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A Culture of Life

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the national legalization of abortion in the United States. Thousands will march on the Mall and in the streets of Washington D.C. in protest of this decision, braving frigid temperatures and a blanket of snow to express their profound moral objection to Roe v. Wade and lamenting the estimated 55 million young lives that were legally extinguished since January 22, 1973.

The March for Life has become a rallying point for the pro-life movement, an annual pilgrimage of sorts, especially for young people who gather together to affirm a bedrock belief: the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. Even amid the overwhelming sense of tragedy and loss that draws them to D.C., in order, it is hoped, to effect a change, there is also a sense of affirmation and even celebration in the company of many others who are also so firmly committed, who gather to defend a belief that is today dismissed and mocked by cultural elites and cognoscenti (including the governor of New York, purportedly a Catholic), who find joy in the fellowship of so many companions who stand for life. As one friend posted on Facebook, “the Tribe is together.”

Amid the widespread sense of shared purpose, there is perhaps little time or inclination to reflect on a question: why gather, as Marchers do, in Washington D.C.? It is perhaps a question whose answer is self-evident: the March ends outside the Supreme Court, which continues to affirm Roe v. Wade as controlling precedent. It is the location of the president and the Senate, which ultimately has the power to make or confirm appointments to the Court. It is the nation’s media center, where such a protest has the best chance of being amplified to the nation. It is physically laid out to accommodate large protests, with its Mall almost seeming to have been designed for that purpose. It is the nation’s capital, where our elites congregate to make policy and steer the nation. Naturally, if people from all parts of the nation gather in protest of a national issue, it is not only the best place, but the only place.

However, the March’s annual presence in D.C. obscures a number of issues, above all, whether abortion is ultimately a political and even legal matter. On one level, inescapably so: it has been a political matter for decades, even a “wedge” issue that has become a defining difference between the two political parties. It is obviously a legal issue, generating countless pages of legal theory and philosophical argument, as well as scores of subsequent High Court and even more lower court decisions that have responded to ongoing challenges and debates over the issue. So perhaps no further thought is necessary—destination D.C.

However, by other considerations, treating it exclusively as a political and legal matter obscures the extent to which it is most fully a question of culture. And, if conservatives would generally tend to agree on one thing—aside from the immorality of abortion—it is that culture does not originate in Washington, D.C., or at least that it shouldn’t.

Imagine that today’s March changed the mind of one or two justices and as a result the Court were to overturn its 1973 holding as poorly reasoned and wrongly decided (both true). This would have the effect of allowing states once again to set up their own laws governing abortion. Some states would quickly enact a series of prohibitions or limitations, from outright banning of abortion to severe restrictions on its practice. Other states, one supposes, including some of the most populous such as California and New York, would almost certainly maintain near-limitless permission to abort children. It’s quite possible that the number of abortions would be reduced as the practice was outright banned or severely restricted in some parts of the country, but it’s also likely that those with means would simply travel where abortion would be legal, and even possible that the pro-choice movement would provide funding to pregnant women of limited means. One certainly can’t predict in advance what would happen, but it’s at least conceivable that as long as some states permitted abortion on demand, that the number of abortions would hardly drop.

On the other hand, imagine that seven (or even just four) justices remained convinced that Roe v. Wade should remain the law of the land, but that American people’s view of abortion was transformed—that it came to be widely accepted that abortion was simply wrong, that it came to be widely held that it was the taking of an innocent human life, the brutal murder of the weakest and most needy among us. Abortion would remain officially legal but increasingly unpracticed—indeed, unthinkable as something a civilized person would do.

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive scenarios, but given a choice between the two, I’d hastily accept the latter. I wouldn’t care whether Roe v. Wade were ever overturned if America embraced a culture of life. Following such a change of heart, it would matter far less to most people whether Roe were overturned; it would seem more a period at the end of a sentence than the necessary pre-condition to a cultural transformation.

Law and culture are interrelated in complex ways, but by and large, the pro-life movement has reduced that complexity to the following assumption: culture follows law.  I suspect that this is at least partly true, but also partly wrong—we simply need to look at instances like Prohibition to know that law can sometimes be promulgated in contradiction to culture, which ends up creating an effectively lawless society.

