HEY, ROSS, SINCE WHEN IS AMERICA 90% LIBERAL?
When Herman Cain describes the work of Planned Parenthood as "genocide" because it's possible to find ties between Margaret Sanger and the eugenics movement, it's regarded as demagogic and beyond the pale. But now along comes Ross Douthat to argue in the staid pages of The New York Times that eugenics is on the verge of a comeback, and it's all liberals' fault.
Here's Douthat's jumping-off point:
... eugenicists were often political and social liberals -- advocates of social reform, partisans of science, critics of stasis and reaction.... From Teddy Roosevelt to the Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, fears about "race suicide" and "human weeds" were common among self-conscious progressives, who saw the quest for a better gene pool as of a piece with their broader dream of human advancement.
Douthat deflects accusation of demagoguery by saying that, gosh, he certainly wouldn't accuse liberals of being eugenicists now ... at least for the time being:
This progressive fascination with eugenics largely ended with World War II and the horrors wrought by National Socialism. But while the West has discarded the theory of the eugenics era, ... the elimination or pre-emption, through careful reproductive planning, of the weaker members of the human species ... has become a more realistic possibility than it ever was in the 1920s and '30s.
Douthat's point is that now we can do much more sophisticated genetic mapping than before, and we'll be able to do more sophisticated mapping in the future. And you know what that means: eugenics is going to make a big comeback ... and it's all the liberals' fault:
...given our society's track record with prenatal testing for Down syndrome, we also have a pretty good idea of what individuals and couples will do with comprehensive information about their unborn child's potential prospects. In 90 percent of cases, a positive test for Down syndrome leads to an abortion. It is hard to imagine that more expansive knowledge won't lead to similar forms of prenatal selection on an ever-more-significant scale.
[In] this sort of "liberal eugenics," ... the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state....
But if 90% of parents, when faced with a diagnosis of Down syndrome, are choosing abortion, how is that liberals' fault?
You've seen Gallup's numbers for ideological affiliation: Over the past twenty years, Americans who call themselves "liberal" have ranged from 17% to 21% of the population. Self-styled "moderates" have ranged from 35% to 43%; "conservatives," from 36% to 40%.
So if 90% of Americans choose abortion faced with a prenatal test that shows Down's, that number includes a hell of a lot of conservatives and moderates.
From a rigorously pro-choice perspective, the in utero phase is a space in human development where disease and disability can be eradicated, and our impulse toward perfection given ever-freer rein, without necessarily doing any violence to human dignity and human rights.
If that's his conclusion after looking at the Down's numbers, then 90% of Americans are "rigorously pro-choice." But we know that's not true. Again, let's go to Gallup. Right now, half of America defines itself as "pro-life"; 20% of Americans think abortion should be "illegal in all circumstances," and 52% say abortion should be "legal only under certain circumstances."
But if you tell these people that their fetus has Down's, the vast majority of them will choose abortion -- in fact, more of them will choose abortion than believe abortion should ever be legal.
My conclusion? This isn't a liberal thing. It's what Americans across the ideological spectrum think is appropriate and acceptable -- when it happens to them.
And those of us who are strongly pro-choice feel the way we do because we understand that the real life often makes abortion seem like the right choice -- in a way moral absolutists like Douthat can never understand.