A Compromise Or A Muddle?

Michael Gerson has a critical look at Giuliani’s position on abortion and finds it less than consistent.

Abortion remains a problem for Giuliani in that his position tries to be a compromise, but ends up being a muddle. In fact, it’s much the same muddle that I criticized John Kerry for. If one takes the position that a fetus is a human life, then one cannot consistently argue that the taking of that human life should be protected by law. Gerson does an excellent job of pointing out the inconsistency of this position:

How can the violation of a fundamental human right be viewed as a private matter? Not everything that is viewed as immoral should be illegal; there are no compelling public reasons to restrict adultery, for example, or to outlaw sodomy. But when morality demands respect for the rights of a human being, those protections become a matter of social justice, not just personal or religious preference.

American history has tested these arguments. In debating the Missouri Compromise, Sen. Stephen Douglas said of slavery: “I am now speaking of rights under the Constitution and not of moral or religious rights. I do not discuss the morals of the people of Missouri, but let them settle that matter for themselves.” Abraham Lincoln differed: If faith and conscience tell us that enslaved Americans are men and brothers, then slavery must eventually be ended. Passing the 13th Amendment was not “imposing” our moral views on slaveholders; it was upholding the meaning of law and justice.

Giuliani’s doctrine of individual sovereignty goes much further than did Douglas, logically preventing even states from restricting abortion. And this raises a question about Giuliani’s view of the law itself: Can it be a right to violate the basic rights of others? Given American opinion, progress toward the protection of unborn life is likely to be incremental and partial. It would be foolish to prosecute women who have abortions — and the law struck down in Roe v. Wade did nothing of the kind. But recognizing these limits and realities is different from asserting that the law should have nothing to do with the defense of the weak.

That’s the fundamental philosophical problem that Giuliani faces — it may be pragmatic to argue what Giuliani argues — but there’s no real intellectual or legal consistency to it. Granted, expecting perfect consistency from a politician is a fool’s errand to begin with, but on an issue so important to so many, Giuliani’s tightrope act may not be enough.

Abortion should be seen for what it is: the unjust taking of human life. It is a tragedy that our society is not sufficiently enlightened that such a basic precept is honored. Giuliani may be right in that we pragmatically cannot end abortion overnight — but the argument that we shouldn’t try at all is not a consistent or coherent one. It can be a child or a choice, but not both at the same time, and Giuliani’s attempts to try and have it both ways may not fare any better than the other times that it has been tried.

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