But what of the opposite—can there be a culture in which law is not reinforcing? It’s difficult to imagine such instances since law almost always seems to exist to reinforce cultural norms, but one example has stayed with me because it was such a singular instance. In 2002, some may remember, there was a horrific discovery that a crematory in Georgia had failed to cremate over 300 corpses, and instead had strewn the bodies around the crematory’s grounds. An article in the New York Times [1] described the prosecutor’s conundrum: there was no law on the books against failure to perform cremation by which the owner could be directly prosecuted. As the prosecutor stated to the Times,

‘This is something you really don’t sit down and conceive of,” said Herbert E. Franklin, the district attorney of Walker County in northwest Georgia, explaining why he could file only misdemeanor fraud charges against the operator of the crematory….  ”There are laws against desecration of graves, desecration of bodies that have been interred, but this is just something you really don’t contemplate having,’

The article went on to describe efforts by the Georgia legislature (and, subsequently, the legislatures of more than a score of other states that also lacked such a law) to pass a law that would allow prosecutors to bring felony charges in the event of any such future horrific instances. But what struck me when I read this article was that until that occurrence, no law existed because the behavior was inconceivable. People simply didn’t do that sort of thing. They didn’t do it not because there was a law (there wasn’t), but because that’s not what people do. A broad set of unspoken and even unexamined norms existed that made an explicit law banning what had happened in Georgia wholly unnecessary.

Ideally, law and culture coexist peacefully together. Most people don’t murder other people not because it’s illegal but because they share a fundamental belief that it’s wrong. So understood, law often exists primarily not to prevent people from doing what they wouldn’t do even in the absence of such laws but to enable society to punish lawbreakers.  A legal regime relies considerably, if tacitly, on the healthy existence of a deeply shared set of cultural norms.

Thus, it is especially when a shared culture begins to unravel, when division and disagreement and rejection of cultural norms become prevalent, that the temptation arises to increase legal regulation, enforcement and surveillance. It is thought that law and enforcement can substitute for broadly shared cultural norms. Society usually finds out that they can’t (as, for instance, it is now finding in the case of marijuana).

So imagine that one or two justices switched their votes and this term concluded not only that Roe v. Wade should be overturned but that the Constitution’s protection of due process extended to the unborn. Would we have a culture of life? Would it change the hearts and minds of our countrymen? I would indeed wish for that happy scenario, but I am skeptical. We live in a society which prizes autonomy and enshrines the idea of Lockean property, including Lockean self-ownership, understood as an inalienable right that gives us the right to dispose of “our persons and property as we list.” We embrace the liberty of persons to pursue individual self-realization, increasingly to the detriment of future generations, born and unborn. We live not in a culture of life, but what Pope Francis has accurately called “a throw-away culture.” We are all implicated in this culture—Left and Right alike. The Left, particularly when it comes to their Lockean behavior in the claim to non-negotiable ownership of their bodies; the Right, in their Lockean belief that anything in the world is theirs for use and disposal for the ends of immediate profit. Many of those marching also might have cheered when Sarah Palin chanted “Drill, baby, drill,” implicitly claiming that we, who happen to be alive now, own the finite resources of the earth—just because we were here first. I don’t mean to suggest that there is a moral equivalency to aborting children and drilling for oil; I merely seek to point out that Americans are generally Lockeans in some form or another, and that the accompanying pervasive individualism, avarice, hedonism and presentism makes the sustenance of a comprehensive culture of life difficult if not impossible.

Most of today’s Marchers would dominantly self-describe themselves as conservative, and in many settings would express nothing but contempt for D.C. But “our Tribe” returns there every year, believing in the cause and wanting fervently to stand up for the weak and defenseless. In the absence of a change of culture, a change in the legal status of abortion will likely end up fostering a scenario abhorred by most conservatives—an increase in laws imposed on a restive population, requiring expansion of police and surveillance. Absent a change of law, but achieving a change in culture, it’s possible to imagine a world in which taking the life of an unborn child is something “you don’t really contemplate having.” At its best, the March for Life is the effort to change the culture, even if its self-presentation seems aimed at political and legal change. But those working for life should be clear, with themselves and their countrymen: Washington, D.C. is just a convenient place to gather, but not the origin from which a culture of life will arise. The real change to be effected is everywhere, and if successful, D.C. will be rightfully far less important than we make it out to be today.

