Thursday, December 23, 2004

Truly Pro-Life

UPDATE: 12/23 @ 9:21 PM
Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin writes on what being a pro-life Democrat really should entail. (Yes, I'm aware that I've quoted Balkin three times (counting an update) in two days. And while I'm at it, I'm going to plug "What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said," his book, because it rocked out. Whatcha gonna do about it?)

Balkin writes:
If, despite this, one feels it important to restrict abortion because of the overwhelming interest in potential human life, one must attempt to remedy the problem of sex inequality in another way. Pro-life Democrats can work to lessen the stigma of surrendering a child for adoption, but that stigma is unlikely to fade soon no matter how earnest the effort. Far more important is support for social programs that help working women with the burdens of child care and with the costs of raising children, including nutrition programs, educational programs, subsidized health insurance for mother and child, and subsidized child care. A child's life does not stop after it leaves the womb; and if one really wants to be a "pro-life" Democrat, one should be pounding the table for protecting born children as well as unborn ones, as well as protecting the equality and equal opportunity of the women who gave birth to them.

As an abortion swing voter whose been trending pro-life, I agree entirely. I also don't think these principles can be restricted solely to Democrats. The Republican party has no claim on the label "pro-life" unless it actually takes an interest in the lives of children once they are born. I am reminded of the definition of "pro-life" from Chaz Bufe's indispensable "The American Heretic's Dictionary" (a take off of Ambrose Bierce's classic "The Devil's Dictionary"):
PRO-LIFE, adj...2) Vitally concerned with the wellbeing of "babies" right up to the moment of their birth—at which time they become "welfare cases" and "future criminals" undeserving of such luxuries as housing, health care, adequate nutrition, and a decent education.

Regardless of your views on when a life begins, allowing children to die by stray bullets in ghetto hi-rises is as criminal as letting them die via a medical procedure. The GOP would have far more credibilty if it was pro-EVERYBODY'S life, rather than picking and choosing what lives are valuable enough for the government to step into defend.

One more thing: The easy response to make to the above would be that the government would treat abortion/murder and gunshot/murder the same way: by prosecuting those who commit the crime. This would imply that Republicans are being hypocritical at all. But this logic strikes me as entirely too simplistic. If the government acts with reckless negligence in allowing the seeds of crime to grow (in abysmally poor neighborhoods with little policing and no economic hope) then it is abdicating its responsibilty to keep us safe. The government's responsibilty isn't just to enforce the law, it is also to create the conditions where the law is obeyed. Although the government can only to so much, to borrow from international human rights law, the government is under the obligation to create an "enabling environment" within which life can protected. The advantages to doing so are twofold: First, it will reduce crime by eliminating (or at least reducing) the root causes which force people into illicit activity. The second is that it makes it more likely that the criminals we put in jail are actually "the bad guys." We all agree that there is a different level of moral culpability between a man who steals a bigscreen TV from a house just because, and a women who steals food from the grocer to feed her family. The "enabling environment" paradigm, which would reduce the latter type of theft, would also allow us to--justifiably--spike sentences against those who commit the former type. This would "purify" our criminal justice system and reduce the amount of good-hearted people who get trapped inside a circuit of crime. Bill Clinton once said "If you work hard, and play the rules, no one should have to be poor." I'd expand that to say "If you're willing to work hard and play by the rules, no one should have to resort to crime." That isn't the world we live in now, but with work its the world we can live in one day.

UPDATE: This LA Times article, helpfully linked to by Mathhew Yglesias, shows why it's unreasonable to expect poor folks (especially poor youth) to "just say no" to a life of crime. Yglesias' excerpt is telling:
Years ago I asked gang members what happened to kids who "just said no" to the Bloods or V-18s. They brought me a videotape other gang members had made for a 14-year-old boy who had refused to join them. The tape showed gang members raping his 13-year-old sister. The boy joined the gang so that its members wouldn't return to kill her.

Another great book that both deals with this issue and offers hope is "No Free Lunch" by Rodney Carroll. This is an issue that can no longer be overlooked, if we are to call ourselves a humane and just society. Solving the cycle of poverty, gangs, and violence that plagues urban America strikes me as the most pro-life action a legislator could take.

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