“It’s a bracing essay,” I told George McKenna after our longtime contributor surprised us with “The Odd Couple: Liberty and Freedom” just as we were pulling this issue together. “Given the road you travel, from Aristotle to Ahmari and French, 8600 words, though more than we usually publish, is brilliant economy.” In a sweeping historical overview, McKenna distinguishes between “liberty” and “freedom,” terms that “are often used interchangeably” even though they “point to very different kinds of behavior, ‘liberty’ referring to morally indifferent choices and ‘freedom’ underscoring the moral significance of one choice over another.” While 21st-century “liberty conservatives” (like David French) insist government practice “viewpoint neutrality” when, for instance, public libraries host Drag Queen Story Hours, McKenna reminds us that “Aristotle’s ethical and political writings never shrank from offering what we call value judgments,” and that “historically, in the West at least,” moral lessons taught in church, but also in the home and school, “were deeply informed by Judeo-Christianity.” Twenty-first-century “freedom conservatives” (like Sohrab Ahmari) believe these drag queen events unsuitable for children—though not for gay bars—and insist, as McKenna puts it, “that on some issues government can—and should—play an activist role in promoting virtue and fighting immorality.” Today, as lockstep leftists—the “enemies of freedom”—occupy establishment pulpits and bully the public, McKenna poses a hard question: “While fighting them do we also need to fight some of our friends?” (Friends like David French.)
In Texas, writes Julia Duin in our next article, where public “blowback . . . began soon after Roe v. Wade,” citizens are playing an activist role, finding “creative ways to oppose abortion” in government workarounds. Right now, while the country “remains fixated on SB 8 [the state’s Heartbeat law], another anti-abortion initiative is slowly spreading across Texas; a movement that has gone largely unnoticed” but is “nibbling away at abortion by decrees.” Yes, decrees. In “‘Sanctuary Cities’ Provide Abortionfree Zones,” Duin reports that 35 cities, mostly in rural Texas, have voted in ordinances “to outlaw any abortions within city limits.” Using the “same legal stratagem” as SB 8, “an aborted child’s parents, grandparents, and siblings can sue anyone who aids and abets” in his demise—only the mother is exempt. “Ever since the Biden Administration said they wanted abortion access in every zip code,” the movement’s 36-year-old founder Mark Lee Dickson told Duin, “we’ve seen quite a bit of steam.”
Has the reduction of clinics in Texas (and elsewhere) led to fewer abortions? Yes, says Randall K. O’Bannon in “Closed Clinics and ‘Reduced Access’ Mean Lives Saved.” O’Bannon, Director of Education and Research at the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund and a new contributor, takes a hard look at the statistics—both national and statewide—and concludes that while “multiple factors may play a role, the past four-plus decades since Roe clearly show that the number of abortions has risen when the number of providers has increased—and has dropped once the number of clinics, hospitals, and private abortionists declined.” And while advocates persistently complain that women are being forced to get “later, riskier” abortions, the statistics again, as O’Bannon demonstrates, say something different.
In “The Case for One More Child: Why Large Families Will Save Humanity,” which originally appeared in the estimable Plough Quarterly, Ross Douthat looks at U.S. birthrate statistics and wonders why “more Americans [don’t have] the 2.5 kids they say they want, rather than the 1.7 births we’re averaging.” This isn’t an article about abortion—the word comes up only once—or about “social programs or economic growth or social harmony,” but rather a wide-ranging and thoughtful response to “deeper questions” the declining birth rate evokes in this father of four: e.g., “What moral claim does a potential child have on our society? What does it mean to fail someone who doesn’t yet exist?” Those who know Douthat only from his New York Times columns will find here an accomplished—and plucky—essayist.
Mary Rose Somarriba gave birth to her fourth child in August. In “Another Strike Against Eugenic Abortion” she recalls her 20-week ultrasound appointment last spring, when “a new doctor I’d never met before came in and questioned whether it really made sense to add this latest person to my family.” Yes, there could be a genetic risk of cystic fibrosis, but Somarriba firmly explained that she would have the baby no matter what, even as the doctor “kept pressing the issue.” Genetic testing, she writes, “has become a staple of prenatal care,” but its increase hasn’t “correlated with advances in treatment for prenatal children,” and “the only option many women are offered upon probable diagnosis is to terminate the pregnancy.” (One is reminded that Germany’s eugenic termination program began with its doctors, not its politicians.)