Patrick J. Deneen teaches political theory at the University of Notre Dame.

Follow @PatrickDeneen [2] 

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#1 Comment By Frank Stain On January 22, 2014 @ 9:00 am

There are two divergent paths to the culture of life you speak of:

1) comprehensive sex education, widely accessible and free contraception, and excellent preventive health care have led to a very low abortion rate among the upper middle class. Replicate those things for the poor, and the abortion rate will be drastically reduced.

2) A submission to moral commands thought to be absolute makes abortion psychically impossible by associating it with shame and disgust.

The first path uplifts people by making them responsible for, and giving them control over, their own reproductive activity. The second wants to turn them into children. I suspect that if it were proved that the first method is actually more successful in reducing the incidence of abortion, this would still not satisfy pro-life advocates. They don’t just want less abortions, they want people to be motivated by moral shame and submission.

I also suspect that a major reason abortion carries such immense psychic weight these days is because it works as a magnet for all of the instincts of care, of dependence and vulnerability, that have become in our society such shameful signs of lack of Lockean self-possession. We have ceased to care when people don’t have health care (let them die in the streets!), we demonize welfare recipients as addicted to the crack of dependence, we cut off food stamps so that people will look a little harder for that job that doesn’t exist. Abortion, the concern for the very weakest and most vulnerable, is sucking in all of the moral instincts of care and dependence that have been evacuated from everywhere else. This has led to a pathological fixation on the unborn rather than the generation of a caring society.

#2 Comment By Jack Shifflett On January 22, 2014 @ 9:28 am

Overturning Roe v. Wade won’t end abortion; it will merely criminalize it. I commend your recognition that culture generally trumps law, which was the “conservative” position as recently as the Civil Rights era, when conservatives repeatedly insisted “You can’t legislate morality.”

#3 Comment By Gene Callahan On January 22, 2014 @ 9:52 am

Excellent! This captures why I am anti-abortion but against banning it (under current conditions).

#4 Comment By Matthias On January 22, 2014 @ 10:00 am

At the risk of repeating myself: The best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unintended pregnancies. That would require a Culture of Openness and Honesty towards your children so they know how not to get pregnant.

The second best way to prevent abortions is to make sure every woman knows her child will be accepted, nurtured and cared for by society no matter what. That would require a Culture of Caring and Acceptance For Other People – and lots of money to back it up so no child or mother has to go hungry.

In my opinion, these types of cultures would be far more pro-life – and far more effective at preventing abortions – than your idea.

I guess we’ll see how everything turns out in the long run.

#5 Comment By kpessell On January 22, 2014 @ 11:02 am

It sounds so easy.

But sir, the main reason why women abort is economic issues. Give every pregnant woman free health care for her pregnancy and 18 years of her child’s life. Give her adequate money every month so she can make sure her child is fed. Make free child care available around the clock to her so she can work and know her child is cared for. Make sure pregnant teens and single mothers are celebrated for having a baby and not vilified as a sign that the nation is going under. Make accurate sex education available and mandatory for all teens. Give free birth control to all women who want it.

Don’t make laws that outlaw abortion no matter what as we watch women die from losing wanted pregnancies as happened in Ireland.

I think it comes down to this – you can’t have a culture of life that believes women are less valuable than the baby they carry. You can’t have a culture of life that says (as it feels to many) have that baby but then you’re on your own.

#6 Comment By stef On January 22, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

In the USA, our law IS our “common culture.” Prohibitionists weren’t content to let other people drink; they had to criminalize it. Same for marijuana consumption. Basically, if Americans think something is wrong, we want it criminalized too.

Those who are opposed to abortion are free to avoid having as many abortions as they wish.

But those who think that a zygote is a “baby,” nothing short of criminalization will satisfy them. Because to them, a drug which results in the demise of a pre-implantation zygote is the moral equivalent of strangling a toddler.

As far as decreasing the number of abortions, social conservatives generally oppose the means that will most effectively do that. Most oppose genuine sex education which includes contraceptive methods, as well as the widespread availability of medical and highly effective methods (IUD, the pill, patches, as well as sterilization.)

