New Yorkers are used to listening to two AM all-news stations: WCBS and WINS. WINS’ venerable motto is “all news, all the time.”
Well, the motto of America’s abortion establishment is fast becoming “all abortion, all the time.”
That’s essentially what Jessica Valenti argues in an August 27 blog on the website of The Nation1, a weekly that describes itself as “the flagship of the left.” “When did so many feminists get polite on abortion?” asks the author in her opening sentence. I hadn’t noticed that they had.
But Valenti has. “Tiptoeing around the [abortion] issue is exhausting,” she writes, “and it’s certainly not doing women any favors.” Valenti, who Britain’s Guardian newspaper calls “a pioneering blogger whose online activism dragged feminism into the 21st century,” acknowledges that the 2012 “war on women” rhetoric restored abortion to “the center of the national conversation.” But she insists the way it happened was wrong: Abortion advocates “fram[ed] reproductive rights issues in the most palatable way possible: by shying away from wholeheartedly supporting comprehensive abortion access.” Valenti wants to “resuscitate the old rallying cry for ‘free abortions on demand without apology.’” The Hyde Amendment, she claims, has taken an “incredible toll . . . on low-income families,” but this is “a message the mainstream [women’s] movement has been hesitant to take on.”
The abortion establishment has never gotten over the fact that the juggernaut launched by Roe v. Wade hit its first (and most serious) speed bump with the 1977 Supreme Court case, Beal v. Doe.2 In that decision, the Court upheld Pennsylvania’s right not to fund abortion under the federal Medicaid program.3 That, together with the unremitting demand of the House of Representatives to enact the Hyde Amendment in 1976, constituted the first major defeat for abortion proponents after Roe (the Senate, willing to hold up the entire Labor-HEW Appropriations bill to which the Hyde Amendment was attached, voted to pass it only after a life-of-the-mother exception was added).
Opponents of the Hyde Amendment have long sought to gut it. Being unable to strip it completely from annual appropriations bills, they have either sought to attach “health” exceptions which would essentially eviscerate the policy (every abortion is necessary for “health” if the latter is defined, as it is by the World Health Organization, as the absence of “complete physical, mental, and social well-being”) or introduce accounting gimmicks (e.g., in 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called ObamaCare’s roundabout way of funding abortion “a legal fiction, a paper separation between federal funding and abortion”). With former Michigan congressman Bart Stupak’s trading of his political leverage for the pottage of an (unenforceable?) executive order on abortion funding, it is hardly in doubt that abortion proponents will once again push for federal dollars. In her blog, Valenti relates having recently attended the launch of All Above All, “a campaign,” she writes, “dedicated to restoring public funding for abortion,” and whose adherents insist universal access to abortion no longer be treated as a “third-rail issue.”
As abortion supporters raise their game, pro-lifers need to be especially aware of one thing: how the culture has changed in the last four decades. When Roe was handed down, abortion was still being presented as a “medical” decision between a woman and her physician—a Harry Blackmun criterion subsequently junked by the Supreme Court. (Those who have read his Roe v. Wade opinion know that it was crafted by Blackmun to protect doctors, not women.) Abortion was advocated for “hard” medical cases such as fetal deformity, and threats to maternal life or health. State laws on abortion—even those that liberalized it—generally required reasons for it. Abortion back then was like divorce back then—a matter of cause. No-fault abortion, what groups such as NOW and NARAL have long sought, albeit quietly, a younger generation of advocates such as Valenti are now trumpeting (see also Sarah Ditum’s recent “Why women have a right to sex-selective abortion,” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/19/sex-selective-abortion-womans-right).
That the vast majority of abortions are in fact ones of convenience is not easily acknowledged in elite circles where it’s considered offensive to suggest that Nancy Pelosi’s “sacred ground” of abortion could ever be casually trespassed. Any reason for having an abortion is a good one because it is good enough for the woman who elects to abort. That’s why Democrats have scrapped the Clintonian “safe, legal, and rare” mantra— if something is inherently “good,” why should it be “rare”? Valenti is just the most explicit expression of this “no-fault” abortion position.
In his new book, Robert George argues that there are two competing notions of “liberal arts” today.4 The traditional notion regards the “liberal arts” as “liberating” man from the oppression of his brute impulses and self-will: A free man is one who rationally chooses to act based on good reasons, and can master his passions in the name of right reason. The “revisionist” notion of “liberal arts,” hawked in many universities today, “liberates” man from having to put any brake on his passions. “Reason,” “logic,” “morality,” “shame,” “honor” —all that “false” and “inauthentic” ballast has to be jettisoned so that the real man (and woman) can give free rein to his desires, especially in the area of sex.
If “liberation” means one’s passions are self-justifying, never needing any further, “objective” reasons to make them right or wrong, then it is indeed a violation of “sacred ground” to suggest that an abortion might at least be dressed in the fig leaf of a reason to justify it. Jessica Valenti’s proposal is extreme, but pro-lifers are well-advised to consider how its rhetoric resonates with the notes of today’s culture of self-will.
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John M. Grondelski is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.
 Jessica Valenti, “Free Abortions on Demand without Apology,” The Nation, August 27, 2013, available at: http://www.thenation.com/blog/175934/free-abortions-demand-without-apology#axzz2ey5DHNUG
 432 U.S. 438 (1977). Text available at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0432_0438_ZS.html
 A handful of states, including some large ones like New York and New Jersey, are under state Supreme Court orders compelling them to fund abortions, but those decisions were made under state constitutional provisions: see Paul Linton, Abortion under State Constitutions (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2012).
 Robert George, “Liberalism, Liberation, and the Liberal Arts,” Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2013), pp. 27-41.