In other words, the leading cause of death in children could be eliminated overnight by requiring a simple device on every automobile to cap its speed at 25 mph.
What is the conservative argument against abortion? What is the liberal argument for preserving access to abortion?
Why is personhood such an important concept in the abortion debate? Which view do you find most plausible and why?
Of course, that’s never going to happen. Such an idea doesn’t even come up in conversation, let alone as legislation. I mention it only to illustrate a rather chilly fact about coexisting in human society. Even in matters of life and death — even when the lives belong to innocent children — society weighs protection of life with other, competing interests.
Indeed, some government regulatory agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, are required to make formal calculations of preventable deaths compared with identifiable costs of preventing those deaths. Presumably, if the cost is too high, the lives will not be protected. Such choices are made all the time by governments. In a very real sense, such choices are a prime justification for governments.
We are surrounded by hard choices constantly: preventable disease that is too taxing to prevent, identified risks that we choose not to eliminate. Ask the men who were drafted for the Vietnam War whether government always protects life from violence.
Writer Ross Douthat nevertheless asserted in the New York Times recently that, “at the core of our legal system, you will find a promise that human beings should be protected from lethal violence. That promise is made in different ways by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; it’s there in English common law, the Ten Commandments and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
A more accurate statement would be that protection of human beings from violence is an important value weighed against other values in our system of laws — and that the process of weighing can create difficult, even agonizing, moral choices.
Douthat’s claim was in service of another fallacy: “A striking thing about the American abortion debate is how little abortion itself is actually debated,” he declared, as if the past 50 years never happened. In truth, abortion has been debated so thoroughly, so effectively, for so long that the crux has been accurately reduced to pithy essentials. On one hand, “abortion stops a beating heart.” On the other, “my body, my choice.” It’s all there, ready to be unpacked.
Shooting doctors and screaming at frightened girls ill served the antiabortion movement — which has turned to using police and legislative powers to force people to carry pregnancies to term. The new rhetorical style is a pseudointellectual approach, as Americans observed Wednesday, when the Supreme Court took up the matter of abortion anew. Douthat’s curtain-raising essay was typical, as were several attention-grabbing statements from the bench.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. gravely noted — as if the idea had just then catalyzed within his massive brain — that a developing fetus has a potentially cognizable legal interest in its future. Actually, this interest is discussed extensively throughout the Supreme Court’s abortion opinions going back to Roe v. Wade in 1973, when Alito was 22. It is the essential fact underlying Roe’s trimester analysis.