Hadley Arkes, a professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and a regular contributor to The Catholic Thing, is a highly influential voice in the debates over same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception. His positions could hardly be more in step with those of the Vatican. In an article published yesterday in The Catholic Thing, Professor Arkes accuses liberal feminists of “evading the moral argument” concerning sex-selective abortions and claims to demonstrate that conservatives are winning that argument through legislative initiatives like the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act that Congress failed to pass last week.
Arkes’s candor about the right’s “step-by-step” strategy of dismantling Roe v. Wade is commendable and confirms widespread perceptions that the tightening vise of abortion regulations at the federal and state levels serves that end.
The partisans of ‘abortion rights,’ he writes, “thought that it was part of a scheme to unravel those rights, as indeed it was. … They were quite right that we were seeking to dissolve the sense of the “rightness” of abortion, working step by step.
So critics of PRENDA were correct in characterizing the bill as an cynical effort to drive a wedge into the women’s movement, pitting the rhetoric of women’s rights against the rhetoric of reproductive health. The GOP-sponsored bill’s heralded purpose was to prevent sex discrimination, a problem more caused by Republican policies than ever addressed by them. How could any legislator fail to see the real agenda behind this ploy, namely, banning all abortions and punishing those who provide them.
Arkes’s moment of candor doesn’t redeem his shameless spinning throughout the rest of the article. How can anyone write a 1000-word essay on abortion without ever once using the words “embryo,” “blastocyst,” or “fetus?” Answer: substitute the words “baby” (1x), “child,” (7x), “girl,” (1x), and “women” (4x). Yes, even gooey microscopic blobs are now described as “women.” Arkes has chosen words that are effective in triggering reflexive caring because his purpose is to bypass our critical faculties and have us believe that a fertilized egg is a “person” in need of protection.
But it is not. It cannot feel pleasure or pain. It has neither preferences nor intentions, nor any dreams for the future. Household pets have a better claim to personhood than early-term fetuses.
Arkes claims that Indian women are coming to the U.S. to get “late-term abortions forbidden even in the East.” But he doesn’t cite any evidence for this claim. Moreover, late-term abortions are already illegal in the U.S., so he needn’t blame liberal feminists if the laws are not being enforced.
… the liberal feminists in America will not countenance any move to bar an abortion based on the sex of the child. The reason is plain: To admit that any abortion could be judged as wrong or unjustified is to break through the legal wall that protects the right to order an abortion at any time for any reason.
Coming from a professor of jurisprudence, this is an astonishing misrepresentation of the facts. Women categorically do not have the right to “order an abortion at any time for any reason” in this country. Nor do the majority of liberal feminists support their right to do so.
Professor Arkes correctly assesses the scale of the sex-selection worldwide but overstates it for the U.S.:
The evidence has become overwhelming, from this country and abroad, that with the diffusion of ultrasonography – with the means of discovering the sex of the child in the womb – there has been a persistent inclination to prefer males and abort females. The result has been a massive skewering of sex ratios, with portentous effects.
Compare this from the Guttmacher Institute:
Sex-selective abortion is widespread in certain countries, especially those in East and South Asia, where an inordinately high social value is placed on men over women. In those countries, sex-selective abortion has resulted in dangerously skewed sex ratios, with boys heavily outnumbering girls. In the United States, meanwhile, there is limited data indicating that sex-selective abortion may be occurring in some Asian communities, although the U.S. sex ratio, at 1.05 males for every female, is squarely within biologically normal parameters.
Soraya Chemaly discusses the magnitude of the sex-selection problem in Asia and lays out strategies for addressing it in this excellent and comprehensive article from Huffington Post. Her conclusion:
… as people long immersed in this situation in India and China are all too aware, going backwards and curtailing women’s rights is not the solution and a woman’s right to have an abortion is not the problem.
When societies respect the equality of girls and women and “give” them control of their reproductive rights as a matter of justice, societies benefit. There is no contradiction between providing safe and legal abortion (particularly in the context of women’s health and family planning) and creating cultures that reject the elimination of girls. As a matter of fact if you do the latter, reliance on the former will be reduced.