November 07, 2003,
Evidently pro-life readers have not honored David Frum's request not to e-mail him about his latest declaration that he is not pro-life. He responds today by raising two related points about a ban on abortion: 1) Such a ban would tear the country apart and 2) Pro-lifers have a duty to explain what would be done to women who procure an abortion under the ban they seek. Other pro-lifers would no doubt give different answers, but here are mine in reverse order.
Most pro-lifers have tended to treat the woman seeking an abortion as a secondary victim of the procedure. This answer is intellectually unsatisfying, sentimental, and (arguably) disrespectful of women's moral agency. I do not believe that criminal penalties against the women can be rejected in principle. But they are not required in principle either. The purpose of a ban on abortion is to provide unborn children with the same legal protection against homicide that other human beings enjoy. If effective equal protection could be provided by removing the medical licenses of doctors who commit abortions and imposing steep fines on non-doctors who commit them, I would have no problem with stopping with such a legal regime. I'm with the aforementioned majority of pro-lifers in this respect: Punishment is not and has never been our main goal.
As the president has acknowledged, the country is not ready for a ban on abortion. If somehow one were to be imposed tomorrow, it would indeed tear the country apart. But nobody believes that will happen, and nobody is organizing to achieve it. In the real world, a general ban on abortion would be achieved only after there was a broad social consensus behind it. Or rather, and more to the point: The process of achieving a ban would go hand in hand with the process of achieving that consensus. One indispensable way of building that consensus if for pro-lifers to continue to insist that all the unborn deserve legal protection. They must, in other words, continue to stand for what Frum calls "moral clarity" (and undervalues). Thus the president couples his acknowledgment of political and social reality with a dose of such moral clarity. He does not disavow the goal of a general ban.
Frum says that he is not a pro-lifer, and he is right. But for practical purposes it makes less difference than one might suppose. He wants to get rid of Roe, to ban partial-birth abortion, and to ban human cloning. Pro-lifers would be ecstatic if we could achieve those three things within the next ten years. Frum is therefore an ally of pro-lifers and an opponent of the abortion lobby. That is so even if he sometimes writes things about pro-lifers' ultimate goals that annoy and vex us.