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National Review
February 2, 1989, pp 62-63

On the Right

Mr. Fast Explains

Wm. F. Buckley, Jr.


Nothing frightens the Choicers more than the thought of the Supreme Court's having another look at Roe v. Wade. The ACLU has been taking out full-page ads urging readers to write to the Attorney General pleading with him not to engage the attention of the Court on the decision. Obviously such agitation would not be required if the Choicers were absolutely confident of the constitutional reasoning in Roe v. Wade. If someone proposed outlawing free speech, it isn't likely that much money could be raised to persuade the Attorney General please not to make the case before the Court against free speech. The fact of the matter is very plain, only we aren't encouraged to say it. It is that Roe v. Wade was a lousy decision, perhaps even an indefensible act of constitutional excogitation, and the Choicers know they are safest by not asking the Court to look again at this century's version of the Dred Scott decision.
Now what the court does about Roe v. Wade will not, in the judgment of serious folk, save a single doomed fetus. If Roe v. Wade were removed entirely from the books, returning to the states the right to make their own laws, said states would almost without exception continue to license abortion - for the simple reason that the mood of the people has changed since the days when they proscribed abortion. The majority have talked themselves into believing that a woman has no greater responsibility for the life of an unborn child than she has for the life of a tomato. It won't be until there is a great change in public sentiment that abortionists will gradually run out of clients.
But the arguments leveled against the Lifers are nicely harnessed by, of all people, Mr. Howard Fast, writing in the New York Observor. Howard Fast introduces only a single autobiographical line into his column. He says, "I have been active in one part and another of the peace movement over the past forty years." Now, 1989 minus forty equals 1949. In 1949, Howard Fast was the true Stalinist Stakhanovite, writing not only newspaper articles defending Moscow but also infusing Marx into American history, as in his effort (Citizen Tom Paine) to make Tom Paine more of a comrade than he really was. Now to be sure, Fast repudiated Stalin when Khrushchev did, and perhaps believes today that the cold war is over, which one supposes would make him a Reaganite.
But Mr. Fast is enraged by the Lifers and uses an argument we hear increasingly. The Lifers can't be sincere in their concern for life. Why? Because their movement ends with the birth of the child. They aren't there to oppose capital punishment, AIDS, stomach cancer, or terrorism in Central America. "I have never heard a right-to-life voice raised in protest of the sixty thousand innocents murdered by the death squads of El Salvador."
This failed attempt at logic suggests that no cause can be considered discretely. You cannot say "Let's help the ailing farmer" unless you also say "and the ailing zoo-keeper and the ailing coalminer." You can't organize to defend the freedom to travel without simultaneously organizing to defend the freedom to die. Or, I guess - Mr. Fast has always confused me about freedom - the freedom not to die.
The Lifers are, by Mr. Fast and others who think as he does, encumbered by the responsibility for everything that happens to the fetus after it materialized into a human being in the eyes of the law. And if you aren't around to see to it that at age 14 the kid is receiving the right education, ingesting the right foods, leading a happy, prosperous life, why, you had no business bringing him into this world. You are a hypocrite to the extent that you support life for everyone who suffers. It is only left for Mr. Fast to close the logic of his own argument, which would involve him in a syllogistic attempt along the lines of:
Everyone alive suffers.
Suffering is bad.
Therefore, no one should live.
In a free world, you can care greatly for baseball and not at all for hockey. You can love the Rolling Stones and hate Bach and while you're at it, you can go to hell. To decry the extermination of an unborn child doesn't require you to oppose hanging Adolf Eichmann.
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