On May 2, someone leaked the first draft of a US Supreme Court decision proposing that the historic ruling in the case Roe v Wade be reversed. Justice Samuel Alito’s draft decision, if adopted, would mean American women no longer had a constitutional right to abortion.
The reaction was immediate and frenzied. The overwhelmingly left-liberal (i.e. pro-abortion) media, not just in America but throughout the English-speaking world, erupted with fury at the prospect that a long-entrenched feminist article of faith – namely, that a woman’s right to abort a baby takes precedence over the unborn child’s right to survive – might be overturned. As Kerry Wakefield (a woman, in case you’re wondering) pungently put it in The Spectator Australia: “The feminist offence machine ratcheted up to full, wild-eyed stridency, with Democrat congresswoman Elizabeth Warren doing everything short of howling at the moon.”
The revisiting of Roe v Wade is a rare setback for a political class that has become accustomed to calling the shots. The tone of their outrage was perfectly captured by the whiny headline on a video published on the Guardian’s website: “It feels like such a betrayal”. Another Guardian headline pronounced that the Alito draft, if adopted, would be a "global catastrophe for women". Such restraint ...
Well, better suck it up, folks. The anti-abortion lobby knows all too well what it’s like to be on the losing side. Now the boot appears to be on the other foot and the champions of abortion rights are not taking it at all well.
But here's the thing. In the weeks since the leak I’ve listened to hours of discussion, analysis and speculation on the BBC and America’s left-leaning National Public Radio. Not once did I hear a pro-life voice. (Correction: the BBC’s Stephen Sackur included a question about the Alito draft at the very tail end of an interview with Victoria Sparz, a pro-life Congresswoman, but left no time for her to expand on her answer.)
Not surprisingly, Roe v Wade has aroused less interest in the New Zealand media. Why should it, when the New Zealand abortion rights lobby has achieved its aim of making abortion as simple, at least in legal terms, as a tooth extraction (and treats it as if it’s no more morally complicated)?
But there has been a certain amount of venting in solidarity with the American sisterhood. On TV Three’s dependably woke The Project, I saw an over-excited Kate Rodger shrieking with incoherent rage while her fellow panellists nodded and murmured in agreement. No surprises there.
Media coverage of the Alito draft, in other words, has been overwhelmingly and egregiously one-sided – a perfect illustration of where the media sit in the culture wars. Even people who believe in a woman’s right to have an abortion would struggle to argue that the controversy has been reported in a fair and balanced way.
As with climate change, a stifling and oppressive media groupthink prevails. And what’s particularly striking about the tone of media commentary is the obvious assumption that everyone shares the media elite’s anger, as if no half-intelligent or reasonable person could possibly be opposed to unrestricted abortion rights.
These are the new bigots – people who are not only intolerant of dissenting views but so convinced of their own rightness that they don’t even acknowledge the existence of counter-arguments.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. One thing that did surprise me, however, was to learn that the supposedly neutral and “fiercely independent” Wellington-based online news site Scoop declined to publish two news releases on Roe v Wade from the anti-abortion group Right to Life – this after running a pro-choice column by Scoop's leftist in-house commentator Gordon Campbell and two statements from abortion rights groups attacking the Alito draft.
I’ve admired Scoop in the past, naively believing it was willing to publish all shades of news and opinion, but its credibility now is shot – a shame, because if it had the guts and integrity to live up to its own hype, it could serve as a valuable platform for groups unable to gain traction in the mainstream media.
As for Alito’s draft decision, some pertinent facts appear to have been overlooked amid the backlash. The first and most important is that if the Supreme Court goes ahead and overturns Roe v Wade, abortion rights will become a matter for each state to decide. In other words, decisions on abortion law will be handed back to the elected representatives of the people – which, in a properly functioning democracy, is surely where they belonged in the first place. The 1973 decision overrode states' rights to determine their own laws and now they may get them back. But far from applauding this judicial nod to people power, the pro-abortion camp is aghast. Leftist ideologues tend to be distrustful of democracy because they can never be sure that people will vote the correct way.
To put it another way, a reversal of Roe v Wade would be only a partial unspooling of the law. It’s not as if the court is likely to rule that abortion will become illegal everywhere and in any circumstances (although some abortion rights activists, desperate to stir up opposition even if it means telling porkies, are suggesting that’s exactly what will happen).
On that note, it’s amusing – in an ironic way – to hear activists wailing that a bunch of mostly male judges in Washington DC have made what they condemn as an “ideological” decision. Isn’t that pretty much what happened in 1973 when the court (which was then entirely male) ruled in favour of women’s right to terminate a pregnancy? The only thing different is that the dominant ideology on the court bench has been reversed. The current is now running in the other direction and the feminists, having had things their way for 50 years, don’t like it.
As my friend and former colleague Bob Edlin observed, “the ruling effectively demonstrates that one bunch of judges can determine something one day, based on what they argue the US constitution allows or disallows. Another bunch of judges with different ideological leanings can rule to the contrary several years [or in this case decades] later.”
As Bob points out, the US constitution hasn’t changed; only the composition of the court has. This highlights a fundamental flaw in a system that places enormous power in the hands of judges appointed on the basis of their political and ideological leanings in the expectation that they will interpret the constitution accordingly.
The court is expected to release its final decision next month or in July. In the meantime we can expect to be bombarded with canards such as “abortion is a health issue”. (Not for the unborn baby it’s not. And in any case, since when were pregnancy and childbirth classified as illnesses?)
Placards waved by Roe v Wade demonstrators also assert that “abortion is a human right”. Since when? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948, which was the distillation of centuries of thinking and writing about the subject, makes no mention of abortion. It does, however, unequivocally assert the right to life. The fiction that abortion is a human right is an invention of late 20th century feminism, but the slogan has an undeniably catchy appeal to people incapable of thinking above bumper-sticker level.