April 6, 2007

On rights, freedom, and being pro-abortion

A troubling line of political and legal thinking on abortion is starting to gain traction in not only the Democratic Party, but the Republican one as well.

Rudy Giuliani, the current Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination—which, by the way, is like saying that the Pittsburgh Pirates are the current frontrunners to win the World Series—recently came out as not only pro-choice, but also pro-abortion. It’s one thing to say that government should not restrict abortion (that’s the pro-choice position) and quite another to say that the government should pay for abortion (that’s the pro-abortion stance). Giulani recently said, “Ultimately, [abortion is] a constitutional right, and therefore if it’s a constitutional right, ultimately, even if you do it on a state-by-state basis, you have to make sure people are protected.” This is his way of saying—and he’s admitted as much—that he thinks the government should subsidize abortion because it’s a “constitutional right.”

This line of reasoning is eerily similar to one espoused by John Kerry in 2004’s second presidential debate. Then, he said regarding abortion that “you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means…making certain that you don’t deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the Constitution affords them if they can’t afford it otherwise.” In that same answer, Kerry claimed that he doesn’t want to impose an “article of faith”—in this case, opposition to abortion—on people who don’t share that “article.” (Never mind that many who oppose abortion rights do so for reasons other than religious conviction.) In the same breath, however, Kerry is more than happy to force taxpayers who oppose abortion to pay for a practice that they find morally reprehensible.

Even if you take it for granted that the Constitution protects abortion (it doesn’t), that doesn’t mean that the Constitution obliges the government to subsidize it. In the same way, the fact that the Constitution protects your freedom of religion doesn’t mean that the government has to build you a church, nor does it have to give you a printing press if you choose to exercise your freedom of the press. On the other hand, the Constitution does seem to imply that the government should pay for some rights, like legal counsel in a criminal trial.

Let’s say that what the Constitution protects but doesn’t force the government to pay for are “freedoms,” and what the government protects and forces the government to subsidize are “rights.” That said, the question remains: Is abortion a freedom or a right? If the Constitution did say something about abortion, it would probably be only about protecting it as a freedom, as very few things in the Constitution are protected as “rights” under my definition. But this argument about whether abortion is a “freedom” or a “right” is ultimately pedantic, because the Constitution does not, in fact, guarantee abortion as either a freedom or right; if it did, then we’d know which one it is. Of course that’s not what the Supreme Court says, but if the Supreme Court were to declare that Pluto is a planet, that wouldn’t make it so.

Going back to Giuliani, he says that “if [abortion]’s real important to you, if that’s the most important thing, I’m comfortable with the fact that you won’t vote for me.” I’m comfortable with that fact too, but I’d also be comfortable if Rudy Giuliani doesn’t win the nomination. It’s easy for liberals like Giuliani (whoops) to dismiss the “no-choice”—as one Maroon columnist dubbed it—movement as a bunch of fringe lunatics who exist exclusively in HBO documentaries about anti-abortion violence. But we “no-choicers” are a dedicated, mainstream group intent on stopping Giuliani’s pro-abortion candidacy. In fact, I think that’s a good bumper sticker idea: “I’m NO-Choice, and I VOTE!”