Except when it counts? Or is that when it's most important that the state dictate your (lack of) choice?
Ross Douthat ploddingly repeats a tired old argument on abortion rights and Down syndrome:
For abortion opponents, cruel ironies abounded in this sibling disagreement. Because of Eunice Shriver’s work with the developmentally disabled, a group of Americans who had once been marginalized and hidden away - or lobotomized, like her sister Rosemary - was ushered closer to full participation in ordinary human life. But because of laws that her brother unstintingly supported, that same group was ushered out again: the abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome, for instance, is estimated to be as high as 90 percent.Now we could start by looking at facts. You know, Kennedy's support for universal healthcare and SCHIP. By helping families afford to care for their developmentally disabled children through programs largely opposed and restricted by Republicans, liberals like Kennedy made it easier for families to "choose life". But lets run with Douthat's "facts be damned" approach. When Michael Gerson trotted out that same statistic, I responded with what should be obvious to even a mediocre thinker:
Do you suppose he has evidence that parents who self-classify as conservatives don't choose abortion when they learn that they are expecting a Down syndrome child? Well, he says, "In America, the lives of about nine of 10 children with Down syndrome are ended before birth." So either Gerson has to admit that American conservatives are a big part of what he describes as the problem, or argue that significantly less than 10% of Americans are "conservative."Seriously, that statistic can mean only one thing: When confronted with a very tough choice - one that Gerson and Douthat would strip away from them - the overwhelming majority of pro-life parents suddenly find that they prefer to live in a pro-choice world.
I guess there's one more possibility: He could be arguing that while liberals fret over the conflict between humanitarianism and egalitarianism, conservatives are skipping the debate and heading straight to Planned Parenthood.
Now remember, the abortion issue is one of Douthat's favorite topics, if not his absolute favorite. If he understands anything, it's this issue. As much as he complains that Kennedy was firmly pro-choice, Douthat's an embodiment of pro-life absolutism. Thus, it's fair to take him to task for this:
[I]n Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court upheld a near-absolute right to terminate a pregnancy - a decision made possible by her brother’s demagogic assault on Robert Bork five years earlier, which helped doom Bork’s nomination to the court.Did you follow that? Douthat, a supposed conservative Republican (and yes, he expressly declared himself a Republican on Bill Maher's show just a couple of weeks ago), whining that his party wasn't able to stack the Supreme Court and legislate from the bench.
First we have the illogic of his "for want of a nail" argument. Apparently, Douthat takes great umbrage that Kennedy said of Bork, "Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions", because but for such "demagogy" abortion might now be illegal.
Douthat also flat-out lies about the holding of Casey, which largely upheld state law restrictions on access to abortion. Other than spousal notification laws, what common restriction on access to abortion has been found to constitute an "undue burden" under Casey?
Douthat closes with yet another distortion, one that suggests that he's succumbing to the temptation of regurgitating his party's weekly memo instead of providing actual (or factual) analysis:
And it’s entirely fitting, given his record, that Kennedy’s immediate legacy is a draft of health-care legislation that pursues an eminently Catholic goal - expanding access to medical care - through a system that seems likely, in its present design, to subsidize abortion.Nothing in the current healthcare proposals would have any effect on the Hyde Amendment or its prohibition on using federal funds to pay for abortions.
Update: Dana Goldstein points out yet another piece of legislation Kennedy sponsored:
In 2005, Kennedy co-sponsored a bill - the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act -- that expanded federal financing for support programs for expectant and new parents who receive a Down syndrome diagnosis. Research shows that doctors delivering such a diagnosis often share very little information about living with the disease, and presume that the patient would prefer to terminate her pregnancy. Indeed, about 90 percent of couples who receive a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis do choose abortion. But enriched by his sister Rosemary's life, Kennedy sought to link expectant and new parents with mentor families already raising a child with Down syndrome, as well as create a national registry of families willing to adopt disabled infants.Once again, the opposite of what Douthat was implying.
Update II: Ruth Marcus addresses the abortion factor, noting how the issue has historically been treated, and (without naming names) how people (like Douthat?) are distorting the issue in an effort to derail healthcare reform.