Celebrate Life May-June 1995, p. 39
ABORTION AND THE "MAINSTREAM"
by Joseph Sobran
copyright 1995 Joseph Sobran
PRESIDENT CLINTON HAS often said that abortion should be "safe, legal--
and rare." This is a way of endorsing legal abortion while maintaining
a stance of, if not disapproval, at least a slight moral reservation,
becoming to a "New Democrat." Hillary Clinton too has said flatly
that abortion is "wrong."
Yet early this winter, after the resignation of Joycelyn Elders as
Surgeon General, Mr. Clinton appointed an abortionist to replace her.
There was some confusion at first as to whether Dr. Henry Foster had
performed "only" one abortion, or fewer than a dozen, or several dozen,
or even several hundred--as if the important distinction lay between
these numbers. The only distinction that matters lies between zero and
Even so, Dr. Foster told "Nightline": "I abhor abortion." Clearly the
administration sensed that most of the country abhors it too. Most
Americans who want to keep it legal also feel that it should be
barely tolerated, not blessed or encouraged or sanctified as a
Contrary to pro-abortion propaganda, even the Supreme Court did not
declare abortion a right, let alone a "fundamental constitutional
right." In Roe v. Wade, it merely said that there is a penumbral
right of privacy, which, in the absence of definitive scientific
proof that a human fetus is a human being, covers a woman's decision to
abort. By implication, this extension of the right of privacy might
be rolled back by further scientific knowledge. So the "right" to
abort was highly contingent--hardly "fundamental."
The Court's reasoning was so jerry-built that even many constitutional
scholars who favor legal abortion find it embarrassing. They don't put
it this way, but the seven-man majority was obviously determined to
impose legal abortion on the entire country by any means necessary.
The liberty to abort is nowhere in the Constitution, but it was very
much in the air--the very thin air the justices were breathing.
In effect the Court struck down the abortion laws of all 50 states, the
most liberal as well as the most restrictive. Its ruling meant that
not a single state had ever interpreted the Constitution properly.
Unlike most rulings, in which one state, or a few, may be found to be
out of line with the Constitution, this ruling found all the states at
all times out of line--out of line with a devious bit of reasoning
that had never been heard before!
Furthermore, no previous justice of the Court itself, throughout its
history, had ever suggested that any of these 50 laws were at odds
with the Constitution. The very idea was so novel as to be bizarre. It
had nothing to do with the Constitution; it was simply a whim,
reflecting the current liberal agenda.
But when the White House saw the Foster nomination in trouble, it
went on the attack. It smeared opponents of the nomination as
"extremists." It argued that Foster, after all, had merely performed a
"legal procedure" a few times.
If any reasoning could be stranger than that of Roe itself, it was
this. The Court had professed to be neutral, even agnostic, about
the morality of abortion, more or less as it claims neutrality about
religion. Supposedly we were left free to disapprove of abortion.
Now the White House was arguing that because abortion is legal, it
should also be regarded as moral. And those who persisted in defending
the morality that had formed the consensus of the country before Roe
--a morality the Clintons themselves ambiguously profess to share--
were now "extremists"! Vice President Albert Gore, who not long ago
publicly opposed legal abortion, joined the campaign against the
"extremists" who still believe what he himself used to avow. Dr.
Foster too was soon denouncing his opponents as "right-wing
The White House campaign rode on a larger media campaign to read pro-
lifers out of the "mainstream" and confine them to the margin of
public life. The news media, which like the Court profess
neutrality, actually try to limit political participation to those
whose views fall within a range they consider acceptable. Those within
that range are the "mainstream"; those outside are "extremist." And,
as with the old Communist party line, today's mainstream may become
Unfortunately, this campaign isn't just political. Politics itself is
no longer "just political." The media now seek to change the very
morality of the West, or what used to be called "Christendom." They
promote the "New Morality" and demand virtual approval of it from
everyone. So a seemingly technical ruling of the Supreme Court is
expanded into a moral orthodoxy and abortion has moved from the back
alleys to the White House. Even the "conservative" "Wall Street
Journal" editorialized that it would be unfortunate if the uproar over
the Foster nomination meant that nobody who had ever performed an
abortion could ever hold public office.
And so a crime has become a right, defense of the innocent has become
extremism, and abortionists have become respectable citizens, eligible
for national leadership.
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