The new new (old) thing

Probably, there are a significant number of families out there in this great nation of ours who could, right now, act to make most of their children a lot better off. They could do so by killing one of their children. That would leave lots more resources for the other kids: more maternal attention, more money, and maybe it wouldn't be so hard for Mom to find a decent stepdad without all these screaming kids.

Now raise your hand if you think that's a winning political argument for legalizing infanticide . . . all right, Peter Singer, put your hand down. Anyone else?

I do, I do, I do wish that pro-choicers would lose the delusion that the only reason they're having political trouble is that they're just not explaining it right. Telling people that we should allow abortion because it leaves more time and energy for the other kids sounds really compelling if you are already a vigorous supporter of abortion rights. If you think that abortion is kind of like murder, then it sounds as if you are talking to the worst kind of quasi-utilitarian sociopath.

The gulf in opinion between the roughly 30% of Americans who are strong supporters of abortion rights, and the vast mushy middle, is not caused by a lack of information. People are really very familiar with the procedure, and why women choose to get it. The things they are not familiar with--things like what an eight-week-old fetus looks like, or how many women getting abortions are repeat customers (answer: most of them) often do not redound to the pro-choice side's benefit.

Nor has the pro-choice movement been stymied because we just haven't hit on the right combination of code words to convince the great unwashed that abortion rights are the real family values. It's that most people in America believe that a fetus has some, though not unlimited, rights that have to be weighed against those of the mother. The way you overcome this, IMHO, is to acknowlege this as a valid point of view, and then to explain reasonably why you disagree. It is not to hunt for better code words. Believe me, we tried 'em all fifteen years ago, from "A woman's right to choose . . . the right time to raise a family" to the gnarly pictures of coat hanger abortions. You may note that this did not produce the upswelling of pro-NARAL sentiment that we eagerly anticipated.

The visceral revulsion against scraping a fetus out of your womb is very, very strong. Most people believe that a fetus is something very close to a baby, which makes almost all of the slogans the movement deploys sound kind of stupid. Yet we keep deploying them because so many pro-choicers, especially the young coastal ones who provide the movement's energy, have not really emotionally appreciated what it means to think that the thing inside her stomach is a baby. Hint: leave the Bentham at home.

I don't have a solution to this, mind you; my finely distinguished arguments about the wisdom of giving the state this sort of coercive physical power have not been noticeably more successful. But insanity is the belief that you can keep doing the same thing and get different results. It's time to stop the madness.