Jonah Goldberg

I don’t know if life begins at conception. I don’t really know what “life” means. Consciousness? Possessing a soul? Well, if consciousness defines the issue, then life surely does not begin at conception. Not even the most adamant pro-lifer claims otherwise.

As for souls, I believe we have them, but I don’t know how they work. Indeed, ensoulment — the process by which God puts a soul in our bodies — is a controversial topic among religious scholars, people who know a lot more about such things than I do. And I’m not sure any of them are right anyway.

If “life” simply means that fetuses are something more than inanimate objects, I’m with you. But that hardly seals the deal for me on the issue of abortion. After all, the world is filled with organisms that do not deserve any special consideration, let alone a claim on a human being’s life or liberty.

In short, while I have great sympathy for “culture of life” arguments, if you tallied most of the above views on abortion, they’d appear to add up to my being pro-choice. And yet, when I get right down to it, I’m not. Why?

I’ve been trying to find my own answer to that question as the GOP comes to grips with the fact that its presidential front-runner, Rudy Giuliani, is pro-choice. I confess: A fully satisfactory answer eludes me, but I have enough of one to stay pro-life.

Part of my reasoning is politically pragmatic. Right-wing activist Grover Norquist once told my National Review colleague David Freddoso that anyone who can go to black-tie dinners and face the haranguing of rich donors for his pro-life stance has the backbone to support tax cuts, too.

That’s a crude way of putting it, but I know what he means. Being pro-life is so unfashionable, so uncool, I tend to trust politicians who are willing to hold the line.

This, in turn, is why I have special contempt for anti-abortion politicians who switch sides. Jesse Jackson used to call abortion “genocide.” Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Dennis Kucinich and other pro-choicers all once championed the unborn. Did each of them revisit the moral, philosophical, scientific and theological issues involved and, after careful study, decide that abortion doesn’t kill “babies,” after all, but merely evacuates “uterine contents”? I doubt it.

I could be wrong. But the fact that their conversions echoed the march of the Democratic Party and, for the most part, dovetailed with their presidential ambitions suggests to me that they were willing to sanction the taking of what they had once believed to be innocent lives merely for political gain. That is disgusting.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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