Many years ago, a friend shocked me by saying: “If my wife got
pregnant now, I’d make her get an abortion.” His wife,
who was present, shocked me by not demurring.
The “right to choose” is nominally a woman’s. But
in real life, the decision is usually made by the man, whether by dominating
her directly or by threatening to leave her, withholding support from
And yet I have never heard of any other man being as candid about
this as my old friend (who has since changed his mind, I’m happy
to say). Men who favor abortion talk in the rhetoric of altruism: they
have nothing to gain from it, you understand, they merely want women
to be free. The fact that a timely abortion could spare them the burdens
of fatherhood in no way affects their position. Of course they for
some reason prefer the word choice to abortion.
Yet there are tens of millions of men in America whom abortion has
saved from unwanted responsibility. Among these, not more than a handful
are willing to admit their role in pressuring women to get abortions.
The legalization of abortion has removed risk and responsibility from
being male, thereby diminishing masculinity itself. The man who is
only too willing to trifle with maidens’ affections, once known
as a “cad,” is now virtually the norm, as far as the law
is concerned. He has nothing to lose by seducing a girl and getting
her pregnant. He can’t even be forced to bear the expense of
having his child killed.
Freedom should mean an arrangement where everyone bears responsibility
for his own acts. But it has come to mean the rejection of responsibility.
This has come about not because our government is democratic, but
because it is autocratic. There was no popular clamor for legal abortion;
the U.S. Supreme Court imposed it arbitrarily. Just as other countries
have been ruled by military coups, the United States has suffered from
a series of judicial coups. Military coups occur when top army officers
decide that the existing government has failed; judicial coups occur
when Supreme Court justices decide that the people have failed.
The people “fail” when they don’t voluntarily adopt,
or demand that their state legislatures adopt, the liberal agenda.
By 1973 abortion was high on the liberal agenda, but the people weren’t
moving fast enough: all 50 states retained restrictions on abortion.
Obviously, it was time for the Court to act to correct this intolerable
The Court exercises what might be described as a line-item veto over
the Constitution. It arbitrarily decides which clauses really count
and which ones may be ignored; which ones may be “expanded,” endowed
with “penumbras” and “emanations,” and which
ones may be construed so narrowly as to have no effect.
The late Justice Harry Blackmun said that capital punishment was unconstitutional,
even though the text of the Constitution mentions it repeatedly and
most states have always had it. It didn’t trouble the self-centered
Blackmun that he was trying to impose his own peculiar position on
a whole nation. The disposition he displayed wasn’t democratic;
it was authoritarian in the purest and worst sense: he made his own
will superior to the law he was supposedly interpreting (just as he
and his colleagues on the Court had done with abortion). I myself think
capital punishment is wrong; but that wouldn’t justify me, if
I were a justice, in declaring it contrary to the Constitution that
explicitly provides for it.
The general acquiescence of Americans in authoritarian government
would astonish our ancestors. We no longer ask by what authority the
government does what it does; we may obey or evade its dictates, but
we don’t question its authority to issue them. We don’t
even insist that it observe its constitutional limitations. We don’t
presume to tell it what the Constitution means; instead, it tells us!
And yet we continue to pretend we live in a constitutional democracy.
To borrow the language of psychobabble, we are trapped in an abusive
relationship with our own government, but we are in deep denial about
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on May 18, 1999.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
Learn how to get a tape of his last speech
during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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