Aside from his inability, or unwillingness, to recognize that the denial of legal protection to human beings because of their age, size, dependency, or location (for example, in the womb) undercuts the foundation of human rights and the liberal democracy erected on that foundation, William Saletan, who writes regularly at Slate.com, is one of the more informed and reasonable people opining these days on what is called, for lack of a better term, bioethics. In a recent posting , he reflects on the potential of the use of ultrasound in reducing dramatically the number of abortions. With ultrasound, he writes, we see the babies squirming and even ideologically committed pro-choicers are beginning to squirm with them. He notes that a growing number of states are mandating an ultrasound viewing for women seeking abortion and writes:
If I were a legislator, I’d offer four amendments to any ultrasound bill. First, the government should pick up the tab. Second, the woman should also be offered a six-hour videotape of a screaming 1-year-old. Third, any juror deliberating whether to issue a death sentence should be offered the chance to view an execution. Fourth, anyone buying meat should be offered the chance to watch video from a slaughterhouse. If my first amendment passed but the others failed, I’d still vote for the bill. To pro-lifers, ultrasound is a test of pro-choice sincerity. "The same people who scream that women must always be told ‘all their options,’ including abortion, balk at allowing women to see whom it is whose life they are about to take," says Mary Spaulding Balch, NRLC’s state legislative director. "They are petrified that women will change their minds after seeing their babies." Maybe. But pro-lifers seem equally petrified that women won’t change their minds. They rigged Mississippi’s ultrasound law with a clause that would ban nearly all abortions if Roe is overturned. Now the Supreme Court has echoed that equivocation, ruling that one way to "inform" women of the evil of partial-birth abortion is to criminalize it. But the clash between ultrasound and the partial-birth ban is ultimately a choice between information and prohibition. To trust the ultrasound, you have to trust the woman.
The important part of that is the support for the mandating of ultrasound. Whether or not the state picks up the tab is incidental, since an ultrasound viewing does not add that much to the bill, but I expect most pro-lifers would not object to the government paying for it. His additional comments about trusting the ultrasound and informed consent are, as I expect he knows, just blowing smoke. Of course pro-lifers want the woman to be a mother to her child. Their cause has never centered on the unencumbered self as autonomous decision maker. The concern, rather, is to protect innocent human life and to counter the thoroughly pagan and degrading notion that the dignity of women depends upon the practice of human sacrifice.


Herewith a couple of items from "The Public Square" in the forthcoming issue of First Things : A reader writes to say that he agrees with J.A. Gray’s review of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (subscription required), but he thinks that in some other books McCarthy has important things to say. This, for instance, is his narrator in No Country for Old Men :
Here a year or two back me and Loretta went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talking about the right wing this and the right wing that. I ain’t even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that’s a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I don’t like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I don’t think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I don’t have much doubt but what she’ll be able to have an abortion. I’m going to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she’ll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.
It may have ended the conversation but we can hope it planted a seed.


When I was researching an eminently forgettable book, Dispensations: The Future of South Africa as South Africans See It , I spent a good deal of time in Rhodesia, then on the edge of becoming Zimbabwe. I have tried to follow closely developments in that unhappy land. Since 1980, the country has been led by the anticolonialist liberationist Robert Mugabe, now eighty-three years old. It has been twenty-seven years of almost unmitigated disaster. Under his government, aptly described as a thugocracy, civil and political freedoms have been crushed, 80 percent of the adult population is unemployed, and he has expelled international aid and food programs because their workers tend to be, understandably, critical of his regime’s pervasive corruption. This Holy Thursday, the Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe issued a stiff pastoral letter. "It almost appears," they said, "as though someone sat down with the Declaration of Human rights and deliberately scrubbed out each in turn." Why did things go so terribly wrong? The bishops answer: "Because soon after independence the power and wealth of the tiny white Rhodesian elite was appropriated by an equally exclusive black elite, some of whom have governed the country for the past 27 years through political patronage. Black Zimbabweans today fight for the same basic rights they fought for during the liberation struggle." The bishops call for a new constitution and free and fair elections that "will offer a chance for economic recovery under genuinely new policies." It is expected that Robert Mugabe will run for president again this year.


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