March 2, 2006
The South Dakota legislature recently passed a bill that would ban almost all abortions, obviously hoping to precipitate a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court; see Washington Post. [Governor Mike Rounds has until March 20 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, after which it would otherwise become law automatically.] Generally speaking, abortion is a low priority issue for me. I think it's obvious that Roe v. Wade was decided on bogus constitutional grounds, and that the function of defining civil rights lies exclusively within the legislative domain, not the courts. Like most Americans, I think that too many abortions are being performed, but I also believe that in gray areas like these, it is best to leave the decision up to the individual. Thus, I think the South Dakota bill is much too restrictive. On the other hand, I also think that the states should have the power to set their own rules according to local moral standards, as long as they do not impinge upon the laws of other states.
As for the politics of the issue, I am annoyed by the strident tone and frequent hypocrisy expressed by activists on both sides of the issue. There is, however, an especially glaring inconsistency on the "pro-choice" side, which was brought to the forefront in a letter to the editor in yesterday's Washington Post: "Women in South Dakota may be forced to seek illegal abortions, and doctors in the state will be powerless to help them." [emphasis added] Forced by whom, exactly? Isn't abortion supposed to be a matter of choice? It might help to apply this logic to a different issue involving morality and the law: If Prohibition were reenacted, would I be "forced" to buy bootleg liquor? I am not trying to compare a common vice to a traumatic personal dilemma, I am just calling attention to the basic fact that the conscience with which human beings are endowed is what enables us to live in a free, well-ordered society, and to decide whether or not to obey the law.
UPDATE: The South Dakota Politics blog has been following this issue closely, of course. Not surprisingly, they are getting a lot of hateful e-mail from some out-of-staters.
Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero continues to coax his country toward the secular mainstream of Europe, ending religious instruction in public schools, and pushing for liberalized laws on abortion, divorce, and other moral issues. This has angered many traditionalists who want to maintain the Catholic Church's quasi-official status. According to the Washington Post, Zapatero's agenda is "creating some of [the] deepest political and social schisms in Spain since it returned to democracy 28 years ago." To a large extent, this is a generational issue: Spaniards over the age of 80 can still recall the wave of church burnings unleashed by the leftist Republican faction during the Spanish Civil War, and they are deeply suspicious of the contemporary counterparts to that movement represented by Zapatero. In contrast, young adults in Spain are well aware that Generalissimo Francisco Franco was a stick-in-the-mud brute, and tend to equate social conservatives with apologists for the franquista dictatorship. The thriving democracy and prosperity enjoyed by the citizens of modern Spain are the fruits of the constitutional arrangement that was carefully constructed after the death of Franco in 1975. I wrote on Jan. 28 that Zapatero is taking a big risk with autonomy for Catalonia. If he proceeds with his sweeping reform agenda with only a slim majority in the Cortes (parliament), he would put Spain's precious social stability in even greater jeopardy.