With apologies for delayed posting…
It should come as no surprise that I’m not a particular fan of Rick Santorum (R-Nothing), one of the first and worst offenders of the nastiest era of the latest culture wars. Here’s Santorum’s latest spin on abortion:
The question is, and this is what Barack Obama didn’t want to answer — “is that [a fetus] human life a person under the Constitution?”
And Barack Obama says no. Well, if that human life is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say “now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.”
The reference is to Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), the Supreme Court decision that, in no small part, ignited the Civil War by not just returning a runaway slave to his master, but speaking of the slave, Mr. Scott, as a chattel, rather than an independent human being. The operative conclusion — that Mr. Scott was “a being of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that [he] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” [no citation] — compelled the dismissal of Mr. Scott’s suit, because, simply put, property cannot sue.
Reading it today, the decision should still feel like a punch in the gut. The Court not only ended a man’s independent life, but did so in the most offensive, painful, and consequential way possible. This is the great wrong that Santorum compares to abortion.
We can note the superficial similarity. Scott denied agency, autonomy, and humanity to a person; similarly, Roe denies humanity to a specific organism. But here the similarities end. To posit that a fetus sits in the same seat as Dred Scott is to imbue the fetus with the individual will, and hope of better life, that made Scott’s case so painful. It’s also to assume one’s conclusion. If a fetus could cry out and say, “free me!”, or possess the consciousness to hold that desire, none would deny it its life and its freedom. But you can’t assume free will and cognition of what is, in some cases, a bundle of cells. Santorum’s comparison is inflammatory, sure, but that’s nothing new. It’s also legally wrong, and elides the more complex and necessary question: when can the state express an interest in future life?
Speaking of complexity, an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal attempts a criticism of Palin’s feminist critics, by ignoring the same. James Taranto:
To the extent that “feminism” remains controversial, it is because of the position it takes on abortion: not just that a woman should have the “right to choose,” but that this is a matter over which reasonable people cannot disagree–that to favor any limitations on the right to abortion, or even to acknowledge that abortion is morally problematic, is to deny the basic dignity of women.
To a woman who has internalized this point of view, Sarah Palin’s opposition to abortion rights is a personal affront, and a deep one. It doesn’t help that Palin lives by her beliefs. To the contrary, it intensifies the offense.
Emphasis mine. It’s very easy to criticize feminists as absolutists, but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority, the voices that matter as opposed to Catherine MacKinnon, are not. No-one imagines abortion is devoid of moral dimensions, and no-one (of importance) insists on unfettered abortion rights, especially because, to secure unfettered abortion rights, one would have to overturn Roe, but in the opposite direction. On the other hand, Sarah Palin is precisely that absolutist, but in the opposite direction. Her stated views on abortion are that it is net-immoral, and ought to be illegal. In all cases. All of them.
This is a minimization of the complex moral questions that real people ask of themselves before even considering an abortion, and the very reason that the abortion issue is deadlocked in this country. In fact, avowed feminists — like President Obama, with his exhortation that the two sides find common ground on minimizing the need for abortions — are the only parties attempting a compromise. Why?