Confirmation hearings for Samuel A. Alito Jr. have the usual suspects whipped into a frenzy. I haven't been following the debate too closely. As near as I can tell he's as sane a candidate as we're likely to get from this administration. Today The Washington Post1 discusses documents recently released from the National Archives that shed light on Alito's personal views from 20 years ago. I question how reliable 20 year old information is, but the usual hot button issues are raised: abortion, civil rights and federalism.
Alito is on record as opposing affirmative action programs. Frankly, I agree. I think they are demeaning, a more subtle form of racism sending the message that minorities cannot succeed without the white man's help. If minorities come from more disadvantaged backgrounds, which no one is disputing, then they should be able to qualify for needs based assistance just like anyone else. Exceptionally gifted members of those ethnic groups can qualify for merit based awards, just like anyone else. That seems to me to be what civil rights are about: treating everyone the same regardless of the color of your skin, ethnic background, or...ahem...sexual orientation.
Abortion is such an emotional issue. Opposing sides have staked out such absolutist positions, it's hard to see them ever finding common ground. I think abortion is terrible. I think it should be an option of absolute last resort. I think it is a phenomenally stupid idea to make it illegal. I blogged on partial birth abortions a while back2, and I like what Mary over at Gay Orbit3 has to say as well. Still, should abortion be a federal issue? I don't know. I'm torn. Being skeptical of the wisdom of any governmental body, I tend to prefer government just butt out. On the other hand, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, Texas legislators would be tripping over themselves to ban abortion before Alabama. Don't really want to see that happen either, not that I believe Roe v. Wade is in any eminent danger, the wet dreams of the radical right and doomsday predictions from the far left notwithstanding.
Federalism is an issue of convenience. People scream about federalist principles when Congress or the Supreme Court do something they don't like, and conveniently have a blind spot when it comes to their own pet issues. Like I said, I think Congress meddles too often where it has no business meddling. The Interstate Commerce clause is absolutely black and blue from all the abuse that has been heaped on it. It wouldn't hurt my feelings at all if the Supreme Court reigned Congress in a bit. On the other hand, some standardization makes sense. The local gay and lesbian swim team, of which I am a member, has recently been granted 501-c3 status. We choose to not solicit funds on our web site because that would mean applying to all 50 states and complying with their various regulations. That's way too much brain damage to be worth the few bucks we might garner through that channel. But wait, isn't that interstate commerce? Isn't that exactly the kind of thing Congress should be paying attention to?
The whole thing seems to me to be a dog and pony show at this point. Everybody is still patting themselves on the back for not letting Meiers slip by. Democrats will grill Alito with relish. There will be a few token dissenters—they don't want to appear to be asleep on their watch—but he'll be confirmed in the end. There really isn't a good enough reason to do otherwise.
There has been much in the news about the "partial-birth" abortion ban that is soon to be made law. I found myself wondering exactly what this procedure was that was causing such an uproar. Today I read a description. Appalled doesn't begin to cover it. Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers—whose political motivations would presumably compel him to admit the contrary—has said the procedure is performed thousands of time each year and most often on healthy mothers and fetuses. (Yahoo! News)
At first I wondered how a mother could choose such a thing and thought of gruesome actions like making the mother view the corpse of her child to make sure she understood the consequences of her choice. Then I shifted to the doctor who would do such a thing. How could anyone of with any conscience perform such a gruesome and awful procedure? If no doctor would consent to perform the procedure, that would end the issue right there.
And then I calmed down.
Doctors likely opt to perform the procedure because if s/he doesn't, the woman will simply go somewhere else. If no licensed medical practitioner will perform the procedure, it wouldn't take long for some black market services to spring up and we're back to coat hangers and back alleys. While it is a decision I am glad I will never have to wrestle with, I'm sure the reasoning is something like this: "It is better to lose one life than to risk two."
And what about the mothers who opt for abortion that late in the game? From all that I have heard abortion is never an easy decision and I doubt there are many women who can be glib about getting an abortion. At this stage of the game is it very likely an act of desperation. What motivates these women to such drastic and dreadful actions? There will be much legal wrangling over this law in the next few years as each side struggles for a dogmatic toe hold to advance their position. Perhaps their efforts would be better spent finding out why a woman makes such a choice and working together to provide alternative solutions, since neither side really wants to see this kind of thing happen. Pro choice is not the same as pro abortion.
In the end it probably doesn't matter. The brutal truth very likely boils down to economics. It's much cheaper to perform an abortion than to hide a woman from an abusive boyfriend/husband/father. It's cheaper than supporting a single mother who will lose her only means of supporting her existing family if she has a baby, or one who simply doesn't have the financial resources to support another child. I am currently reading Uncle Tom's Cabin. One slave woman poisoned her two month old child rather than have him grow up a slave and suffer the abuses to which she had been subjected. I have to wonder if there aren't modern day analogies.
You can preach all day about responsibility and birth control and about the vices of extra-marital and pre-marital sex, but at this stage of the game that just doesn't matter anymore. The problem is here to stay. How are we going to deal with it?