Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Abortion, rape, and incest: A case against exceptions

Previous title: Carson leads GOP candidates on extreme position on women's reproductive rights

The original target of this post is the reporting by Paul Waldman at the Washington Post/Plum Line on the GOP candidates' positions on abortion and exceptions for rape and incest. But I decided that there is a much broader issue at stake: why is there any kind of legislation, at any governmental level, that would make such exceptions necessary? So this post is in two parts. I'll cover Waldman's data on the candidates and then write a bit of an essay making the case against exceptions by defending universal abortion rights.

[Sunday] on Meet the Press, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson made clear that he not only wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, he also opposes exceptions for rape and incest. Lots of viewers probably saw that and said, "Wow, that’s a pretty radical position to take." And it is. But they may not realize just how radical the entire field of Republican presidential candidates is on the issue of abortion.

I’m going to focus on two questions for the moment: whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and whether, if abortion is banned, there ought to be exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

The Roe v. Wade question is critical, because it is all but guaranteed that should a Republican become president, he will appoint only Supreme Court justices who can be counted on to vote to overturn Roe, which would allow states to ban abortion completely. Right now there are four Supreme Court justices ready to overturn the decision; if the right justice (or two) retires, it would be gone.

But that’s not what the public wants. Polls consistently show that between 55 and 65 percent of Americans say that Roe should not be overturned, while only around 30 percent say it should. And even within the Republican Party opinion is divided almost evenly. Yet with the exception of George Pataki, every single Republican candidate for president is in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade (if we assume that Donald Trump’s relatively recent conversion to the pro-life cause includes opposition to Roe; he doesn’t seem to have said specifically, but when asked, he insists that he’s pro-life and hates abortion).

On the question of exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape or incest, I should note that opposing such exceptions is philosophically consistent. If you believe that abortion is murder, then you ought to believe it’s always murder, however the woman got pregnant. You could also argue that rape and incest exceptions reinforce the idea that abortion access ought to be granted through some kind of puritanical virtue test — a woman who was raped didn’t willfully have sex, so therefore she isn’t a dirty sinner and she can get an abortion.

Nevertheless, the fact is that most Americans believe women who are raped or girls who are the victims of incest should be able to access abortion. And not just a majority, but a huge majority. Polls that have asked this question find between 75 and 85 percent favoring legal abortions in case of rape and incest ...

So the GOP candidates for President are completely out of step with the American public on both questions. See Waldman's report for the data. In sum:

... 14 of the 15 remaining Republican candidates want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and 7 out of the 15 would ban abortion with no exceptions for rape and incest.

But the underlying theme in these kinds of discussions is that it's OK to ban abortion so long as you make some exceptions, in this case, for terminating pregnancies caused by rape and incest.

Why should there be any kind of restriction on abortion? If there were no restrictions, there would be no need for exceptions. If you (generically speaking) believe in limited government, you should want to minimize government's intrusion in personal decision making. If you are against regulating school lunches and hence children's diets, you should also oppose governmental intervention in women's reproductive decision making. If you oppose gun control laws, you should oppose abortion laws. So I conclude that the most philosophically defensible position is to support complete legalization of abortion, to oppose anti-abortion laws, and thereby make exceptions unnecessary.

I am aware of the flaw in my logic: conservatives are not known for their cognitive flexibility and consistency. They are perfectly capable of being opposed to gummint interference in cases affecting themselves but welcoming of gummint interference in cases affecting the rights of others. But I offer the argument for universal abortion rights anyway.

In the end, Waldman and I get to the same place. The current cast of GOP characters is without exception opposed to women's rights to make their own reproductive decisions. That is one reason to reject the lot of them and get ourselves a Democratic President in 2016. Any other outcome of the election will doom Roe v. Wade.

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