The Afterparty of Death

Article excerpt


The Party of Death was the first mass-market pro-life book in a generation. Bernard Nathanson's Aborting America came out in 1979, the same year as John Noonan's A Private Choice; President Reagan's Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation, first published in HLR, followed in 1983. Since then, however, only religious and academic publishers have touched pro-life books. By way of contrast, major publishing houses released books by Kate Michelman, Gloria Feldt, and Cristina Page making the case for abortion just during the months I was working on The Party of Death.

By the time I sat down to write, a lot had changed since the early 1980s. The debate over abortion had become a debate over abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and euthanasia. Here and there respectable organs of opinion were trying to widen the field still further, to include infanticide. When Nathanson and company wrote their books, Democratic voters were still more likely to be pro-life than Republican voters were. The debate over abortion had transformed both parties.

The vectors of public opinion had also changed since those earlier prolife books appeared. Sonograms had become more advanced and more widely used. The practice of partial-birth abortion had come to light, re-energizing many pro-lifers, and embarrassing many who are pro-choice. From the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, the abortion rate kept climbing-as did the percentage of Americans who endorsed abortion-on-demand. Since the early 1990s, both trends had gone into reverse. In my book, I would be able to offer what my predecessors could not: an evidentiary basis for hope.

The passage of time had not dispelled widespread confusion about basic facts in the abortion controversy. No Supreme Court decision of the last four decades has been discussed more than Roe v. Wade. Yet most Americans, including most highly educated Americans, do not know what it held. Many of them think that it made late-term abortions illegal. Journalists routinely provide distorted pictures of public opinion on life issues, and describe prolifers' views in ways that would be unrecognizable to most of them.

In my book, I sought to explain why pro-lifers believe (and are right to believe) that abortion, euthanasia, embryo-destructive research, and infanticide are unjust, and should be illegal. I also tried to explain how abortion on demand, and the ideology behind it, had corrupted every institution it touched: from the courts to the academy to medicine to the media to the Democratic party. Finally, I offered an explanation of why pro-lifers had started to win many of the political battles over abortion.


Months before my book came out, it was already controversial. Many liberal, and some libertarian, bloggers pounded away at its title. One blogger, Andrew Sullivan, made a regular feature of denunciations of the book. The controversy over the title dominated the discussion of the book; and so, tedious as I find the topic, it is probably worth going into for a few moments.

"The party of death" is, obviously, an intentionally provocative phrase, and I cannot reasonably object to the fact that some people were provoked. I can object to misreadings of it. The dimmer sort of blogger seemed to take my title to stand in for an argument that Democrats just like killing people for its own sake. This was a double mistake. In the very first pages of the introduction, I point out that the party of death has included Republicans as well as Democrats, with the proportion of each shifting over time. (It must be conceded that the text of the book jacket and of the description of my book-neither of which I wrote or approved-misled my critics on this point.) I also pointed out, in the introduction, that what earns the members of the party of death their label is not their subjective malice, which in most cases does not exist, but the fact that what they advocate involves, well, death. …