Saturday, August 22, 2009

George Weigel, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the People We Have Too Many of

We receive The Mirror, a publication of our Roman Catholic Diocese. In The Mirror, there is a regular columnist, one George Weigel, identified as a "Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America's leading public intellectuals."

In this week's column (not yet available on the Center's website), Weigel writes of an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which he noted appeared in a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine.
Weibel writes "There, in the course of relating her surprise at the court's 1980 decision upholding the Hyde Amendment (which banned federal funding for abortion), Justice Ginsburg had the following to say about legal history, social policy, and political surprises:"
"Frankly, I thought at the time Roe was decided, there was a concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding of abortion."
Weibel then goes on to discuss the eugenicist mindset of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and the ugly history of eugenics in the mid-20th century.

But what I find surprising is how little notice Ginsburg's comment attracted. In fact, the bold supposition that abortion has a social eugenicist element by Ginsburg didn't even earn a follow-up question. Imagine if it had been uttered by Scalia or Thomas.

All this is nothing new, of course. There is an element of utilitarianism in progressive and liberal social theories, even though the argument for abortion has evolved into a libertarian one -- that a woman has the inherent right to exercise control over her body.

However one approaches that ideal, and as a man I have no comprehension of the emotional and psychological issues inherent in a woman's approach to life in the womb, I know that Ginsburg utilitarian (and somewhat elitist) idea to abortion provides an insight into the issue of disability.

First, it does so in a practical sense. Children-in-womb with Down's Syndrome (something that can be determined by pre-natal testing) are being aborted ninety percent of the time. That has an enormous social impact, and one displayed in ways we cannot comprehend.

Second, Ginsburg has a vote in any issue regarding disability rights that comes before the US Supreme Court. It is difficult for me to understand how a person can compartmentalize utilitarian values. However liberal Ginsburg might be regarding, for example, the scope of The Americans with Disabilities Act in employment or access issues, I see no reason to suppose that she would not support a Singer-inspired movement to apply utilitarian quality of life assessments to life issues relating to permanent disability.


yanub said...

Wait--when did Ruth Bader Ginsberg become a liberal? I hadn't noticed her being one before. So, why, when she opines on this particular subject, is she suddenly a liberal? There are many conservative women and men who support legal abortion. That she discusses it in terms of eugenics probably has more to do with her generation than it does with her politics. Social engineering was pursued avidly by people of many different political stripes. This latter day attempt to pretend some sort of virtue clings to conservatives on the issue is patent nonsense.

Abortion is not in and of itself anti-disability. It may surprise you that there are women with disabilities who would prefer to have an abortion than to have a life-threatening pregnancy. And other women who choose to take their chances. And there are other issues on which a woman, disabled or not, might base a decision. But there's no choice when there's only one option.

Carter said...

If Ginsburg's eugenics nonsense was born of her "generation," she must have lived on another planet. I'm six years older she is, and I knew eugenics was crap by the time I was in the seventh grade. She's also Jewish, so she might have learned something from Hitler's philosophy, with which most of us were quite familiar.

But she is indeed a liberal, from her votes on the court. And she used to work for the ACLU, which is often, though not always, correct.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this well written piece on your blog. I am eager to find out when the full article will appear on their website.