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
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 Roger shrieking with incoherent
rage while her fellow panellists nodded and murmured in agreement. No surprises
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
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
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.