Jonah Goldberg

Here's what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in Sunday's New York Times Magazine: "Frankly I had thought that at the time (Roe v. Wade) was decided," Ginsburg told her interviewer, Emily Bazelon, "there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of."

The comment, which bizarrely elicited no follow-up from Bazelon or any further coverage from the New York Times -- or any other major news outlet -- was in the context of Medicaid funding for abortion. Ginsburg was surprised when the Supreme Court in 1980 barred taxpayer support for abortions for poor women. After all, if poverty partly described the population you had "too many of," you would want to subsidize it in order to expedite the reduction of unwanted populations.

Left unclear is whether Ginsburg endorses the eugenic motivation she ascribed to the passage of Roe v. Wade or whether she was merely objectively describing it. One senses that if Antonin Scalia had offered such a comment, a Times interviewer would have sought more clarity, particularly on the racial characteristics of these supposedly unwanted populations.

Regardless, Ginsburg's certainly right that abortion has deep roots in the historic effort to "weed out" undesired groups. For instance, Margaret Sanger, the revered feminist and founder of Planned Parenthood, was a racist eugenicist of the first order. Even more perplexing: She's become a champion of "reproductive freedom" even though she proposed a "Code to Stop Overproduction of Children," under which "no woman shall have a legal right to bear a child without a permit." (Poor blacks would have had a particularly hard time getting such licenses from Sanger.)

If Ginsburg does see eugenic culling as a compelling state interest, she'd be in fine company on the court. Oliver Wendell Holmes was a passionate believer in such things. In 1915, Holmes wrote in the Illinois Law Review that the "starting point for an ideal for the law" should be the "coordinated human effort ... to build a race."


Jonah Goldberg

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