The debaters: getting it straight

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Oct 09, 2000 12:00 AM
Once again, on the subject of abortion, the big players tended to miss the point. When that subject is raised in political circumstances raw fear abounds. Some voters are guided by strong emotions on the matter. This brings on circumspect language. Question to Dick Cheney at the debate: Do you want to restrict distribution of the abortion drug RU-486? Answer: "We want to look for ways to try to reduce the incidence of abortion in our society." That, he added, was also the aim of "many" on the other side.

The elementary question is: Why that aim? If abortion is OK, why should its use be reduced? Because it is dangerous? Not really. The figures show that clinically executed abortions are about as safe as surgery gets. Will the new pill bring dangers? Mr. Lieberman said that that was exactly the question the Food and Drug Administration had spent 12 years looking into, and the answer is: It's safe, provided this precaution and that supervision are undertaken.

Mr. Lieberman said that there (ITAL) are good programs out there that Gore/Lieberman support, "such as family planning and programs that encourage abstinence." Why encourage abstinence if the abortionist is standing by? Merely to avoid expense? But in the welfarist scheme of things, the price of abortion ($300) is absorbable, and the bother of it is, as Mr.Lieberman stressed, the woman's responsibility, entirely. About 30 percent of abortion-seeking mothers in France use the pill, but the compound incidence of abortion is apparently not much changed, after 12 years. What does it truly matter to the Life people if the pill, rather than the medical center, is used?

Sen. Lieberman wades into deeper water when he starts talking in the grand mode. Gore/Lieberman and Bush/Cheney have "dramatically different points of view" on the whole question. "We know that (taking the new pill) is a difficult personal, moral, medical issue, but that is exactly why it ought to be left under our law to a woman, her doctor and her God."

The woman's doctor has the sole responsibility of advising whether the woman's biological health might be supervised, and the woman is free to accept or reject that advice. But what does God have to do with it? If Mr. Lieberman thinks that abortion is wrong in the sense that killing is wrong, or Jim Crow is wrong, then God's voice, if not readily decipherable on the question, should certainly be sought out. To say that is a little different from saying: The woman who is careless in love is perhaps the least qualified to make moral judgments on the question, To abort, or not to abort. To abort is reasonably seen as simply the self-indulgent second act of an indulgent first act. An empirical case can persuasively be made that the woman carried away by passion and egged on by human stimulants -- excitement, booze, deviltry -- is charitably given a second chance, if we can simply ignore the question of a second life. But that woman's decision to abort should not be thought a subscription to America's central moral bank.

Mr. Cheney might have asked Mr. Lieberman why he and Gore are so jittery on the question. So what if Roe v. Wade were overturned? Half the states would instantly authorize abortions. In Connecticut, acting as they say proactively, contingent legislation is already on the books: If political authority returns to the states, the legislators voted two years ago, women are at liberty to abort in this state.

And now with the new pill, does it terribly much matter if one has to check in at a neighboring state to get an abortion? If Roe v. Wade had been overturned last week, a New Hampshire woman might have needed to travel all the way to Connecticut to get an abortion. But with the pill at hand, such stresses would not be required. And nobody is proposing to uninvent the pill.

"Joe," Dick might have said, "why are you people so exercised on the subject? Sixty-one percent of the American people favor access in the first trimester to abortion. That's a very big majority. So why not defend the integrity of the Court to the point of saying: If, on reconsideration -- as in Plessy v. Ferguson -- the Court reconsiders, what do we Right to Choose people have to fear?"

Ah, the call for crystalline language! There is the right not to choose to use it. That right is very widely exercised.