#7 Comment By Max Planck On January 22, 2014 @ 12:23 pm

Stop litigating this. No one’s minds have changed in over 20 years, and this is a part of the cultural war that is irretrievably lost to you. If abortion is not acceptable to you, that is certainly your right. You are free to follow your conscience. Most of America- and poll after poll shows this- retain this right for themselves.

#8 Comment By SGT Caz On January 22, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

This article tried very, very hard not to say, “abortion is legal because women can deal with the psychological consequences of that more easily than sexual restraint.”

Abortion is accepted now because women have power, and like so many instances of people acquiring power, they turn out to make pathetically selfish decisions. Given the nature of this species, I just can’t care all that much. Morality is subjective, so when people stop caring as a society, there’s no problem. God bless postmodernism. Now, please explain to me why prostitution is still illegal.

#9 Comment By DLP On January 22, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

Of course it’s a court issue. These kinds of “creative” articles that’re objectively pro-left in result are obnoxious.

#10 Comment By c matt On January 22, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

Well, there are examples where laws did influence the culture – desegregation comes to mind.

Like you say, it is a complex interaction, and frankly, it is not an either or proposition. Things can be addressed both on a legal/political and cultural front simultaneously.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 22, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

“but it’s also likely that those with means would simply travel where abortion would be legal, and even possible that the pro-choice movement would provide funding to pregnant women of limited means.”

As a person committed to:

life at conception
marriage
celibacy
equal protections
honesty
accountability
fairplay
no hitting scratching or biting unless in self defense
no violations of a persona person or property
same sex relations are abnormal and tax breaks for same sex marriage — bizarre.

I would that other countries come to the realization that a human being begins its development in the womb. But should others desire to go elsewhere to murder children in the womb — then that is on them and the other country.

Your contend that culture follows law needs more explanation or more support before I buy it. but deeper, for me its a moral question regardless of culture.

My housemate for the past several years has been telling me that student in her classes have been showing a distatse for abortion as well relations before marriage — or at least to be avoided in HS.

I am delighted that several of the last articles on this issue reflect her observations. It is encouraging. during the early years of Pres Bush’s admin the airwaves contained great psa’s that were thought provoking and simple on the issue – very affective.

Now if we could just teach basic logic as to properties and what constitutes sameness — maybe we can begin to debunk the odd notion that homosexuality is normal or at least the same as a heterosexual dynamic.

#12 Comment By c matt On January 22, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

The first path uplifts people by making them responsible for, and giving them control over, their own reproductive activity.

Except that people have always had that control – it’s called self-control.

Abortion is used mainly as back-up “contraception” for the most part. So making more contraception available will only increase the demand for its back-up when it fails. What is needed is a proper understanding and respect for the telos of intercourse – procreation. Barring that (and I don’t see that respect resurrecting any time soon), demography will take over and this society will abort and contracept itself into oblivion.

#13 Comment By William Dalton On January 22, 2014 @ 3:08 pm

“Imagine that today’s March changed the mind of one or two justices and as a result the Court were to overturn its 1973 holding as poorly reasoned and wrongly decided (both true) …”

This, indeed, would be the solution most devoutly to be wished. It would take abortion out of the debate as a national political issue (since neither those who would wish to restore the “right” to abortion nor those wishing to legislate a nationwide ban would be able to pass an amendment to the Constitution to do so), and allow the states and localities to legislate in accordance with the conscience of the people. While some states would continue liberal abortion policies, the stigma which once attached to abortion, even where legal, would be restored, because the practice could no longer hide behind the facade of being deemed a “fundamental right”.

“On the other hand, imagine that seven (or even just four) justices remained convinced that Roe v. Wade should remain the law of the land, but that American people’s view of abortion was transformed—that it came to be widely accepted that abortion was simply wrong …”

Possible, but hardly likely. The Supreme Court, as an institution, has developed the habit of adopting and enforcing the views of America’s cultured elite, even if they have to read them into the Constitution. They are not in the habit of respecting the rights of minorities, even when they are a majority of the hoi polloi, to depart from them. When those who have the power to mold and guide public opinion in this country come to the conclusion that abortion is wrong and shouldn’t be practiced, just as they changed their minds on racial segregation and homosexuality, they will come back to the Court to strike down the old laws and impose new doctrines compelling their new views be observed as law.

