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Dumb arguments

OPINION by Bradley Gitz | May 23, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

Samuel Alito's leaked opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization provides a reminder of the human mind's capacity for rigorous, logical thought.

Much of the response to it reminds us of what happens to the human mind when logic and rigor fall out.

Among the more embarrassing of these is the claim that one can't credibly oppose abortion unless you also favor an expansion of an array of new social programs intended to support families with children; more precisely, that, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, and some red states moved thereafter to prohibit abortion, it would be incumbent upon Republicans in Congress to pony up for more government-subsidized family leave, day care and other supposedly "pro-family" measures.

The implicit assumption is that society must contribute to the cost of raising any children which its laws prevented being aborted, that for purposes of consistency the commitment to the welfare of the fetus must extend after birth to the welfare of the mother and child in the form of another installment of welfare-state expansion (a version of the "Seamless Garment" theory long endorsed by certain progressive Catholics).

The first problem with the "Republicans only care about children in the womb or otherwise they would support this or that program" argument is that, taken to its logical conclusion, it would allow only those embracing some variant of socialism to credibly oppose abortion. If the number and generosity of social programs is your metric for measuring the welfare of children, you end up claiming they were better off in Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union or Fidel Castro's Cuba than in Ronald Reagan's America.

Those trying to salvage Roe thus awkwardly try to shoehorn the abortion issue into the stock leftist idea that spending other people's money is the defining criteria for "compassion," in this case on the pretext of caring for children who otherwise wouldn't (for some unspecified reason) be cared for and have become burdens by being allowed to be born.

The government that has the largest welfare state and spends the most on social programs (and is always eager to spend still more, as the result of a constant search for new "needs," elastically and thus expeditiously defined) is, apparently, for the left, the government that governs best, at least until the inevitable fiscal collapse.

As for the more specific abortion-child care/family leave nexus, it should quickly become apparent that there is no necessary logical relationship between the two components, between one's position on abortion and any particular social program because each stands or falls on its own merits.

As Charles C.W. Cooke notes, "The core anti-abortion claim is that unborn children are human beings, and that it is wrong to kill human beings. Whether or not the federal government provides the exact set of social-spending policies a given anti-abortion voter might prefer is entirely irrelevant to their case, which must rise or fall entirely on whether or not an unborn child is worth protecting from being killed. If unborn children are not deserving of such protection, then there's no need for the state to interfere. If unborn children are worthy of protection, then what the state does in other areas has no bearing on the matter."

Put differently, abortion doesn't necessarily have anything to do with anything else.

In addition to embracing a dubious "if A (opposition to abortion) then B (support for more social spending)" linkage, there is also the possibility that the logic between A and B, if any, actually runs in the opposing direction: that you can reconcile the welfare of the fetus in the womb and the welfare of the child outside it by arguing both that the fetus is entitled to life (the "sanctity of life") and that the best circumstances for the flourishing of human life from cradle to grave flow from economic policies which tilt in a pro-market direction (with limits on government spending and taxes and respect for private property).

Classical liberals believe that a market (as opposed to socialist) economy is better for all human beings, including parents with children, because it does a better job of providing prosperity, upward mobility and human freedom and opportunity more broadly.

There is no inherent contradiction, but rather a congruity, in opposing abortion on the one hand and opposing expansion of the welfare state on the other (and thus opposing the latest iteration of Democratic-sponsored entitlement programs).

Indeed, one could go as far as to claim that a nation's long-term fiscal solvency matters a great deal more to children who will eventually become adults (and thus workers and taxpayers and parents) than government continually spending money it doesn't have on this or that (including subsidized day care and family leave).

At the least, it would seem peculiar to suggest that resisting the spending proposals of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez constitutes evidence that you don't care about the welfare of kids.

We might even be forgiven, in a nation with a national debt that has now reached nearly 150 percent of GDP, for arguing that the future of our progeny, both born and yet to be, depends upon finding out what folks like Sanders and AOC want and making sure we do the opposite.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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