Douthat v. Kmiec on Abortion (Or: Why Europe Has It Right)

A self-described intemperate broadside by Ross Douthat against Douglas Kmiec re: abortion.

I have some sympathy with what Kmiec is doing.  I was especially appalled by his public rejection of the reception of the Eucharist at Mass, which I find pastorally reprehensible.  You can read Kmiec defend his position (quite lucidly) in this interview.

That being said, I tend to side with Douthat on this one.

Douthat here is spot on:

The trouble with seeking common ground on abortion is that the legal regime enacted by Roe and reaffirmed in Casey permits only the most minimal regulation of the practice, which means that any plausible “compromise” that leaves Roe in place will offer almost nothing to pro-lifers. Even the modest restrictions that prevail in many European countries (and that, not coincidentally, coincide with lower abortion rates) are out of the question under the current legal dispensation. This, in turn, explains why the national debate inevitably revolves around the composition of the Supreme Court and the either/or question of whether a president will appoint justices likely to chip away the RoeCasey regime or justices likely to uphold it.

If you follow the link Douthat provides to the BBC site on abortion in Europe, a majority of the countries have abortion per request in the first 12 weeks and after that only with doctor approval for  legitimate–and there are legitimate cases not scare quotes like John McCain used in the final debate–cases of health of mother.  As well as in some places with genetic screening of abnormalities.

While such a policy wouldn’t go far enough for the more right-wing pro-life movement (particularly on the abortion after birth defect screening issue) I think this is basically the right position.  It’s far from perfect, but I think it’s better than the US (non)debate with either party held by the extremes.

But the European parallel points to government working more in the role of passing legislation for morality/responsibility.  The policy on abortion in European countries is tied much more to the history of paternalism in European governance, which I always hear as the great enemy of true American exceptionalism from some on the right.  iow, Something like FOCA which I (like Kmiec) hope doesn’t pass, it could be argued is more deeply connected to the libertarian right model (no government regulation/influence) then the Euro model.

On the other hand, a point worth considering for Douthat, would be that if Roe were overturned, the legislative backlash that would ensue in many parts would enact pro-choice legislation much more liberal than is currently in place, even with the slanted playing field created by Roe & Casey.  A consistent federalist position on abortion would live with that reality I suppose and fair enough.

In short, it’s a mess and I don’t see anyway it’s going to get better any time soon.

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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