March 27, 2002

THE IRON LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES :

Unlikely Allies Against Cloning (Bill McKibben, March 27, 2002, NY Times)
There are already voices on the left excoriating environmentalists and feminists for aligning themselves with conservatives in questioning the use of cloning and urging them to get back to fighting climate change and defending abortion clinics. Conservatives will doubtless feel the heat from libertarians who want no government interference in markets or medicine. Such clashes will remain politically important. But the surge of new technology makes new issues - and new alliances - inescapable.

Mr. McKibben here takes note of what may be an important shift in the politics of environmentalism, the recourse to arguments about the sanctity of nature by conservatives. Yet there's an even more important and somewhat related change coming in the area of reproductive politics that no one is writing about yet : the inevitable shift by women towards pro-life positions.

To perceive the reasons why this sea change is coming it is necessary to look at abortion not as a moral issue, but purely as a political issue (my apologies to anyone who is offended by such Machiavellian calculation). From this perspective we can see abortion as an exercise of naked political power rather than as a "rights" issue. The most awesome power that the state wields is the power of life and death. Whether exercised in the deployment of men into combat or through the execution of criminals, we have traditionally allowed only the state to send people to their deaths. And since government has been dominated by men, this terrible prerogative had effectively been reserved to men.

It seems unsurprising then that when women were given the vote they would seek to flex their newfound political power, and what greater assertion of this power could there be than to seize the opportunity to exercise the power of life and death over someone else. And so we ended up with the odd situation wherein women, whose primary concern in other areas of politics seems to be with physical and economic security, are perversely the advocates in just one area for absolute "freedom". Similarly, the opposition of men to abortion should be seen as at least partly reactionary, a response to the female assertion of power, which explains why the appeal to "freedom" and "rights", which typically resonates with men, has not been more effective in this one area.

But now we are arrived at the point in history where the unintended consequences of this political anomaly are becoming clear and they are potentially catastrophic for the species but especially for women. This is the case because the horrific, but little mentioned, result of easy access to abortion has been to significantly reduce the proportion of female births to male births. In fact, as we look at the numbers, it seems fair to say that a holocaust is being visited upon female fetuses across the globe.

Setting aside for the nonce all of the other implications of this phenomenon, let us consider only the impact this could have on the long-sought and hard-won political power of women. The one great advantage that women have in a democracy is that there are more of them. It is no coincidence that the rise of the Social Welfare State, which vindicates female concerns, tracks almost precisely with the expansion of suffrage to women. But suppose that women were to become a minority in society, what then? One can not look at the fate of minorities throughout history and be quiescent about the chances that women will be well served politically by becoming a minority.

It is therefore very likely that we will gradually see women turn against abortion, both because opposition more accurately reflects their natural predisposition in favor of security and because it is in their political self-interest to return to a natural gender birth ratio. The first steps along this path may well come during the public debate over cloning and will explain much that currently seems unusual about the alliances that are being forged over the issue

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 27, 2002 9:18 AM
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