Molly Jong-Fast vs. Pro-Lifers

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Alabama’s law against abortion applies only to abortion, and not to other acts that kill human embryos. Molly Jong-Fast characterizes this limited scope as an “exemption” for embryos destroyed at fertility clinics, and argues that it proves that the law is, and anti-abortion Republicans are, not motivated by a sincere concern for human life. I am pretty sure we are meant to conclude that the motivation is instead hostility to women, sex, or both.

Pro-life Republicans have, however, tried to legislate against the destruction of human embryos in the past. During the Clinton administration, a Republican Congress imposed limits on federal research involving such destruction. The George W. Bush administration imposed its own limits, and attempted to ban the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of research that would destroy them. These attempts did not lead supporters of legal abortion to retreat from their insistence that opponents are misogynists. And I very much doubt that if the Alabama ban had applied to embryos at fertility clinics, Jong-Fast’s reaction would have been to applaud its sponsors for their consistency and sincerity. I suspect it would have instead been to use that feature of the law as evidence of their extremism.

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Her argument nonetheless raises one good question: Was it a tactical mistake for pro-lifers not to ban the intentional destruction of human embryos outside the womb? I think it was a mistake. To the extent that the purpose of the law was to generate a Supreme Court case, it was not necessary to cover non-abortive cases of embryo destruction. To the extent it was to stand for a principle, political consequences be damned, it should have stood for the right principle: Human beings have a right to life, regardless of their size, stage of development, condition of dependency, or location.

P.S. Jong-Fast has one especially ill-reasoned aside. She writes, “In May, an appellate court in Ohio, in theory, delivered another blow to the ‘life begins at conception’ school of abortion banning, though none of its members seem to have taken notice. Frozen embryos are not people, it told a couple whose embryos had been lost in a fertility clinic storage tank malfunction.” The court found that Ohio law does not recognize human personhood before viability. Pro-lifers are, of course, well aware that the law does not currently reflect our informed convictions about this matter. That’s why we want to change the law. It is not pro-lifers who look dumb in this passage.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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