Monday, July 16, 2007

Majority Will, Consensus, and Public Policy Making

One of my readers took issue with my comment a few days ago that as long as a large minority supports abortion of demand, a general ban on abortion is unlikely to be successful. Let me point out something that I observed a while back: even before Roe v. Wade (1973), Oregon theoretically made abortion unlawful except to save the life or health of the mother--and yet still had 199 abortions per 1000 live births in 1970. Does anyone really believe that 1/6th of all pregnancies in Oregon required an abortion for the life or health of the mother? You can pass laws, but if a large fraction of the population strongly disagrees, that law will be disobeyed unless you have a very powerful police presence trying to enforce it. Think back to the national 55 mph speed limit, or most restrictive gun control laws.

If there's a lesson to be learned from the Iraq War, it is that majority--even a very large majority--in favor of a policy--is not enough. A minority that disagrees, especially if, like the left, it is control of the news and entertainment business, can frustrate a policy so effectively that you may be better off waiting for consensus to develop--even if the cost of building that consensus is enormous loss of life.

We had a consensus about invading Afghanistan. We did not have a consensus about Iraq--and the left did its best to take what would have been a difficult situation and make it much, much worse. Perhaps we needed to wait until Iraq-produced chemical weapons were going on in American cities before we could have achieved the required consensus.

Similarly, there is a majority that wants some restrictions on abortion--although not a general ban. Even in states where there is a majority in support of quite severe restrictions on abortion (such as South Dakota), I would suspect that at least 30% of the population is strongly in support of at least first trimester abortions being available on demand. Persuading most of that minority that abortion is a terrible action that should be reserved for remarkable circumstances--and not something that is used as secondary (or worse, primary) birth control--would go a long ways towards reaching a political condition where sweeping restrictions would enjoy sufficient support that the courts would go along with it, and where the relatively small number who still disapproved of the restrictions would either move somewhere else, or acquiesce to the law.

If you have to arrest and try your own citizens for a crime on a massive scale (as would be necessary to enforce a general ban on abortion), it is usually a bad indicator for the moral health of your society.

UPDATE: A number of people have linked to this posting, and this one, and misread that I was saying that abortion was as common before Roe v. Wade as it was afterwards. I never made that claim (which is absurd). I was pointing out that in some states, such as Oregon, where abortion on demand was theoretically illegal still had rates so high that it was apparent that the law was not being followed. I certainly would not claim that Roe reduced the abortion rate. Not at all.

UPDATE 2: Over at Instapunk is a long detailed proof that Roe v. Wade (1973) increased abortion rates, and claiming that I cherry-picked the data to make my point. Except that:

1. I have never disputed that abortion rates increased because of Roe--simply that Roe didn't make quite as dramatic of a difference as both pro-life and pro-choice activists like to think. Abortion wasn't completely unavailable before Roe--and Oregon was evidence of how the law was clearly being ignored by doctors. I never claimed that Oregon was representative of the nation--only indicative that even pre-Roe laws could be, and were ignored.

2. I consider Roe wrongly decided as a matter of law, and its effect--to make abortion available on demand--a terrible mistake.

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