“So imagine that one or two justices switched their votes and this term concluded not only that Roe v. Wade should be overturned but that the Constitution’s protection of due process extended to the unborn. Would we have a culture of life? Would it change the hearts and minds of our countrymen? I would indeed wish for that happy scenario, but I am skeptical.”

That scenario would hardly be happy. It would be as oppressive and anti-democratic as was Roe v. Wade itself, and would do nothing to take the vitriol out of national politics, only turning the ball over to the other side to try to run with it. We don’t need another generation of justices on the Court seeking to read their own values into the Constitution instead of restraining themselves to enforce the language of the text, as understood by those who ratified it. Anything else, as the Tenth Amendment was adopted to remind us, is “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

#14 Comment By Jon S. On January 22, 2014 @ 3:21 pm

1, ” The second wants to turn them into children.” Funny how the idea of submitting yourself to a moral order and the idea that killing the defenseless should be shameful is equated with turning people into children. Indeed, I think it is the exact opposite. I think Frank makes Prof. Deneen’s Lockean point.

2. If only there was a pro-life group that also facilitated adoption, ran hospitals and schools, large social welfare charities, and saw to both material and spiritual well-being of individuals. I am racking my brain but golly I can’t think of one. Oh well, I’ll ask my priest. Maybe he can think of one.

#15 Comment By Clint On January 22, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

“A review of the medical records of 56,741 California medicaid patients revealed that women who had abortions were 160 percent more likely than delivering women to be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment in the first 90 days following abortion or delivery. Rates of psychiatric treatment remained significantly higher for at least four years.’

[3]

#16 Comment By Frank Stain On January 22, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

cmatt – ‘Except that people have always had that control – it’s called self-control.’

Look, you can continue to berate women for not being the perfectly pure moral beings that in your imagination you discern they should be, or you can take people as the frail and imperfect creatures they are, and act accordingly. A shocking number of abortions (over 40%) today involve women who live below the poverty line. If you are actually interested in reducing the number of abortions, researching the connection with poverty, lack of education and health care, etc., would seem to be the way to go. Of course, if you are simply interested in enjoying your hard won sense of moral superiority, then don’t bother with any of that.

#17 Comment By Frank Stain On January 22, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

Jon S, the point about moral submission being childlike was polemically put, but now that I think about it, it’s really just a restatement of Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma:
Does God command the good because it is good, or is it good because God commands it? It seems to me that the upper middle class have found their own rationale for not having abortions which has nothing to do with religious sanction, and everything to do with a superior understanding of human health and well being. I would agree with Plato that if you believe its wrongness consists in its being prohibited by God, you haven’t really thought through the unsettling implications of divine command theory.

#18 Comment By John Lofton On January 22, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

WHAT I REMEMBER most vividly about the just-indicted former Republican Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, is what a coward he was when it came to his professed Christian faith. A graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regent University, McDonnell wrote a master’s thesis in which he said — Biblically and correctly — that working women and feminists were”detrimental” to the family. He also said government policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.” But, when these views became widely known when he ran for Governor, McDonnell repudiated them by saying well that was a decades-old academic paper, I was a student then, my views have changed, blah, blah, blah — a disgraceful performance.

John Lofton
Director,The God And Government Project
Institute On The Constitution
[4]
[5]

#19 Comment By charles hurst author On January 22, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

Roe vs Wade had nothing to do with logic–only an easy way out for men not to be responsible for their actions. And I blame men more than women especially the ones who sat on the Supreme Court bench forty years ago who ruled for abortion.

Roe versus Wade was the turning point in our country. And
that was a point in which the nation opened the door for evil to infiltrate.For that was the decision in which we deemed that a heartbeat was not life. And the concept of the decision was an abomination.

A fetus heartbeat starts in a matter of weeks for the pregnant
woman. And the woman doesn’t know she is pregnant until after the heartbeat has begun. This is not a Christian viewpoint. It is not a separation of church and state issue. It is a scientific fact. The heartbeat is there. And we gave license to end it.

