Questions of life and death

William F. Buckley's picture

It is incorrect to assume that all the pro-abortion and anti-abortion arguments have been made. They are centerpieces in vivid, resourceful, emotional and inquisitive thought. Witness the continuing, and intense, curiosity about the presidential candidates and how they feel on the basic issues.

The contrasts are stark between the Democratic side and the Republican side. Among the Democrats, all the announced candidates refer to abortion “rights,” and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Chris Dodd have all promised to appoint judges who believe in a woman’s “right to privacy” — the code word for unlimited access to abortion.

Among the Republicans there is genuine debate, ranging from Rudolph Giuliani, who says that he is “pro-life” but that he would decline to press for a reversal of Roe v. Wade, to Mike Huckabee, who wants not only to reverse that decision but to enact a Human Life Amendment.

Also in the news is birth control. Consider poor Afghanistan. One would not have thought that contraception was high on the agenda of that beleaguered country. And yet American promoters of birth control have been having great success there.

Afghan women, to be sure, are not aiming for the two-child family, which would violate Muslim law. But increasing numbers are enthusiastic about finding an effective means for postponing the next pregnancy a year or two, an urgent matter in a country with a horrific rate of death in pregnancy and childbirth.

The mayor of a town in Kabul province eagerly told a Western visitor: “Eight months ago, talking about contraception was a taboo. Nowadays people easily talk about birth spacing practice and its importance. No matter where people get together, birth spacing has become a value within our people, and they know it’s the most effective and quick way to reduce maternal and child death.”

This is not the poppycock that we are familiar with here, where a principal concern has been the difficulty in negotiating birth control when deliriously engaged in carefree sex. The standard birth-control pill can have rare but serious side effects, especially blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. A new form, the POP (progestin-only pill), commonly known as the “mini-pill,” has fewer side effects but about twice the failure rate. For both types, the failure rate increases sharply if the woman fails to take it, not only every day, but at the same time every day.

And of course there will be women who were not expecting to have sexual intercourse on a particular occasion and took no precautions at all. To deal with their problem, nice devices and not-so-nice devices have made their way to the market. In the latter category are the abortionists, who rely heavily on their casuistry.

More hygienic, though still highly controversial, is the so-called morning-after pill. Many pro-lifers regard it as an abortifacient, although unlike the earlier RU-486, which is undeniably in that category, the morning-after pill theoretically works not by killing an already fertilized egg, but by forestalling fertilization in the first place.

Even so, there was a storm of protest last year when the FDA changed it from a prescription-only drug to one available over the counter to women over the age of 18. Now a pharmacist in Illinois has filed suit in the state Supreme Court to overturn an executive order by the governor requiring pharmacies to dispense the drug. The pharmacist argues: “I make no attempt to interfere with your interest or pursuit of any of these therapies. But I shouldn’t be compelled to help you do something I find to be morally unconscionable.”

It isn’t yet obvious whether the heavy forces of natural law will speak out on the issues, and if so, when. In the meantime, the questions will keep the presidential candidates maneuvering, and the courts busy.


login to post comments | William F. Buckley's blog