Three Men and a Baby

Three Men and a Baby

Three Men and a Baby

Science, technology, and life.
May 12 2009 11:50 AM

Three Men and a Baby

What do Ross Douthat, Steve Waldman, and I have in common? Answer No. 1: None of us has a uterus. Answer No. 2: We're all noodling prospects for an abortion compromise. What better way to salute Slate 's new website, Double X , than to add a male point of view. Or two. Or three ... 

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William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Steve and I have been discussing the merits of reducing the number of abortions (the approach favored by the Clintons , Third Way , and Barack Obama ) versus reducing late abortions and facilitating earlier ones. Steve prefers the latter approach. In his latest post, he argues that

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focusing on timing—as the Europeans do—ultimately is a better approach for the simple reason that it actually comports with the way most people make the moral calculation. Insisting on "rare" as a goal accepts the purist pro-life argument that any abortion is equally tragic. But most people do not believe that expelling a zygote in the first week is horrendous. So remind me: politically speaking, why must those types of abortions be rare? Most voters would trade a myriad zygote expulsions for a meaningful reduction in second or third trimester abortions.

Conversely, given the revulsion most people feel about "partial birth abortion" in most circumstances, having them be "rare"—instead of non-existent or virtually eliminated— is morally unsatisfying, too.

Morally, my feelings differ from Steve's. I'm more uncomfortable with early abortions than he is. At the same time, I'm more uncomfortable with government interference in late abortions than he is. Steve is right that earlier is better. But pointing out that truth, or even preaching it, is very different from criminalizing, investigating, and prosecuting abortions. My wager is that such laws would create a nightmare of moral crudity, hypocrisy, deceit, interrogations, and amateur surgery. Women make these decisions better than cops, judges, and lawmakers do.

So I'm against this trade-off on moral and policy grounds. But is Steve right about the politics? Would slamming the door on late-term abortions satisfy more Americans than an overall reduction in abortions would?

That's where Douthat comes in. Unlike Steve and me, Ross is a real pro-lifer. He's been a very fair listener to my arguments for shifting the anti-abortion cause from prohibition to reduction . But ultimately, I've hit a wall with him because I won't ban pre-viability late-term abortions. In his latest column, he writes :

Nothing that emerges from this White House is going to look like a genuine legal compromise—which would require the rollback of Roe's near-absolute guarantee of abortion rights, and a move, at the very least, toward the restrictions on second-trimester abortions that roughly two-thirds of American support.

Here's what I'd like to know: Would Ross go for Steve's idea? Would Steve offer him a good enough deal on restricting late abortions to win a truce, and possibly a stable consensus, on the legality of early ones? How far into the second trimester would that deal extend? And is this just three guys talking, or would our countrymen and countrywomen go along?

How about you, XXers? Katha ? Emily ? Christine ?