It is not just a matter of the issue being a woman’s body. I say
this loudly. And trust me, this statement does not go well in the literary world of Leftists I reside in. But it is a fact. It is no longer just her body. It is two heartbeats. She no longer has the right to end one unless she is in physical danger herself. There are no other “what if” scenarios. The heartbeat trumps all.

This was the opening to the downfall of our nation. And
people like Cuomo, NARAL, Hollywood, intelligentsia and the rest of the Progressives lash out when we say it out loud. They are like a temper tantrum thrown by a child with cookie crumbs on his mouth who screams he was never near the jar. Because once we allowed abortion, why not allow everything else? Why not state gay marriage and adoption is normal? Transgender marriage is normal? Terrible behavior by our children is normal and to be accepted? Rampant divorce? Passing out condoms to fourteen year olds? Why not? We have already committed the ultimate evil–we end the unborn. Everything else pales in comparison.

The results of this mindset that started with Roe vs Wade? A
generation that has been brought up on the long acceptance of Roe vs Wade and all the other Progressive agendas? Well here it is. The youth is opening fire.Newtown, CT. Colorado. New Mexico. Philly. And yesterday Purdue. You have created a generation of monsters. A generation that plays the Knock Out game for fun. Can’t just be the guns Mr Progressive. The Knock Out game uses fists.But why would today’s youth engage in such violence? How would their minds get there to being with?

Because you opened the door Supreme Court. You said it was fine to end a heartbeat. And then everything else became fine over the years as well.And now the young have no morals. They are amoral.I don’t have to prove my point. Newtown proved it for me. And so did the shooting at Purdue yesterday. Expect more. There is one antidote to the poison you
have swallowed. And that is a return to decency. Not in a religious sense–just a pragmatic decency. And if we aren’t going to return to basic moral values then we can expect only more destruction as our nation plummets.

Charles Hurst. Author of THE SECOND FALL. An offbeat story of Armageddon. And creator of THE RUNNINGWOLF EZINE

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#21 Comment By KateLE On January 23, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

Persuasion is more work and less gratifying than using the power of law to force people to obey. I agree it’s more effective in the long term, but I think you will have few takers if you want proponents to sacrifice authority in pursuit of results.

#22 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On January 23, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

Creating a culture of life is the only way to end abortion. Period. Outlawing abortion would only push desperate women back into doing it the old fashion way – in the shadows, without proper medical care. It wouldn’t end abortion, but it would make it even more tragic than it is now.

To end abortion, you have to end the demand for it. And to do that, I think, requires both cultural change (toward viewing abortion as, at the very best, morally suspect) and and concerted effort to give all women the means to control their own reproduction. In that regard, proponents of abstinence are hopelessly naive about the power of human will to overcome the power of human nature, though I’m sure they must enjoy sitting up there on that high horse and looking down on the rest of us poor sinners.

Let’s get real. The human sex drive is probably the single most powerful instinct we have. It is the raw force of nature and millions of years of evolution screaming at us from our hind-brains to reproduce and spread our genes before we die. Denying it is akin to suicide – it is denying what it is to be alive. The idea that all people everywhere (but mainly women of course) can be expected to have the level of self-control that abstinence demands as the only means of birth control is absurd; you may as well attempt to outlaw laughter, or crying.

No, what is needed is free and easy access to contraception and also prenatal care. You want women to take every pregnancy to term? Then you must also give women the ability to determine when to get pregnant in the first place without relying on levels of self-control that are frankly unrealistic, not to mention unfair to women since the burden falls almost entirely on them.

#23 Comment By The Wet One On January 23, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

“c matt says:
January 22, 2014 at 2:54 pm
Well, there are examples where laws did influence the culture – desegregation comes to mind.”

Did it really? As I understand it, there are some areas (most?) in the U.S. where there is de facto segregation just like in the good old days. No de jure segregation, but de facto segregation rules the day. After all, White Flight still is a thing isn’t it?

As for the abortion thing, it seems to me that it is merely the modern equivalent of infantacide back in the day. I’ve read that there used to be little old lady in many communities whose job it was to essentially starve newborns to death. The death rates in foundling hospitals approached 95%. These were socially sanctioned institutions of the day. Nowadays, we just abort children in utero, rather than killing outside the womb.

