The Seamless Garment Reconfigured

Article excerpt

Hawks and social conservatives in the United States find themselves in a delicate coalition that will either solidify or disperse. Can it survive Giuliani and his campaign for the Republican nomination for president? He says he's against terrorism and abortion and would fight the former but tolerate the latter. None of us engaged in this conversation are at risk anymore of being aborted, and so some pragmatic conservatives favor Giuliani for what they see as his commitment to common sense.

You have probably already discovered one distinct advantage of supporting abortion rights if you have loved ones who have had an abortion. It's just easier. Betray your qualms about the practice in general and they are liable to feel you've betrayed them, and then you in turn are liable to feel their resentment. If your sole objective is to avoid social conflict, you might well calculate that the ticket is to keep your thoughts to yourself and say you're pro-choice.

Expedience is the oxygen politicians run on, but they can't say that, and so they invoke or invent principles that enable them to pander and call it philosophy. "Government should stay out of the bedroom." It's a catchy tune, but the lyrics don't match the purported theme. Abortion doesn't take place in the bedroom. Consensual sex does. So does rape. So what are they saying? They're not saying anything. They're conjuring a taboo. "Reproductive freedom." They don't mean you should be free to reproduce. They mean something almost opposite. They mean you should be able to terminate your child if you reproduced but didn't mean to, or did mean to but have since changed your mind. Recall the confused mother in South Park who, seeking to spare her eight-year-old son any more of her parental inadequacy, sets out to get abortion made legal through the fortieth trimester.

Pare away the politicking and posturing and anti-Catholicism, the circumlocution and the bumper stickers designed to distract us from the train of thought set in motion by the unique and almost unspeakably profound intimacy of the relationship between a pregnant woman and her gestating child-pare all that away and what remains is the opinion that what is wrong with the effort to enshrine in law your right to life is that by itself it's unbalanced. You also have a right to die, which, when you were literally an infant (that is, incapable of speech, of articulating your right to anything), you required a proxy to weigh and consider. That was your mother. What could possibly be the rationale for designating anybody else?

What has since become the operative, though largely tacit, argument for abortion rights did not figure in Justice Blackmun's opinion in Roe v. Wade, which stipulates your right to abortion only in the active voice. As for your right to have been aborted, or not, the Court in Roe was silent. But follow its conclusion (not its argument, which is shaky, but its conclusion, which is firm) down to its logical roots. Your right to have been born was already established or at any rate never in question. Your right to have been aborted was what was contested. To secure that, you have to accept some restriction on your corresponding right to life. It's not absolute. Those twin rights, your right to live and your right to die, are equal under the law and are equally subordinated to the mother's right to choose between them.

This line of reasoning comes into full view only when abortion rights are situated in the larger context of the right-to-die movement, for whose cause most Americans harbor some sympathy, as the controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo a couple of years ago led analysts on the pro-life side to consider with renewed interest. People trying to put themselves in Schiavo's place thought that if they were she they would want to die. Others thought, with equal emotion, that they'd want to live. If I think I should enjoy the right to die, or to live, I think you should too. …