Ramesh Ponnuru, The Party of Death: How Liberal Democrats Became the Party of Abortion, Euthanasia, and Disregard for Human Life (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Pub. Inc., 2006)
As someone who goes to political dinner parties on both sides of the Atlantic, I have the following two experiences on a regular basis:Experience One:
American Liberal: "Mr. O'Sullivan, our American obsession with abortion is so embarrassing. Why can't we be like Europe? They're much more sophisticated. It's not even a political issue there. Please pass the blue sweetener."
Myself: "Well, that may be because the laws in most European countries are much stricter than those in the U.S. Women have no constitutional right to an abortion. In Britain, for instance, except in cases of severe handicap, abortions are not permitted after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy."
American Liberal: "What! That's barbaric."Experience Two:
European Sophisticate: "My dear John, you Americans are too absurd. This sexual abstinence, your fundamentalist Christians, all this political fuss about abortion. How do you explain such an obsession? This Armagnac is delicious, no?"
Myself: "Yes. Well, that may be because the courts have ruled that there can be no restrictions on a woman's right to an abortion. An abortion can be performed on a fully viable fetus-even, in the case of partial-birth abortion, as the baby is leaving the womb."
European sophisticate: "What! That's barbaric."
In other words what people think about abortion is strongly influenced by what they know. But the ignorance of most people, including usually well-informed people like my dinner-party companions, about a topic that has been as controversial for as long as abortion does seem to call for explanation.
Ramesh Ponnuru provides one in his new book, "The Party of Death," (Regnery Publishing), about the politics of abortion, stem cell research, and cloning. He deals, first, with the nature of people's ignorance. Most Americans, let alone most European sophisticates, have no idea that the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, establishing a constitutional right to abortion, means that a woman can obtain an abortion right up to the moment of her baby's birth. When this claim is advanced, they point out that Roe specifically insists that states may regulate abortion in the second trimester and prohibit it in the third trimester.
But Roe also states that states can neither ban nor regulate abortion in cases where a doctor certifies that a woman's life or health would be adversely affected. And in a second Supreme Court judgment, Doe v. Bolton, delivered that same day, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that the doctor's medical judgment should be exercised "in the light of all factors-physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age-relevant to the well-being of the patient." In brief: unfettered choice posing as a clinical decision.
Roe and Doe together allow a woman and her doctor to have a legal abortion for any reason at any time before birth and arguably even during birth. The courts have confirmed this in countless cases but especially in those striking down state and federal laws to prohibit or regulate "partial birth abortion"- i.e., the procedure in which a baby is partly delivered and, while in the birth canal, has his or her skull crushed and his or her brains sucked out.
Most Americans don't know this is legal. If they did, they would oppose it. We reasonably infer this from the 2003 Gallup poll that 68 per cent of Americans thought that abortion should be "generally illegal" in the second trimester, let alone the third. This popular opposition has grown slowly but steadily for at least the last decade.
Today the single most accurate way of describing the opinion of the American people is as follows: "Most Americans oppose most abortions." On the one hand t