Life's Recovery

Article excerpt

Life's Recovery The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life by Ramesh Ponnuru (REGNERY, 320 PAGES, $27.95)

IN 1992, THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT was pronounced dead. Several factors-the Supreme Court's PlannedParenthood v. Cascy decision reaffirming Roe v. Wade, the election of Bill Clinton to the presidency, and the "Year of the Woman" that swept several outspokenly pro-choice Democratic women into the Senate-were widely seen as signals that abortion opponents were no longer an effective political force.

Obituaries for the rightto-life cause often contained warnings for the Republican Party. "Years ago. Republicans suicidally carried on against the New Deal long after it had been accepted by most citizens as part of the fabric of American political life," the columnist Charles Krauthammer averred. "Republicans had better not do the same with legal abortion." A writer for the Boston Globe Magazine summed up the lesson of '92 more bluntly: voting women "don't want to be told they can't have an abortion." The GOP had a choice between becoming pro-choice and preparing to lose more elections.

The brave new world of u neon tested pro-choice rule lasted exactly two years, until the Republicans took control of Congress and both houses had pro-life leadership. Yet somehow 1994 didn't alter the consensus that opposing abortion was a losing issue, even though no pro-life incumbent of either party lost that year to a pro-choice challenger. Over the next few election cycles, pro-lifers gained dozens of congressional seats, a few governorships, and eventually the presidency, but it wasn't until John Kerry's failed presidential bid ten years later that political strategists began to question whether abortion might in fact be a losing issue-for Democrats.

Democratic consultants could have saved themselves some post-election angst by reading Ramesh Ponnuru, whose journalism in National Review and elsewhere cast considerable doubt on pro-choice invincibility long before the conventional wisdom changed. In The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life, this prescient dehunker of myths that shroud abortion politics undertakes a comprehensive defense of the sanctity-of-life ethic.

Of course, some critics don't want to pay attention this time either. They have seized on the provocative title-along with the publisher's efforts to market to conservatives-to dismiss the book as a hyperbolic partisan tract unworthy of attention. This is unfortunate, as Ponnuru's work demands a literate pro-choice response.

And pro-lifers need the intellectual reinforcement. While they can point to electoral gains and some progress at making the law slightly more protective of unborn children, embryonic stem-cell research and growing public acceptance of euthanasia have caught the movement flat-footed. "The party of death started with abortion," Ponnuru begins, "but its sickle has gone from threatening the unborn, to the elderly, to the disabled; it has swept from the maternity ward to the cloning laboratory to a generalized disregard for 'inconvenient' human life."

This "party of death" isn't (just) the Democrats, but a broad group of intellectuals and advocates who "explicitly deny that all human beings are equal in having a right to life and who propose the creation of a category of'human nonpersons' who can be treated as expendable." It wasn't good enough for prochoice activists to argue that legal abortion was preferable to women endangering their lives in the back alley; they insisted that the fetus was a blob of tissue, subhuman-or at least sub-person-and devoid of rights.

Except that many of the criteria used to prove the non-personhood of the fetus, including sentience and the ability to live independently, deny personhood to a surprising number of human beings living outside the womb. The arguments Peter Singer makes for infanticide-an issue to which Ponnuru devotes a chapter-bear an uncomfortable resemblance to those justifying abortion. …