Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mitt Romney Lost Because of Abortion

The despondency, fear, and loathing in the GOP has begun, with a wide range of explanations for Romney's loss in what should have been a slam-dunk year against Obama.  So far, I've seen:
  • The GOP will never win until they have the courage to nominate a conservative.
  • The GOP will never win until they nominate a competent moderate and don't drag him down in the primaries.
  • The GOP will never win until it fixes its core values to appeal to hispanics and women.
  • The Obama campaign had an amazing secret sauce to get out the vote, and the GOP will be fine next time because they'll have the same secret sauce.
  • We're no longer a center-right country, and conservatives need to concentrate on seizing the cultural levers of power.
  • We're no longer a center-right country, so conservatives need to build themselves a parallel society next to the one that's ultimately going to fail.  (If you've got an hour and half to burn, listening to Bill Whittle grope his way toward something coherent on this topic is kind interesting.  I suspect that when he's done with this it won't sound quite as looney as it did in spots.)
  • We're no longer a center-right country, and we're all gonna die.
Some of these are laughable.  Some of them are pretty close to the truth.  Some are... worth deeper consideration.  But I think the most plausible is that the Obama campaign not only had a secret sauce for getting out the vote, but they had a real issue on which to ladle the secret sauce.

The Obama campaign, with a little bit of mind-boggling stupidity from the Republicans, managed to scare women out of their minds, convincing them that Romney was unacceptable.  And they did it over abortion.

I have a wife, two daughters, and a son.  One of my daughters and my son are apolitical--they are, in effect, the dreaded low-information voters, but they don't vote.

My wife also didn't vote, but she's far from a low-information voter.  She's just decided that voting only encourages the bastards, and they're all equally bad.  Plus, we live in Texas.  Why bother, when you know what the result is?

My oldest daughter (she's 31) is well-informed and a regular voter.  She has the handicap of having a BFA from a California art college, so she's been exposed to the absolute worst that liberal academia could possibly throw at her.  However, she's also my daughter, so she's emerged as a relatively centrist, probably slightly left-of-center, voter.

She considered voting for Romney and liked a lot of his economic ideas.  But she ultimately decided that she couldn't vote for him because she was sure that he was going to destroy the reproductive rights infrastructure in the US.  All arguments to the contrary were lost on her.  Romney and the Republicans were just too dangerous even to consider voting for them.  According to her, all of her friends thought the same way.  My wife thought the same way; if she'd voted, she would have voted against Romney for this sole issue.

Now, this is admittedly the smallest sample possible.  And my daughter admittedly is part of the Austin artsy-musician-y community, which is pretty liberal.  But I have a hunch that Obama won the election because of people like her.

The abortion issue poisons all attempts the GOP will make to regain a working electoral majority.  Unmarried women won't vote for them.  Married women who remember the 60's won't vote for them.  Only married women who are happily building families will vote for them.  Since this is a shrinking demographic, the anti-abortion activists in the GOP will manage to lose election after election for their candidates.

I am pro-abortion.  I hate the term "pro-choice" because using it prevents a frank confrontation with the ugly truth about abortion:  It's a way to kill something that would otherwise turn into a human being.  When it comes to things like this, the individual has no "choice"; society gets to make laws that bind its citizens to certain courses of action.  I don't support a burglar's right to choose whether to rip me off; I'm anti-burglary.  I don't support a violent felon's right to choose whether to beat the crap out of me;  I'm anti-battery.  But I'm pro-abortion.


Before I can explain why, I have to make things worse.  See, I actually believe that a fertilized egg is alive and for all intents and purposes human.  Will all such fertilized eggs implant and start pregnancies?  No.  But hormonal contraception will guarantee that pretty close to 100% of any zygotes that would implant, don't, and die.  Will all pregnancies result in a live birth?  No; about one third of all pregnancies end in spontaneous miscarriage.  But abortion again guarantees that almost 100% of all viable pregnancies against which it is performed will end without a live birth.  (And the small fraction that don't--well, we'll get to that.)

A common "pro-choice" argument is that a blastula, or an embryo, or an early-to-mid-term fetus isn't human because it's not viable ex vivo.  That's certainly true, but a baby isn't viable ex vivo either, without its mother's care.  Yet (almost) all cultures consider babies to be human.  Another argument is that a fetus is something less than human because it lacks many uniquely human features and faculties.  But a baby lacks many of those faculties as well.  And a baby resembles an adult human about as much as a blastula resembles a baby.  Don't think so?  Try touching a baby's arms together above its head.  Babies are born as partially-grown heads with a minimum life-support system.  They don't look or act much like people.  We're awfully fond of them, for powerful evolutionary reasons, but the only thing they have in common with adult humans is a genotype.

So, given all of the above, how can I possibly be pro-abortion?

I'm pro-abortion because we as a society get to decide when the taking of human life is justifiable and when it's murder.  We can kill people in wars and celebrate the people who do so.  We can kill people in defense of ourselves or our families and society holds us blameless.  We execute humans that have done things so heinous that we as a society consider ourselves better off without their continued existence.  We almost always regret the taking of human life, even when justified, but we do it anyway, in some circumstances.

I consider early-term abortion to be justifiable homicide.

Sounds really bad, doesn't it?  And yet, I think I can support my argument, and further show that it's merely an attempt to put something that about half the people in the country support onto a semi-ethical foundation.

