Ross Douthat Thinks You’re Stupid.

I try to avoid wasting space on this blog,  but it’s definitely worth wasting space to comment on this utterly nonsensical and characteristically disingenuous Ross Douthat column, where he basically argues that restricting second trimester abortion is a necessary precondition to having more sensible abortion laws:

Indeed, the argument that some abortions take place in particularly awful, particularly understandable circumstances is not a case against regulating abortion. It’s the beginning of precisely the kind of reasonable distinction-making that would produce a saner, stricter legal regime.

If anything, by enshrining a near-absolute right to abortion in the Constitution, the pro-choice side has ensured that the hard cases are more controversial than they otherwise would be. One reason there’s so much fierce argument about the latest of late-term abortions — Should there be a health exemption? A fetal deformity exemption? How broad should those exemptions be? — is that Americans aren’t permitted to debate anything else. Under current law, if you want to restrict abortion, post-viability procedures are the only kind you’re allowed to even regulate.

If abortion were returned to the democratic process, this landscape would change dramatically. Arguments about whether and how to restrict abortions in the second trimester — as many advanced democracies already do – would replace protests over the scope of third-trimester medical exemptions.

There are two big things that bother me about this column, and the first is common to almost every discussion of abortion on the nation’s op-ed pages – the presumption that there is something “controversial” about first or second trimester abortion.  The fact is that American public opinion on abortion has been pretty stable for almost thirty years.  According to Gallup, this is how it breaks down: roughly a quarter of Americans believe abortion should be legal in every circumstance, roughly half of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some circumstances, and roughly a quarter of Americans believe abortion should never be legal.  What’s more, I’m sure that Americans would be fully in favor of the Roe v. Wade/Casey v. Planned Parenthood status quo if it were described to them free of propaganda.  That is, a status quo where first trimester abortion is virtually unregulated, second trimester abortion is subject to restrictions of varying degree, determined by each state, and third trimester abortion is illegal except in extreme circumstances.

This actually gets to the other thing I don’t like about this column – Ross Douthat thinks we’re stupid.  No, he doesn’t outright say it, but his argument only works if his readers are complete and total idiots.  Under current law, there already is substantive debate over second and third trimester abortion.  States already can regulate and restrict abortion in both periods, and in many states, there already is a “saner, stricter legal regime.”  Douthat’s dream is already a reality in much of the country, the fact of which provides a nice insight into Douthat’s actual agenda.  Underneath the smothering layers of faux-sensibility is someone who lies far outside the mainstream when it comes to abortion rights.  Douthat doesn’t want a debate over second trimester abortion, he wants it – and third trimester abortion – outlawed.  Arguments over the scope of second trimester abortion would be critical in Douthat’s world because it would be effectively criminalized, and women in need of said of reproductive services would be shit out of luck, as the saying goes.

Douthat ends his column by saying that his preferred solution would result in “laws with more respect for human life, a culture less inflamed by a small number of tragic cases — and a political debate, God willing, unmarred by crimes like George Tiller’s murder.”  He’s right about one thing, there wouldn’t be crimes like George Tiller’s murder because there wouldn’t be anymore George Tiller’s; men and women that dedicate their lives to serving women and safeguarding their health and mental well-being.

(x-posted from U.S. of J.)

5 thoughts on “Ross Douthat Thinks You’re Stupid.

  1. G.D. June 11, 2009 at 3:52 pm Reply

    The polling data of views on abortion is really, really important, and something that seems to get left out in media coverage around the issue. I was listening to NPR last week after Tiller’s murder, and a piece mentioned that polls showed how views on the issue had more or less remained unchanged for decades, and then proceeded not to actually say what that data said.

    We’re always talking about abortion as if it’s some kind of 50-50 split. It’s not.

    • shani-o June 12, 2009 at 12:31 pm Reply

      I think this is where the traditional media fails consistently…giving equal voice to things that are not equal (and pretending every viewpoint is equally valid). I have several theories on why this happens, but none of them make it less frustrating.

      • G.D. June 12, 2009 at 1:43 pm Reply

        i wouldn’t say that holding a minority opinion means it’s less “valid”, but discussing the relative popularity of the respective positions adds a lot of context.

        • shani-o June 12, 2009 at 1:51 pm Reply

          No, I agree. That bit was in parens for a reason – it was tertiary.

          But is discussing the relative popularity of beliefs enough, if you’re still giving each side equal time, or even giving the minority view more time? Because I see that a lot. And I ask that knowing full well that commonly held beliefs about civil rights were once minority views. I’m just curious what you think.

          • Winslowalrob June 12, 2009 at 8:25 pm Reply

            Shani, not that you were talking to me or anything, this is a loaded-ass question that has a gazillion reprecussions about not just your media philosophy but life philosophy. And stuff.

            The typical example I give when talking about this (I discuss history and historiagraphy, at least I did back at skoo) is what to do about a holocaust denier (-ar? how do I spell that?) who wants to debate a holocaust survivor. Should I give equal time to both people? Are all ideas valid and worth exploring? I do not believe in either proposition (and people that do tend to be lying, no matter the political persuasion). As it stands, a lot of people agree with me (outside of the brave student who disagrees, but I fail them outright!), but then where do we as a society or individuals draw the line? I mean, to paraphrase the greatest scholar of our time, Dr. Indiana Jones, there is a difference between fact and truth (and I would interject, history), and people confuse the two (or three). I NEVER try to construct my arguments around popularity (such as abortion, which is popular in its varying forms), or nature (such as gay rights), or power-differential (such as race) because that stuff changes, its subject to historical forces, and they are not in my control. You gotta decide for yourself what kind of arguments you want to make and know the weaknesses heading in.

            Oh, and I think GD (hope you are feeling better big fella) is right in at least MENTIONING the popularity, but not relying on it.

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