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Jewish World Review March 11, 1999 /23 Adar 5759

Tony Snow

Tony Snow
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Blackmun’s burden

( THANKS TO THE LATE HARRY BLACKMUN, the issue of abortion has become a source of endless political frustration --- disputus interruptus. In the case of Roe vs. Wade, he and his colleagues on the Supreme Court denied Americans the chance to settle a contentious matter peaceably and democratically.

If Blackmun hoped to have the final word, he failed. Life-or-death questions tug at our consciences. They draw us into contemplation. And as it happens, polls show a tidal shift toward skepticism on abortion.

A survey conducted last summer by the Center for Gender Equality showed 70 percent of American women favoring more restrictions on the procedure. One reason: The poster girl for abortion no longer is a poverty-stricken teen.

It's Monica Lewinsky.

Despite this trend, Democratic Party elders insist that abortion has the same moral status as a tummy tuck. Only Republicans haggle over the ethical complications. At one antipode stand strident abortion supporters, such as New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, on another, arms-akimbo abortion foes such as Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan.

Somewhere in between, one finds Texas Gov. George W. Bush striking a pose that some pro-lifers consider unacceptably Laodicean. He considers abortion murder and wants it outlawed -- except for cases of rape, incest and endangerment to a mother's life. Yet he also notes that "America is not ready to overturn Roe vs. Wade ... (so) what we ought to do is promote policies that reduce abortions." To that end, he has supported a suit to prevent the use of Texas state money on abortions.

Bush's position nicely summarizes the perversity of the issue: Abortion is a moral matter that has become politically explosive, and it is a political dispute in which the courts, not the people, are sovereign.

We owe this mess to Roe vs. Wade. The case rests on the phantasmagorical assertion that the right to life includes a residency requirement -- at least three months in the womb. It reduces the father to the status of sperm donor and spectator, leaving the heavy moral lifting to women and physicians. It provides the philosophical justification not merely for infanticide but for euthanasia and eugenics.

And it gives us moral fascism. Blackmun laid down the law without regard to changing medical technology or serious religious objections (such as the idea that murder ought always to be illegal). He said simply: Put up and shut up.

One can understand the impatience of those who want an immediate reversal to such a high-handed diktat. Nevertheless, patience is a necessity.

After all, two things must happen before the law will change. A president must select Supreme Court justices willing to reconsider Roe, and pro-lifers must persuade more people to share their views.

The missions are linked. The next presidential election almost certainly will determine the composition and direction of the federal bench for years to come.

Republicans can't win if they flinch on abortion, but they can't win if they behave like a bunch of whacked-out exhibitionists, either. A large and loud band of pro-lifers loves to gross out bystanders with gory pictures or fetuses in jars. This is the sort of nihilism one often sees in people who believe they're working for a losing cause. The idea is to die with flair.

But some liberal California Republicans have suggested a better way. They want to revise the GOP platform to stress the importance of reversing Roe vs. Wade.

This maneuver at once could defuse and focus the issue. It would urge the elimination of a noisome decree, so advocates could get on with the business of building consensus on a matter that is moving the GOP's way.

Bush and every other major Republican candidate have hit on a second area of commonality: abolishing partial-birth abortions. There is no medical justification for them. And a gigantic majority of Americans support an outright ban.

This one-two punch may seem tame, but it makes a lot more sense than putting on a show of impotent defiance. Bush -- seemingly alone of the GOP hopefuls -- plans to appeal not to people's rage but to their decency. He understands that the only way to resolve matters is to put them up for a vote and trust the people.

Bill Clinton says he wants abortion to be like appearances by his conscience -- safe, legal and rare. If there's a silver lining to having a rake as a president, it's that such sloganeering inflames our skepticism.

It would be a superb and fitting irony if Bill Clinton, in avoiding conviction in the Lewinsky case, made it safe for Republicans to take aim at Roe vs. Wade.


03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate