Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Rosen After Roe

By Diogenes ( articles ) | May 02, 2006

Jeffrey Rosen has a long article in the June Atlantic called "The Day After Roe," attempting to sketch the political impact were Roe to be overturned by the Supreme Court before the 2008 elections. Most of his points are grim news for pro-lifers, most are valid (I think), and most have been made earlier by others. In brief, Rosen suggests that the actual impact on abortion access would be negligible, since the states likely to restrict abortion most severely are those in which the fewest abortions are performed, and vice-versa. He also predicts fissures in pro-life political groups over whether to back legislation more likely to pass (with the usual exceptions) as opposed to legislation less likely to pass (without them).

I found Rosen's a profoundly cynical essay. He never addresses the moral problems of abortion directly, yet assimilates by historical analogy the pro-choice position to the anti-slavery cause of the 19th century, for example, and the GOP's future to that of the pro-slavery Democrats after the Civil War. The unproblematic rightness of the pro-abortion stance is understood to be common ground with his reader. He also displays an astonishing detachment when anticipating the mendacity and manipulative propaganda the pro-aborts are expected to bring into action, recalling the earlier success of the same tactics:

As the state electoral maps were thrown into chaos, Congress would come under increasing pressure to intervene. In the late 1960s, as Bill Stuntz of Harvard Law School notes, national opinion shifted after sensationalistic articles appeared in Newsweek and The Saturday Evening Post exaggerating, by at least a factor of ten, the number of deaths from botched illegal abortions. A year or two after Roe, a similarly galvanizing television image might mobilize women in swing states to take to the streets on behalf of the right to choose. "If a young woman who is raped gets pregnant and goes to a downscale abortion provider and dies from the infection, that becomes a huge story," says Stuntz.

You can almost hear the lips smacking (NARAL's, not Rosen's) in anticipation: we need a really good corpse to get the movement kick-started!

If there's a ray of sunshine in Rosen's conspectus -- which, again, I find regrettably plausible within the terms of his stipulations -- is it the admission that, at the level of state and local Democratic party operatives, there's widespread panic at the prospect of reminding their voters, in public, why killing the unborn should be a right in law.

The extraordinary spectacle of fifty state legislatures fighting over the question of when life begins would rivet the nation and overwhelm the state legislators themselves, many of whom are part-time representatives with little aptitude or inclination for debating the finer points of ontology.

Excuse me, Mr. Rosen, but they could hardly have less inclination than yourself for debating the larger points of ontology. But to return to the graf:

"My single biggest concern is that abortion politics will simply dominate state legislatures in many states, even those in which there's no majority for a criminalization strategy, in ways that will be very unpredictable and will distract policy makers from almost everything else," says Ed Kilgore of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council. "In swing states, Democrats would be under pressure to sponsor state legislation re-establishing the right to choose, and they'd have to make some hard choices about how extensive to make that. I've talked to a few state legislators, and everyone has expressed a sense of horror."

That "sense of horror" is, for the rest of us, a ray of hope. It would be great to watch these pols struggling with the ontological effort to fix a name to the 40 million somethings killed since Roe v. Wade. Let's put Bob Drinan back on the podium in a Catholic school cafeteria, making his 1973 arguments for the legality of abortion, with the sonogram video of a thumb-sucking baby tumbling in the womb projected onto the wall behind him. And then let's go to the polls.

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