It’s not pretty, but there it is. Or so it seems to me. There’s never been a culture of life as such. Given economic realities, which are a major determinant in these things, my guess is that a culture of life will never fully take root. Inconvenient people will always be around in some way shape or form.

As for this, “the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death,” I wonder how many of them are pro-death penalty? Natural death can occur in a prison cell, but that seems to offend a section of the pro-life crowd (contrary to what popes have called for). What about that absurdity? Not worth mentioning here of course (this is a conservative site after all), but something that honest folks can’t readily ignore. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Governor Perry proudly and enthusiastically put someone to death today in Texas.

#24 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 23, 2014 @ 7:29 pm

“Overturning Roe v. Wade won’t end abortion; it will merely criminalize it. I commend your recognition that culture generally trumps law, which was the “conservative” position as recently as the Civil Rights era, when conservatives repeatedly insisted “You can’t legislate morality.”

excuse me. I would like to know just when conservatives have made such a claim. Perhaps some conservatives have said that — but that is not part of any conservative position I have ever heard of.

Laws are management tools. When they address ethical standards they certainly are about mortality. Laws against prostitution, public sexual behavior, public intoxication, stealing etc. One generally acknowledges that breaking the law often is a violation of some moral standard.

#25 Comment By Carl On January 23, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

@Frank,

“1) comprehensive sex education, widely accessible and free contraception, and excellent preventive health care have led to a very low abortion rate among the upper middle class. Replicate those things for the poor, and the abortion rate will be drastically reduced.”

The reason the poor have more abortions has nothing to do a lack of condoms. They cost around $1 per use. If you can afford cigarettes, you can afford condoms. It has nothing to do with a lack of education. Are there people alive in the US old enough to make a child who don’t know about condoms? Maybe in some cult situations, but nowhere else.

The reason that the poor have more abortions is culture. In the lower classes, young women think that it’s not that bad to have a baby between ages 15 and 25. Who knows, maybe if you get pregnant, your boyfriend will stick around and you can get married in ten years if works out. If not, you’ll raise the child with your mom’s help and find another man. It’s an understandable mindset, and it’s not caused by ignorance or poverty. If they were really that ignorant and poor, they couldn’t afford abortions and wouldn’t know about them either!

“I would agree with Plato that if you believe its wrongness consists in its being prohibited by God, you haven’t really thought through the unsettling implications of divine command theory.”

Plato’s personal take on DCT is poorly transmitted in modern universities. His belief was that Euthyphro was only faking piety superstitiously. Socrates was genuinely pious because he cared about the *real* gods, the Forms, not mere superstitions. The solution to the Euthyphro dilemma comes out quite clearly in Plato’s work as whole: the gods are the Forms, so there’s no question of whether the good or the command comes first. This is why later Christian philosophers identified their God with the Good.

#26 Comment By VietVet On January 24, 2014 @ 10:30 am

Clint – January 22, 2014 3:58 pm.

The study you cite, whose principal author was a full-time anti-abortion activist, had serious methodological limitations, which the article admits.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to examine or control for the potential effect of marital status. David and colleagues found that the greatest disparity in admission rates was among separated, widowed or divorced women.”

The same journal later published a refutation of this study, by Dr. Brenda Major. Psychological implications of abortion—highly charged and rife with misleading research. Canadian Medical Association Journal, May 13, 2003; 168 (10). [6]

#27 Comment By Nomadique On January 24, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

Changing the law can and does change the culture of the thing being regulated, not just its legal practice. As the author of the article pointed out, law does not follow culture (or vice versa) in a straight linear progression. They have a complex dynamic interplay — change one and the other changes too.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the laws surrounding marriage and sexuality. Griswold v Connecticut, the Supreme Court decision that held that no state could ban the sale of contraceptives to married couples, essentially severed the connection between marriage and reproduction. A few years later, Eisenstadt v Baird, by expanding that logic to unmarried persons, severed the link between marriage and sex. And most notoriously, of course, Roe severed the link between sex and reproduction.

