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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
July 28, 2011

Abortion and Authoritarianism
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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Many years ago, a friend shocked me by saying: “If my wife got pregnant now, I’d make her get an abortion.” His wife, who was present, shocked me by not demurring.

The “right to choose” is nominally a woman’s. 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, I’m 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 can’t 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 failed.

The people “fail” when they don’t voluntarily adopt, or demand that their state legislatures adopt, the liberal agenda. By 1973 abortion was high on the liberal agenda, but the people weren’t 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 didn’t trouble the self-centered Blackmun that he was trying to impose his own peculiar position on a whole nation. The disposition he displayed wasn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t question its authority to issue them. We don’t even insist that it observe its constitutional limitations. We don’t 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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Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally by Griffin Internet Syndicate on May 18, 1999.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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