Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The DeLauro-Ryan Bill

In a commentary over at Connecticut Local Politics, a popular liberal blog site, Ghengis Conn remarks, “Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd District) is trying to find middle ground on what has been the stickiest and most controversial issue in American politics for a generation: abortion. Her approach, which she is undertaking with pro-life Democrat Tim Ryan of Ohio, is to reduce the need for abortions.”

“Got a problem with that?” DeLauroites are now asking.

DeLauro is a liberal Catholic who, like virtually every other Catholic US congressperson in Connecticut, disagrees with her church and her Pope on the matter of abortion.

So, there’s a tiny red flag flapping wildly in the stormy debate.

Then too, in discussing “needs,” we should bear in mind George Will’s priceless definition of a need: To the modern sensibility, a need is “a want that is more than 24 hours old.” Some non-ideologues in the great pro-life, pro-choice debate have supposed that if a woman’s life were in danger during her pregnancy, she might need an abortion.

The plain fact is – we do not know why different women get abortions. That hard data is in the pipeline of abortion providers – or it should be – but is unavailable to us; it hasn’t been tapped.

So, none of us are arguing with hard statistics; we are all guessing, all surmising. The authors of the legislation backed by DeLauro and Ryan simply assume that if you decrease pregnancies through the wider availability of contraceptives, abortions will decline. In the parlance of pro-choice politicians, they will become “rare.” This argument is akin to the argument that if you rid a grocery store of all apples, there will be fewer bad apples. The most certain way of making abortion rare is to limit it.

This is not to say that the argument advance by pro-choicers has no merit.

We simply do not know that it’s true.

It cannot be said that contraceptives are less available now than they were, say, twenty years ago. The social sanctions that made the use of contraceptives less frequent certainly have disappeared over that period of time. Women are comfortable using contraceptives. But we should be lucid in matters involving life and death. Contraceptives prevent pregnancies; abortions prevent births by destroying the issue in the womb. If a politician says to me, “My legislation will reduce abortions,” I want to be sure the proposed legislation will do that. I do not want to be sold a bill of goods that will make contraceptives more available on the pretext that that such legislation will reduce abortion: You reduce births by limiting births; you reduce abortions by limiting abortions.

The assumption embedded in the DeLauro-Ryan legislation seems reasonable: Provide women with the tools they need to prevent pregnancy and you will limited the possibility of abortion.

We do not know that this assumption is true.

We do know abortion is a procedure that occurs when a woman is pregnant. We do know that the incidents of abortion are reduced by reducing abortions.

We should be a little cautious of soft statistics, statistical data embedded with ideological assumptions, “scientific” Trojan horses. A few years ago, a couple of scientists produced a study that found a correlation between abortion and crime among the lower orders. The study concluded that as abortion increased among the poor, crime decreased. That study has been overturned because the “scientists” who conducted it never ran the figures. When two other scientists ran the figures, they found an alarmingly dramatic increase in crime as abortion became more widely available to poor people. This is what happened: The availability of abortion (as a last resort) made the set under study less inclined to use contraceptives – which increased single family households, which increased criminal activity; single family households in areas where drugs are rampant are easier targets for ever younger criminals.

If you are ideologically minded, you can make statistics sing your song. Now, DeLauro’s husband is a noted pollster. My own guess – and this is merely an intuition; somewhat like the educated guess of those who reason that abortion will decline in response to better propaganda in schools and the wider availability of contraceptives – is that DeLauro has seen polling that reflects an altered street dialogue. People have become impatient with the usual justifications.

Many people are reluctant to conclude that abortion will subside if contraceptives are provided to school kids with their breakfast cereal because they know that contraceptives have for some time been widely available. It is true that births in what has been called the developed countries – England, Italy, France, etc. – have declined to a point where the birth rate is no longer replacing the indigenous population, and this is worrisome to some people, including the Pope. Under such circumstances, a decline in the numbers of abortions may be affected by declining birth rates.

Rigorous thinkers here in Connecticut may be a little disturbed to find that a distinction so important to the pro-choice side when it was a question of forcing Catholic hospitals to provide Plan-B to rape victims has now sadly fallen by the wayside. During that roiling controversy – won by pro Plan-B enthusiasts – it was maintained that Plan-B was not an abortifacient, as some bishops had claimed, but a contraceptive. The distinction was an important one in persuading Connecticut legislators to craft a bill forcing Catholic hospitals, under their strenuous protests, to provide Plan-B to rape victims. But the distinction that liberal Catholic legislators in Connecticut found so easy to grasp then now eludes the very same crowd when it is proposed that the way to reduce abortion is to reduce abortion.

It is not necessarily cynical to note that Ryan and DeLauro, in addition to their good works, are also working to get re-elected. The dialogue on the street about abortion has changed, largely because the speakers, especially in large cities, have changed. A bill providing that abortion providers should gather and provide hard data to researchers that might help legislators to craft bills reducing the incidents of abortion would be more helpful than the scatter-gun legislation proposed by DeLauro and Ryan.
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