and its rhetorical impact is odd. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were hardly deep thinkers, and little is gained by the ability to claim them for one side or the other in the current abortion debate.

And then there’s the claim that the overturning of Roe v. Wade will destroy the Republican party. Ramesh Ponnuru has been working on a new book, The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life , that required him to think through these issues, and he recently took up the question of life after Roe in an essay in the New Republic . Now, on the website of National Review , he answers points raised in response by Cass Sunstein , and Ponnuru’s argument is, I think, persuasive: Overturning Roe is no more likely to destroy the GOP than achieving a goal has ever been to a political party¯and particularly in this case, when it became apparent to a systematically misinformed public that the loss of Roe does not make abortion nationally illegal but merely returns it to the states.

At the same time, the question remains of what this argument is for, on either side. On its face, it seems another of the pointless rhetorical gestures of the abortion fight. Who cares whether the Republican party is destroyed by ending the regime of court-licensed murder? The pro-life world certainly doesn’t, or shouldn’t, and as for the pro-abortion organizations like NARAL, they’ve long been wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic party, and if Roe were overturned, they would presumably want the destruction of the Republicans as a consolation prize. Surely no one is persuaded to be for or against abortion by Sunstein’s claim that it will hurt the Republicans¯or by Ponnuru’s answer that it won’t.

Are there any Republicans who will cease to support abortion if they can be convinced that ending abortion won’t hurt the party? I doubt it, unless they are such fanatics that the strength of the party is put before everything else. Think of it this way: They are the precise parallels to the Democratic fanatics who would oppose abortion when they became convinced that overturning Roe would injure the Republicans. Offhand, I can’t think of any Democrat who would fit this description, and I can’t think of any Republican that fanatical, either.

And yet, there may be a purpose in the argument. If we could show that the claim of party destruction has been a weapon with which pro-abortion Republicans have beaten down the pro-life forces in their own party, then it would be worth taking it away from them. But Sunstein’s notion of Machiavellian Republicans who mouth pro-life sentiments while deliberately appointing judges who will keep abortion in place¯that’s just plain crazy. We need to remember the political version of Occam’s razor: Never imagine conspiracy where incompetence is a sufficient explanation.


In addition to which :

Yes, in the last ten years Congress has passed measures to elevate concern about religious persecution and the role of religion in U.S. foreign policy. But the State Department isn’t much interested, going about its business as usual. So says Thomas Farr, former director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in “Religion in U.S. Diplomacy.” It’s among the scintillating articles in the May issue of F IRST T HINGS . Isn’t it time for you to subscribe to F IRST T HINGS ?

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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