The Unspeakable: Why Can't A Billboard Say Obama Is "Pro-Abortion"?

You may remember the flap over the Secret Service limitations on where protestors could set up near George W. Bush, and the wailing about “free speech zones” being an unconscionable restriction, etc. I have yet to hear anybody (1) complain about the Secret Service’s policy since Obama took over or (2) explain how the policy changed, as I suspect it has not. Like so many routine government activities, it’s only objectionable when it’s Bush.

Anyway, this is a slightly different story – about a private sign-making company, not a government agency – but it’s nonetheless revealing: a billboard company refused to allow signs to call President Obama “pro-abortion,” insisting on altering the billboards to “pro abortion choice.” Here’s the proposed billboard:


Here’s what they ran instead:


First of all, this is ignorance. Obama has long supported taxpayer funding to subsidize abortions. It is simply not possible to support taking money from taxpayers to pay for a thing, causing more of that thing to happen, and then argue that you are not supporting the thing itself. Taxpayer funding is a far cry from live and let live (it’s something Obama opposes for, say, sending black children in failed DC school districts to private schools – he must regard abortion as more desirable than a good education). Add in efforts to squeeze Catholic hospitals that have moral objections to performing abortions, and Obama’s famous crack about how he would not want his daughters “punished with a baby,” and it’s just nonsensical to deny that Obama is, if words have any meaning whatsoever, pro-abortion. The fear of saying so about anybody is revealing, though – it’s a recognition that being pro-abortion is a bad thing, which of course is not the case if you believe, as supporters of legal abortion must, that the act does not take a human life.

(A digression: when Sarah Palin talked recently about the choice to keep her youngest child, liberals argued that this was a concession – isn’t it wonderful, some of them argued, to live in a country that allows such choices? Um, no. Using cocaine and driving drunk are illegal, but we still speak of not doing them as being moral choices. If a teenager from a bad neighborhood refuses to join a gang, we can celebrate the positive moral choice without saying, “isn’t it great to live in a country where teenagers get to choose whether or not to join violent, drug-dealing street gangs?” No, it’s a tragedy.)

Second, the reluctance to allow open discussion of the issue is symptomatic of something Justice Scalia has noted at the Supreme Court level: the systematic bending of all other rules and customs, much as happened in the days of slavery, to protect the practice of abortion, from unique rules for protests around clinics, to laxer regulation of clinics, to distortion of the language itself. The same people calling for displaying graphic photos of interrogation of detainees or who want soldiers’ coffins on the front page of the newspaper without the consent of their families are the ones who are horrified by the idea that any image should be displayed of abortion, the ones who even recoil at showing pictures of live unborn children in the debate. The unwillingness to face the language itself is a symptom of the recognition that some things can’t really be defended.