“The human life issue,” observes Connie Marshner in our next article, “could have been the Democratic Party’s for the taking,” but as it turned out, after Roe v. Wade “the only senator who would take [it] up was James Buckley—a Republican and a Conservative, no less.” In part two of “How Paul Weyrich Shaped the GOP Agenda” (part one ran in our last issue), Marshner zeros in on “the complicated, multi-step, multi-year process” by which “the Republican Party was dragged kicking and screaming to a pro-life position.” And she details exactly how Paul Weyrich, “the ‘go-to’ guy on Capitol Hill for pro-life activists until dedicated pro-life organizations came into existence,” proved that “being pro-life would not doom a candidate to defeat.” If anything, the opposite.
Will not being pro-life doom civilization to defeat? Jason Morgan’s “Who Has the Loneliest Hearts in the Cosmos?” is a thought-provoking essay that makes unexpected and eye-opening connections. Pondering the past half-century of space exploration, Morgan observes that while “not a single [alien] sighting has ever been confirmed,” scientists still persist in “an almost-romantic quest for intelligent life blossoming elsewhere.” The “out of this world,” he writes, is “the world’s most exclusive destination, as billionaires boast of their private space programs,” which someday, they hope, “will ferry the god-like few among us even out to Mars, a New Eden for man’s despoiling.” Meanwhile, on earth, “the mass human extinction event known as abortion—not speculative, but ongoing as we speak—has failed to register much of a response among this rational-minded group” of scientists and entrepreneurs.
In our final article, “Erika Bachiochi Channels Mary Wollstonecraft,” senior editor William Murchison considers The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision, “a strong, emotionally temperate, and well-informed” new book by feminist scholar Erika Bachiochi. The “lost vision” is that of Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein), “200 years dead,” but “a kindred spirit” who, Murchison notes, argued in her own book (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792) “for the right of women to exercise their full abilities in the cultivation of virtues that dated at least to Aristotle.” She and several other “movers and shakers of women’s rights” whom Bachiochi also discusses, “were not out to nail down and perfect a woman’s right to follow her bliss wherever it led,” and none of them, he adds, “would have smiled on the extinction of human life” and the “renunciation of motherhood.”
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This edition of Booknotes features two review essays: first, W. Ross Blackburn on Fiorella Nash’s The Abolition of Woman: How Radical Feminism Is Betraying Women, which, he writes, “isn’t about abortion per se,” but rather “the ways in which our world . . . is seeking to do away with womanhood.” Then Wesley J. Smith reviews Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine Is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality by Charles Camosy, a bioethical “outlier” who “has vigorously entered the public square . . . to defend the equal dignity and moral worth of every human being.”
From the Website features Diane Moriarty’s useful primer “Roe v. Wade for Dummies,” Fr. Gerald Murray’s “Free Will, Faith, and . . . Abortion?”—a “pastoral correction” to Nancy Pelosi’s definition of Catholicism; Ellen Wilson Fielding on “Waiting for Dobbs” and why overturning Roe won’t “restore public consensus around the sanctity of human life;” and Tara Jernigan’s “Standing Tall, Feeling Small,” a gem of an insight into the world of the wheelchair bound. We close the issue with two appendices, Edward Mechmann’s legal “explainer” on the two abortion cases the Supreme Court takes up this fall, and Edward Short’s Catholic World Report interview with Maria Maffucci in which our editor in chief shares her own thoughts on this abortion fraught season.
And I close here with a mea culpa: In the introduction to the Summer issue, when I wrote that Hadley Arkes’s Born-Alive Infants Protection Act had been “vetoed twice by Bill Clinton,” I was confusing it with Partial-Birth Abortion Ban legislation. “Bill Clinton did not veto that bill twice,” Hadley wrote to me in gracious note, “or even once.” I’ll let him tell the story:
By the time the bill passed, Clinton was out of office and George W. Bush was there to sign it (and invite me to the signing). In fact, it was the concern of Charles Canady to avert a veto from Bill Clinton that moved [him] to cut from the bill the penalties that would have allowed the real enforcement . . . In the Senate the bill was brought to the floor by Harry Reid, with Democrats in control, and it passed by a voice vote without any Democrat voting against. That kind of thing would not happen any longer, for the Democrats have been utterly cohesive, and shameless in voting against the second Born Alive bill . . . But the very purpose of the new bill has been to restore the penalties that had been struck from the original bill—and struck to avert that veto from Bill Clinton.