A Vote for Arlen Specter
Jude Wanniski
November 15, 2004


Memo To: Sen. Arlen Specter [R PA]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re : Roe v Wade

Dear Arlen: Although we’ve known each other for decades, in recent years we’ve had little contact, although I believe you are aware that I have never had any doubts about your integrity. Your support for Clarence Thomas when he seemed a dead duck in his Supreme Court nomination fight, given the monumental attacks cooked up against him by the unscrupulous left, was enough to persuade me (once again) that you are an extraordinary fellow and a great asset to the Senate. Now that the Christian fundamentalists are out to cash in on their support for President Bush’s re-election, they have set their gunsights on you because you are in line to chair the Judiciary Committee at a time when several presidential nominations to the High Court are likely to soon be made. The liberal left is fearful of having Roe v Wade overturned as a result, perhaps within the next four years.

To tell you the truth, Arlen, I look forward to the day when Roe v Wade is overturned. But that doesn’t mean I would do anything to have that happen. As a reminder, I am a Roman Catholic, and do believe that abortion is an immoral act, a sin against our God who did not create life in order for it to be destroyed. To complete the picture, I also opposed the war in Iraq, believing as Pope John Paul II did, that it was unnecessary and inhumane. And I voted for Senator Kerry on November 2, for a variety of reasons relating to national security and foreign policy, even though I disagreed with his cultural views… and his pledge to name pro-Roe justices. In case you did not know, the Vatican permits Catholics to support pro-choice political leaders if the reasons are proportionate on the scales, and I believed the war in Iraq was of that weight. It is not “a just war,” and has taken as many as 150,000 or 200,000 lives, civilian and military, ours and theirs, with no end in sight.

Yet I do believe there will soon come a time when American society will take a much harder view of a woman’s “right to choose” and that Roe will be revised and shaped accordingly. At the very least it will withdraw society’s sanction for abortions because a woman thinks it would be an inconvenience to go to term, leaving the issue to individual states. My two oldest children were adopted in 1970 and 1971, when adoptions were easy because it was prior to Roe and most women gave up their inconvenient births to adoption rather than aborting. Because I have thought about the issue a great deal from my vantage point as a political economist, I have also observed that there have been many periods throughout history where cultural “values,” or “mores,” as we once called them, changed from pro-life to pro-choice and back again to pro-life. Well before medical techniques were developed to induce abortion, societies under great economic distress sanctioned the practice of infant exposure, generally of female births, to reduce the number of deaths that would later occur through starvation. When good times returned, the cultural mores would withdraw society’s sanction, so if a woman found a way to rid herself of an inconvenient birth, she would bear all the responsibility, and perhaps guilt, herself.

Very few people now remember that the ground was prepared for Roe in the states of the Deep South that are now the staunchest of “red states” with the highest concentrations of religious fundamentalists. By contrast, in the 1960’s the staunchest opponents of abortion were black political leaders in Dixie, who saw that white Southerners were balking at having to pay higher taxes to finance their “separate but equal” services for black children and encouraged the pro-choice idea as it would apply to black women. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was once an ardent opponent of abortion, for this political reason. It was the inflation that began in the late 1960s that put enough stress on the minority population that produced support for Roe at the High Court. As good times return, you see, the religious right is mobilizing again to chip away at the woman’s right to choose.

At the turn of the millennium in 2000, I thought again about these historical patterns and on January 5 I posted here a note congratulating him on a letter Buchanan had written a few weeks earlier, when he was running for President on the Reform Party ticket. In my introduction to his letter, I included the following thought:

Great letter to your supporter on her questions about your decision to leave the GOP and how that might undermine pro-life progress. Fits with the spirit of the New Millennium. Suppose Joseph did not have that dream, with the Angel assuring him that his wife was to have a virgin birth. He would have gone ahead with his plan to have a quiet divorce. Mary might have avoided the problem by going to the local abortion clinic -- and kept it a secret from Joseph. The two of them might have found room at the Inn. Joseph was actually well-to-do. The Innkeeper probably would have found space if he didn't see a nine-month pregnancy was part of the deal. Imagine, No Nativity at all. What calendar year would we be celebrating? Certainly not 2000. The Jewish New Year might have been a contender, but we run into the Moses problem. His mother cast him loose as a newborn babe, remember, and he would surely have died of exposure at sea if he had not been snagged in the bulrushes and spotted by Pharaoh's daughter. If there was an abortion clinic nearby, maybe his mom would have gone that route instead of exposure. Moses would not have grown up to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and we would not have the Ten Commandments. Isn't it generally agreed that the Rise of the West was due to the Judeo-Christian principles? Without Moses and Jesus, I suppose that leaves us with the Chinese New Year, right?

I’m not trying to persuade you to change your long-held pro-choice position, Arlen, but offer these thoughts to put the issue in its proper post-election perspective. You have always been a fair man and, as you noted on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, you have never applied Roe as a litmus test in casting your votes on Supreme Court nominees. You did vote for Chief Justice Rehnquist and of course your support of pro-life Justice Thomas was critical in winning confirmation for him, and almost cost you your Senate seat. If I were a Senator, I would not change the Senate rules to deny you the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, as some leaders of the religious right insist be done. You’ve been waiting a long time to chair Judiciary and should not be denied that goal now when the nation is most in need of your wisdom and experience. You were born for this assignment.