Burning the Fig Leaf

For years, the plight of the ardent pro-lifer has been fully understood by precious few political analysts and policymakers.  Unlike other policy questions that touch on matters of the pocketbook or matters of liberty, abortion is a policy question that strikes at a much more basic and fundamental issue: when and under what circumstances human beings are entitled to protection from being killed from their government.  Other than the death penalty, no other policy question touches this issue as squarely as abortion.  And it is perhaps not well understood by many that the end consequence of modern American abortion policy is that, from the perspective of the pro-lifer, the United States Government intentionally allows over 1 million humans to be killed every year, with no attempts at prevention, intervention, or punishment visited upon their killers.

Compounding this problem is the fact that abortion policy has been almost completely removed from the Democratic process.  As Megan McArdle – herself no ardent pro-lifer – noted in the wake of George Tiller’s muder:

My argument is that abortion, like slavery, is becoming in this country an issue upon which people have no reasonable political recourse.  I’ll go further, and say that the process by which 7 judges enforced their consciences on the American public was itself borderline illegitimate; it was first, not in their proper job description, and second, a bad way to run a government.

Yes, in theory pro-lifers could pass an amendment.  And in theory, the Palestinians have access to the political process too, as right wing blogs often point out–all they need to do is elect a coherent government that Israel is willing to negotiate with.  Most Obsidian Wings posters and commenters don’t have much trouble discerning that a sufficiently remote possibility of political access is not political access, and that the individual Israeli actions which might be justified in a democratic government acting on an enfranchised population, are problematic when Israel does them to the Palestinians.  After all, we bulldoze peoples’ homes, too–we just call it eminent domain.

Questions of fundamental human rights that have been closed off from the normal political process are very likely to produce violence.  I can simultaneously, as I do, want Tiller’s murderer given a long jail substance, and worry that we’ve left his fellow lone gunmen no other outlets for their legitimate moral beliefs.

For almost three decades, the lone fig leaf that has covered the conscience of the committed pro-lifer has been the notion that abortion, while a moral evil, is at base a failure of the government to act properly, rather than a positive act committed by or on behalf of the government.  This is especially important in a democracy, where action committed by the government is properly seen as an extension, however, remote, of action by the people.  There is, after all, a sense in which the individual citizen in a democracy participates in all actions taken by the government, if not by the exercise of voting, then by the exercise of paying taxes which go toward the funding of said government action.  Thus did the Hyde Amendment allow staunch pro-lifers to rest satisfied that, at the very least, they were not participating positively in what they considered to be a great moral evil. Yet now our President seeks to rend that fig leaf asunder and burn it thoroughly to ashes in the name of “healthcare reform”.  As Marjorie Dannenfelser notes:

In his first week in office, President Obama issued an executive order overturning the Reagan-era Mexico City regulations, which had prohibited American foreign aid from going to organizations that finance overseas abortions. Just a few weeks later, the Gallup organization revealed that the executive order was the single most unpopular action taken by the president during his honeymoon period. At a time when American families had experienced an average 25 percent decline in their net worth, it would appear that increasing the net worth of foreign abortionists was not high on their to-do list.

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But by now, nearly six months in, the bottom line for Barack Obama is clear. After making a few polite noises about finding “common ground” with pro-lifers, his administration has shown zero interest in doing so. Instead, the Obama agenda is to weave government-backed abortion into the fabric of American life and make it a far more integral part of domestic and foreign policy than ever before.

Exhibit A is the emerging Democratic plan for health reform. At this writing, the draft House bill is the best indicator of where the administration and congressional Democrats are heading. Agreed on by three powerful committee chairmen, Henry Waxman (energy and commerce), George Miller (education and labor), and Charles Rangel (ways and means), the House bill outlines a minimum-benefits package that will be universal–that is, required of every American’s insurance plan, whether provided by a private firm or by the government. It lists, among others, two categories: “out-patient hospital services” and “out-patient clinic services.”

What services are included under these categories? Is abortion covered? If the drafters of the Democratic bill have their way, this will never be specified in the bill itself. It will be decided by a “Health Benefits Advisory Committee,” whose membership will be determined by President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services who is remembered by Kansas pro-lifers for her gubernatorial vetoes of restrictions on late-term abortions.

Clearly, if Obama’s preferred health reform becomes law, abortion will be defined as a “health benefit” automatically provided to every American family. The Hyde amendment, which for more than 30 years has banned federal funding for almost all abortions and has enjoyed overwhelming congressional support, will become all but irrelevant once abortion on demand is defined as a universal “health benefit.”

The same relentless agenda recently surfaced locally, as it were, when the president endorsed the repeal of the Dornan amendment. If Obama gets his way on this, the left-liberal District of Columbia government will be free to spend government money on abortions for the first time since 1995. This is apparently what the president has decided our nation’s capital needs, given its steadily declining population, low rate of family formation, and recorded legal abortions already nearly equal to the number of its live births.

These measures clearly constitute a concerted attempt by the Obama administration to overrule the Hyde Amendment – the one significant effect pro-lifers have had on abortion policy, an effect that was enacted through the legislative process – sub nom.  These efforts are offensive in one sense because they are primarily being enacted through backdoor channels that seek to circumvent the legislative process as much as possible in favor of unilateral action by executive branch actors.  However, they are also offensive in a more fundamental sense, in that they have been enacted in total disregard for the moral compunctions of an increasingly large plurality of this society.  Through a series of underhanded maneuvers, the Obama Administration will once again place a fundamental question of morality and human life beyond the reach of the ordinary legislative process.

How are ardent pro-lifers to respond to this development?  Will our consciences permit what amounts to material cooperation with evil, all in the name of peaceful coexistence with our increasingly degenerate society? If not, what recourse is available?  It seems to me that the Obama Administration is deliberately moving pro-lifers into a situation where some form of civil disobedience is the only response that they view to be morally legitimate; a maneuver which would make excellent political sense in terms of potentially marginalizing a large segment of his dedicated opposition, but which, as McArdle noted, is a terrible way to run a country.  It is an especially cynical and cruel maneuver when executed by a President who duped a number of (excessively gullible) pro-lifers to vote for him based on the promise to reach out in search of common ground and understanding with them.

The situation has the potential to create unrest in the populace not seen since the days of slavery (the last time, not coincidentally, the Supreme Court decided it would be helpful to effectively remove a fundamental moral issue from the democratic process).  The confrontation looms and can be easily avoided, at least for the time being, by the Obama Administration; all the Administration needs to do is to not overreach.  However, if the last six months have taught us anything, it is that the Obama Administration is constitutionally incapable of not overreaching in everything that they do.  Let us hope at the least that Obamacare will be summarily defeated in the House so that this might be avoided.  In the event that it is not, the time for serious soul searching by the pro-life movement is immediately around the corner.