Wednesday, August 20, 2008

pandering on abortion

Sometimes candidates give answers to questions that are clear cut cases of pandering. Blatant, pathetic, eye-rolling pandering. Such was John McCain's answer to the question of when life begins at the faith and politics forum over the weekend:
At conception.

Interesting answer in light of his opinion that embryonic stem cell research should continue. I guess Christians get no straight talk from Senator John "my Veep may be pro-choice" McCain.

Atrios makes a good point:
While the Villagers seemed to object, and it didn't go well with the audience, I was quite pleased with Obama's response that the question of when life begins is above his pay grade. I remember Pastor Tim Russert asking, I think, Claire McCaskill a similar question and she was like, "What are you asking? When does an embryo become ensouled?"

Believe what you want, but the important question for politicians is how such things get translated into... policy. And when McCain says he believes life begins at conception (cheer!) it's pretty meaningless unless he's asked to explain how that would be translated into policy.

You want some straight talk on when life begins? Here it is: the position that life begins at conception is utterly and completely untenable from a policy perspective. If the government proceeds from the assumption that life begins at conception, then all abortion becomes ipso facto felonious, not just criminal, no matter what trimester or under what circumstances the conception occurred or what damage, short of death, the pregnancy could do to the mother. It is only an extremely tiny minority of Americans who would agree with this policy (over 60% of Americans, for instance, agree with Roe v. Wade as it stands, and how many more don't agree but still think rape and incest qualify as extenuating circumstances?), and yet it would require a tremendous investment of police and judges and whatnot to enforce it while further diminishing the already dangerously low number of doctors in this country. "Enforcing" in this case has to mean charging doctors and women with murder and conspiracy to commit murder, because in this context abortion is simply a woman paying a doctor to murder her child. And if you think the percentage of people who want to ban abortion is low, wait 'til you see the number that want women charged with murder.

For that matter, did you know that scientists think the pill, at least on occasion, prevents implantation of a fertilized egg? How could such a pill possibly stay legal?

And what about the non-abortion ramifications of this law? Suddenly every miscarriage would have to be issued a death certificate. Embryonic stem cell research would clearly be illegal, as would any life-saving medical procedures that require those cells. In vitro fertilization often ends with the discarding of a number of fertilized eggs, which, obviously, kills them. How can that not now be multiple homicide? Atrios once brought up another point: would this mean that blastocysts are entitled to child support?

You can believe whatever you want personally (and for what it's worth, I'm sympathetic to the opinion that life begins at conception/implantation/whatever), but policy positions have to be sensible and pragmatic, or else they spin off uncontrollably into a maelstrom of unforeseen side effects. The ideological forces these decisions unleash can make landfall in unexpected places while rushing to impose "consistent application" upon the legal code and law enforcement.

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