One of my favorite findings about liberals — now called progressives — is that they always go too far. Even when they pursue a noble goal, they almost always take it to extremes and end up headed toward disaster.
Consider the goal of relieving poverty. It attracts not only the virtue flaunters but also the truly virtuous. The plight of the poor is one of the chief subjects of the Bible, and I would suppose that most of the great religions admonish the faithful to care for the poor. In fact, a substantial portion of the federal budget goes to relieving poverty. Yet no sooner did we establish what was optimistically the Welfare State, the liberals were hollering for more services for the poor. Free medicine, free education, free income for life. Is there no limit?
This thought occurred to me as I read the arguments in favor of and against abortion last week. I am anti-abortion. I think abortion is the killing of an unborn child, the least protected innocent on earth. Yet, I am willing to listen to the pro-aboritionists make their argument. Their argument seems to be that all the states in the Union must accept abortion. That is it. It is another example of liberals going too far. When they do that, the result is a disaster, and the huge crowds milling about in front of the Supreme Court — some in favor of abortion, some opposed — is all the evidence I need. Roe v. Wade was a disastrous decision by the Court and has been a disaster for nearly 50 years.
There is a fairer way to settle this matter, and it sounded last week like the conservatives on the Court might be approaching it. There is no reason that I can perceive why the liberals on the Court cannot take the same course. The conservatives seem to agree with me. The fairer way is to return to how abortion was settled before Roe v. Wade: Abortion was left for the states to decide. That is the way the Founding Fathers viewed the matter, if they gave it any thought at all. There is no mention of abortion in the Constitution. The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade just made it up like they made up the privacy issue that allowed the Court to make up the abortion issue.
Roe v. Wade is ill-begotten law. If the Court had done the right thing when it tussled with Roe v. Wade in 1973, it would have sent the case back to the state in which it had originated and let each state legislature deal with what has proven to be a complicated matter to decide. I can think of no better example of the Founding Fathers’ far-sightedness than the abortion matter. Let the Founding Fathers’ network of states thrash out how their citizens want to deal with abortion. I cannot think of a better example of federalism at work.
But the liberals who dominated the Supreme Court in 1973 took a serious matter, the way some women — not all women, consider the gender makeup of the crowds on the steps of the Supreme Court last week — wanted to deal with the question of an unwanted pregnancy. They wanted to kill the fetus. They went too far. They could have supported returning Roe v. Wade to the states, but they turned Roe v. Wade into a noble cause — typical of liberals — and they made it perhaps the most disastrous court decision in history. “My Body, My Rights” and all that guff.
The whole campaign for “women’s rights” is miscast. It is not a struggle for all women’s rights. Roe v. Wade is a struggle for the rights of women who want abortion on demand. The present legal case can be seen as a struggle to allow women who oppose abortion to have a say in abortion. Return abortion to the states for jurisdiction. If a majority in, say, New York wants the right to kill babies, so be it. If the majority in, say, Nebraska opposes the killing of babies, let them pass a law in the Nebraska legislature prohibiting the killing of babies in Nebraska. Another way of putting it is, the struggle over abortion ought not to be waged on the steps of the highest Court in the land.
• R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and the author most recently of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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