It is time to call a spade a spade: the resultant sexual anarchy has been a catastrophe. It’s been a catastrophe for children, more than 40 percent of whom are now born to single women. (Of course, in terms of children, the most tragic victims of the sexual revolution have been the 55 million who were aborted.) It’s been a catastrophe for women, who with each generation have more difficulty finding any man willing to take the hard high road of marriage now that sex outside marriage, even when it results in pregnancy, has lost any social stigma. Even though the sexual revolution’s big winner — and you just knew there had to be one — has on the surface of things been men, I believe it has been a catastrophe for them as well, albeit in more subtle ways.

I believe that abortion is fundamentally a failure of love. Ask any woman who has had an abortion whether she would have gladly brought the child into the world if its father had been willing to love and stand by them both. There are always outliers, of course. But I would be willing to bet that a sizable majority of such women, if anyone bothered to listen to them, would say that they had the abortion because the pregnancy made them realize that in truth they were alone, that the intimacy they thought they had been sharing stood revealed instead as the cruelest kind of illusion.

Pro-choice people will insist that the question of the failure of love is beside the point, or even that I am making their point for them: that in a world from which love has exited stage left, taking away abortion takes away the sole remaining defensive weapon a woman has, leaves the playing field even more uneven.

But in my view, that is exactly the problem. Whether anybody particularly likes it or not, the playing field *is* uneven — always has been and always will be. That’s why we had marriage laws and a marriage culture in the first place: to channel the sexual desires of men and women, but mostly men, in the way that minimized the harm to women and children. Now it’s as if someone decided “Marriage exists because of female vulnerability, so if we do away with marriage, women will no longer be vulnerable.”

And so, in a way, it is. So long as we’re all OK with human sacrifice, which is what abortion is, on the altar of Priapus. And to those commenters who say that calling abortion the killing of a child is overheated rhetoric, I say, “Oh, please.” If a woman is pregnant and does nothing, then at the end of nine months, a child is born. That is what happens. If she has an abortion, no child is born.

You can have an argument — God knows, we’ve been having it for decades — about whether eliminating the child is or is not ever justified. But you can’t pretend that’s not what’s happening just because it makes you uncomfortable. The truth does not change according to your ability to stomach it.

#28 Comment By robby On January 24, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

practicing a pro-life stance can also be pro-choice politically/legally. I want every fetus to be able to have a chance at life. i also see that it should be up to the person who’s affected by it, and i shouldn’t tell them how to make tough choices.

#29 Comment By indyconservative On January 25, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

While law and culture do interact, it seems pretty clear to me that law follows culture, not the other way around or even a mix of the other way around. More specifically, law frequently ratifies changes in culture, as can be seen in gay marriage, pot, and other areas. If you have a problem with something going on in a culture laws will not fix it, they just weaken respect for law with lots of unintended consequences. So those people who focus on law to the exclusion of culture (which is what I typically see of abortion activists) in the end probably will not get much for their efforts. Quite simply, a large minority at minimum supports abortion rights, for a wide variety of reasons. Those reasons include social attitudes towards adopting your baby, the costs associated with having a baby when you are not financially or otherwise prepared, fraying attitudes towards marriage, etc. You have to address the reasons underlying support for abortion, or ultimately, you will merely be whistling in the wind. Without changes in culture any temporary gains in law to restrict will simply and quietly vanish in time, as they did with Prohibition, attitudes to pot, and abortion itself in the last go-round. Which is another way of saying that if you want to stop abortion, you need to address economic insecurity, deal with social stigmas, and all of those other issues that many “conservatives” seem to like to avoid but undergird support for abortion. I’ve just found it disheartening that many social conservatives keep blindly assuming that libertarians dressed up as economic conservatives really have their interests at heart as well.

#30 Comment By Georgina Davenport On January 25, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

It takes two to make a baby, but often one is left to raise it. I wish “pro-life” advocates are as passionate advocating for fair pay for women, quality and affordable child care and prenatal care, quality public education from K-12 to college, and an economy and respect workers and pay them fairly and educating the boys/men to not pressure girls and women into sex.

It’s symptomatic to simply be anti abortion to be prolife. Life may begin at conception, but it certainly doesn’t end at birth, which is the kind of world conservatives advocate for anybody who don’t own businesses or born with golden spoon.