For fifty years now, ever since the technology became available, women have been able to control their fertility.  The ability to do this might not have resulted in breaking down the gender-specific roles we had in our culture.  We might, as a society, have decided that women should have remained homemakers in single-income families, even if those families had control over the number of children they had, including the ability to have none at all.  Indeed, there were plenty of arguments in the 70's and 80's to that very effect.  But those arguments failed.  We provided women largely equal opportunity in almost all aspects of modern life.  It dramatically improved our economic output, but it also made the two-earner family a requirement, because the economy adapted to the new economic power afforded to women.  We can't go back to a gender-segregated set of societal roles.  If we did, our economy would collapse.

An unwanted child is therefore now an economic disaster.  Not only does it affect the woman, who can't work effectively for a long period, it also affects her entire family.  A family living hand-to-mouth on two incomes can cease to be viable as the result of an extra child.  Loss of viability could mean dissolution of the family, inability to raise the existing children properly, homelessness, hopelessness, and who knows what other misery.

So the equality of women has led, irreversibly, to families with a lot less slack in their finances, and that in turn has led to the requirement that women be able to control their fertility.  That's largely achieved through contraception but when that fails, early-term abortion is a necessity.

Of course, women could just stop having sex, both in an out of wedlock, until they wanted children.  But again, we've crossed that bridge as a society and burned it behind us.  And let's be honest:  that was never really an option, was it?  Even before contraception, women had sex, sometimes with disastrous consequences.  But it's what human beings do.  Depriving half of the country to engage in an activity that makes almost everybody happier is a horrible idea.

But what of the unwanted child itself?  The "pro-life" (a term as deceptive as its opposite) argument is that the child's right to life trumps any amount of economic hardship for the family into which it is born.  That's a valid topic for debate, but I suggest that everybody who espouses that belief should spend some time with the chronically poor.  And there's nothing that will make a family chronically poor faster than having unwanted, unaffordable children.

Economically non-viable families produce socially non-viable children at an alarming rate.  Sure, lots of kids escape chronic poverty, but lots don't.  And those unlucky kids don't just grow up poor.  They grow up... stunted.  Stifled.  Hopeless.  And we're not just talking about the unwanted child here; that child's siblings suffer the same hardships, even though they're completely innocent of the action that dropped their family below the line.

Almost everybody, even the most ardently pro-life, believe that abortion is justifiable to save the life of the mother.  This makes sense:  if the mother dies, the fetus dies with her.  Better to sacrifice one life than two.  But why doesn't that argument apply to the family as a whole?  Where's the moral distinction?

More than anything else, that's why I believe that early-term abortion is justifiable homicide.  But let's not kid ourselves:  this is a bad thing, even if it's sometimes a necessary thing.

I don't think I'm going to change any minds among the pro-life faction here.  But let's return to the political now.  If for no other reason than that economy can't manage without it, abortion is going to continue.  The pro-life faction needs to understand this.  They're not going to win.

Even worse, though, the pro-lifers recently came close enough to succeeding that the other side, the political side that can't live without the cover of their "pro-choice" half-truth, had to consider the possibility that they might win.  This inevitably forces the pro-choicers to fight for every last inch of political ground.  No issue that even whiffs of "reproductive rights" can be ceded.  They'll mobilize every last resource to fight for the most repellent of practices, because they know that every time they lose a battle, the owners of the "pro-life" half-truth will advance, ready to conquer the next issue.  Neither side can back down.

And yet, I'll bet that an overwhelming majority of Americans would agree with the following:
  • Partial-birth abortions are an obscenity.  Unless the life of the mother is threatened, there should never be an excuse for this practice.  
  • If the baby from a medically necessary abortion is born alive, it needs to be treated as a baby.  That may mean that the mother has the right to make the agonizing choice to withhold medical care and watch her child struggle and die, or it may mean that we as a society are on the hook for endless care of a premature baby, if that's the mother's choice.  But we can't cross that line; if the child is born alive, it's born alive.
  • Short of medical necessity, there is no excuse for an abortion later than the end of the first trimester.  If the mother is an idiot and doesn't know she's pregnant, too bad.  She can put the baby up for adoption after she's carried it to term.  If we're going to tolerate abortion at all, we have to treat it as acceptable only as a failure of contraception, and that demands that the mother take some responsibility for understanding what's going on with her body and making a prompt decision.
  • Pregnant minor children are their parents' responsibility.  The parent decides what happens, just like with any other medical procedure.  If the parents decide that their daughter should carry a pregnancy to term, so be it.  After all, the baby will be their responsibility.  Withholding notification from parents is insane.
This looks like the best--possibly the only--compromise that's possible on this issue.  It's an important issue, even if it poisons every piece of political discourse that it touches.  Fundamentally, this is about what acts a society considers to be murder, and I can't think of a more important public policy topic.

But the social conservatives need to understand that abortion isn't going away.  The social and economic pressures to continue it are overwhelming.  Societies have the morals that they can afford, and our society can't afford the cost, both in economic and human terms, of unwanted children.  Until they understand this, and work out a firewall compromise like the one I've outlined above, they're going to continue to lose elections.  They got too close to succeeding in rolling back a set of laws whose existence most women depend upon, and they're never going to be given another chance to do so.

If they hold on to this, they will be politically annihilated, over and over again, until they stop.  And the net result will be a continued fraying of economic prosperity, liberty, and consensus culture.

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