May 18, 1999
ago, a friend shocked me by saying: If my wife got pregnant
now, Id make her get an abortion. His wife, who was
present, shocked me by not demurring.
The right to choose is
nominally a womans. But in real life, the decision is usually made
by the man, whether by dominating her directly or by threatening to leave
her, withholding support from the child.
And yet I have never heard of any other
man being as candid about this as my old friend (who has since changed his
mind, Im happy to say). Men who favor abortion talk in the rhetoric
of altruism: they have nothing to gain from it, you understand, they merely
want women to be free. The fact that a timely abortion could spare them
the burdens of fatherhood in no way affects their position. Of course they
for some reason prefer the word choice to abortion.
Yet there are tens of millions of men in
America whom abortion has saved from unwanted responsibility. Among
these, not more than a handful are willing to admit their role in
pressuring women to get abortions.
The legalization of abortion has removed
risk and responsibility from being male, thereby diminishing masculinity
itself. The man who is only too willing to trifle with maidens
affections, once known as a cad, is now virtually the norm,
as far as the law is concerned. He has nothing to lose by seducing a girl
and getting her pregnant. He cant even be forced to bear the
expense of having his child killed.
Freedom should mean an arrangement
where everyone bears responsibility for his own acts. But it has come to
mean the rejection of responsibility.
This has come about not because our government is
democratic, but because it is autocratic. There was no popular clamor for
legal abortion; the U.S. Supreme Court imposed it arbitrarily. Just as other
countries have been ruled by military coups, the United States has
suffered from a series of judicial coups. Military coups occur when top
army officers decide that the existing government has failed; judicial
coups occur when Supreme Court justices decide that the people have
The people fail when they
dont voluntarily adopt, or demand that their state legislatures
adopt, the liberal agenda. By 1973 abortion was high on the liberal agenda,
but the people werent moving fast enough: all 50 states retained
restrictions on abortion. Obviously, it was time for the Court to act to
correct this intolerable situation.
The Court exercises what might be
described as a line-item veto over the Constitution. It arbitrarily decides
which clauses really count and which ones may be ignored; which ones may
be expanded, endowed with penumbras and
emanations, and which ones may be construed so narrowly
as to have no effect.
The late Justice Harry Blackmun said
that capital punishment was unconstitutional, even though the text of the
Constitution mentions it repeatedly and most states have always had it. It
didnt trouble the self-centered Blackmun that he was trying to
impose his own peculiar position on a whole nation. The disposition he
displayed wasnt democratic; it was authoritarian in the purest and
worst sense: he made his own will superior to the law he was supposedly
interpreting (just as he and his colleagues on the Court had done with
abortion). I myself think capital punishment is wrong; but that
wouldnt justify me, if I were a justice, in declaring it contrary to
the Constitution that explicitly provides for it.
The general acquiescence of Americans
in authoritarian government would astonish our ancestors. We no longer
ask by what authority the government does what it does; we may obey or
evade its dictates, but we dont question its authority to issue
them. We dont even insist that it observe its constitutional
limitations. We dont presume to tell it what the Constitution
means; instead, it tells us!
And yet we continue to pretend we live in
a constitutional democracy. To borrow the language of psychobabble, we
are trapped in an abusive relationship with our own government, but we
are in deep denial about it.
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