Pro-Choice, Anti-Roe

An important editorial from Richard Cohen of the Washington Post today – Cohen is a left-of-center writer who is pro-choice on abortion – called Support Choice, Not Roe.

…I no longer see abortion as directly related to sexual freedom or feminism, and I no longer see it strictly as a matter of personal privacy, either. It entails questions about life — maybe more so at the end of the process than at the beginning, but life nonetheless.

This is not a fashionable view in some circles, but it is one that usually gets grudging acceptance when I mention it. I know of no one who has flipped on the abortion issue, but I do know of plenty of people who no longer think of it as a minor procedure that only prudes and right-wingers oppose. The antiabortion movement has made headway.


If a Supreme Court ruling is going to affect so many people then it ought to rest on perfectly clear logic and up-to-date science. Roe, with its reliance on trimesters and viability, has a musty feel to it, and its argument about privacy raises more questions than it answers. For instance, if the right to an abortion is a matter of privacy then why, asked Princeton professor Robert P. George in the New York Times, is recreational drug use not? You may think you ought to have the right to get high any way you want, but it’s hard to find that right in the Constitution. George asks the same question about prostitution. Legalize it, if you want — two consenting adults, after all — but keep Jefferson, Madison and the rest of the boys out of it.


Conservatives — and some liberals — have long argued that the right to an abortion ought to be regulated by states. They have a point. My guess is that the more populous states would legalize it, the smaller ones would not, and most women would be protected. The prospect of some women traveling long distances to secure an abortion does not cheer me — I’m pro-choice, I repeat — but it would relieve us all from having to defend a Supreme Court decision whose reasoning has not held up. It seems more fiat than argument.

For liberals, the trick is to untether abortion rights from Roe. The former can stand even if the latter falls. The difficulty of doing this is obvious. Roe has become so encrusted with precedent that not even the White House will say how Harriet Miers would vote on it, even though she is rigorously antiabortion and politically conservative. Still, a bad decision is a bad decision. If the best we can say for it is that the end justifies the means, then we have not only lost the argument — but a bit of our soul as well.

Cohen doesn’t have it quite right when he says, “If a Supreme Court ruling is going to affect so many people then it ought to rest on perfectly clear logic and up-to-date science.” A Supreme Court ruling is supposed to rest on the laws as written, including the Constitution. Of course we’d like laws to reflect clear logic and up-to-date science, but that’s the job of Congress, not the courts. But over all, this is a powerful article. When a pro-choice Democrat, writing for one of the largest newspapers in the nation, comes out and says it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Roe vs. Wade were overturned, it could be very helpful in further shifting the debate. It’s a sure sign of improvement that such thoughts can even be uttered in the polite company of elite East coast liberal opinion.

Our position has always been that the U.S. Constitution simply doesn’t address the abortion issue, and that whether one is personally pro-choice or pro-life is a separate question.

Judge’s Views
Captain’s Quarters.

One response to “Pro-Choice, Anti-Roe

  1. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see a liberal elite wrongdoer say “things” that are unfashionable in “some circles.” (You know who you are!) Watch Cohen force grudging liberals to admit their doubts about “questions about life” and accept the ethical concerns of “prudes and right-wingers.” There’s money to be made from rhetoric, but, lucky you, Cohen’s genius is not rhetoric–emphymenes either false or true–but wonderful gestures. See him pantomime the shallow youth who glibly arranged an abortion for a woman he never saw again. Chaplin was never so economical, or vivid! That was long ago, in days when Cohen was more attached to sexual freedom, feminism, and personal privacy. See him dismiss liberal preoccupations that don’t deserve constitutional consideration today. “I would do things a bit differently now,” he sighs. How differently? Cohen doesn’t tell us. His confessional pose, while maybe not quite good enough to be good for the soul (his or his audience’s), is very satisfying. A whistful sigh. . .

    Cut! Back to the script, people. Cohen writes that, thanks to the pro-life movement, society no longer considers abortion to be a “minor procedure.” However, back in the days I remember, abortion was various things, major surgery with a coat hanger, abortionists in jail, but it was never minor.

    Don’t worry, Cohen would never try to sell from an empty wagon–he says up front he’s got no “profound” constitutional objections to Roe. Cohen just feels something in his bones. Common sense. Everybody just knows that abortion is not a private matter. It’s like your personal stash, you know, the business of the D.A.! (Mr. Cohen, thanks, I never realized how my stash affected interstate commerce, or how my abortion persuaded other women’s fetuses to abort!)

    Overturning Roe would be a political bonanza for pro-choice Democrats, but a bad thing for America and for our constitution. Because, if a woman has a right to kill her fetus, surely that right crosses state lines, and if a state has the right to kill a woman and/or the abortionist she hires, surely all states do. And it would be wrong for politicians to adjudicate our rights from the desks of Congress.