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Womb with a View

Noemie Emery | The Weekly Standard | Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Womb with a View

WITH ITS UNERRING EYE for what fails to matter, the Femintern seized on a PR mistake on the part of the White House to ram home a defense of its favorite project: unfettered abortion, any kind, any time. The mistake (duly noted and criticized on many conservative websites) was that the people shown surrounding President Bush as he signed the law banning partial birth abortion were (drum roll and flourish) all men. "Not a Womb in the House," wrote Anna Quindlen in Newsweek, who, with the Boston Globe's Ellen Goodman, whipped up the predictable narrative: This is a sex war, men against women, young women oppressed by old men.

Except that it's not. Out of camera range but very much in the picture were the women lawmakers who supported the ban, the women activists who campaigned for the ban, and the 70 percent of American women who supported the ban--all of them with wombs, like Quindlen and Goodman, and therefore just as entitled to speak for their sex.

Or possibly more so. If the sisters could tear their eyes away from the picture and read words instead, they might discover some interesting things.

ONE is that over the past decade support for abortion has been dropping steadily among old and young people; women and men. A second is that sex does not effect people's views on abortion, except that women are slightly more likely to be pro-life than men. And a third is that, as Will Saletan's "Bearing Right" tells us, the arguments made by Quindlen and Goodman have always been losers outside of selected newsroom and neighborhoods, and that abortion-rights advocates have only been able to prevail among broad swathes of voters when they use the "conservative"/libertarian "hands-off-my-[anything]" language favored by the NRA.

Polls taken over the preceding decade have not brought the sisters good news. Polls taken in 2003 showed those who described themselves as "pro-life" and "pro-choice" for the first time at parity and showed that support for abortion among college students had fallen 10 points in 10 years. Worse, a poll commissioned by a former head of Planned Parenthood showed that 5l percent of all women questioned (a great number of them with wombs, presumably), were opposed to abortion in all circumstances, except those of incest and rape.

As CNN's Bill Schneider explained on the AEI website, "Only 30 percent of women endorsed the view that 'abortion should be generally available to those who want it,' down from 34 percent two years earlier." Thirty-four percent thought it should be "against the law except in cases of rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother," while 17 percent thought it "should not be permitted at all." Worse still, Republicans are shrinking the gender gap among women, who do not share this aversion to Bush and his programs. All of this is not exactly a secret, which makes the sisters' hysterics a matter of truly willed ignorance. They are not fighting the fringe--they are the fringe, camped out in the exurbs of public opinion in a state better known as denial. As Bush said in the bill-signing ceremony, the public isn't ready yet for a ban on abortion, and perhaps never will be. But it is moving, somewhat, in that direction, and away from les girls, and their theories. And everyone sees it but them.

SOME YEARS AGO, the Goodmans and Quindlens assigned to themselves the power of speaking for "women," whom they saw as a movement or bloc. But this bloc (or movement) never existed. They were never speaking for women in general, just for themselves and their friends. They have every right to express their opinions, but not to assign them to millions of strangers, who may or may not share their views.

Thus they rise everyday to defend women from "threats" that most women do not see as threatening or to uphold "rights" that most women don't want. Goodman insists that women who support this ban were conned by a "public relations coup" they were too stupid to see through, and insists at the same time that these very same women, too addled to see through a threat to their interests, are perfectly fit to make sound moral judgments--such as killing a child near term.

They do not explain why Ted Kennedy is allowed to discuss the abortion conundrum, but George W. Bush and his allies are not. (Does Ted have a womb we don't know of?) Nor do they explain why, if having a womb is all that important, pro-life women aren't experts, either.

They aren't experts because the sisters don't want them to be. They are doing in their heads exactly what they accused the White House of doing in that ill-conceived photo, excising an inconvenient reality. There are plenty of wombs in the house, belonging to women not like them. And they choose not to see them at all.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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