Trying to avoid abortion questions

62611I was on the road this past weekend in New York City and had some time -- while bracing for the Katrina story -- to read a long takeout piece in The New York Times Magazine by Jeffrey Rosen titled "Roberts' Supreme Futurology" (the Web version calls it "Roberts v. the Future"). The first part of the read out on the cover told you what you needed to know about the goal of the piece: "The most divisive issues likely to be argued before the Supreme Court in the coming years have nothing to do with abortion. . . ." In other words, this piece can be read this way -- the Times pitching in to help progressive politicians find a way to dissect John G. Roberts Jr., without appearing to pound away on abortion, a major "Catholic" issue. This is crucial in terms of "pew gap" strategy.

This is not to say that the article is without merit. Far from it! It is a story that covers nearly a dozen complex subjects that could turn into major news hooks, during the hearings and beyond.

But I do find it interesting that the article still ends up running into issues linked to what the late Pope John Paul II called the "culture of death" time after time. Then these issues keep getting entangled with the moral logic of, well, to quote the court, liberty being defined as "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

The "mystery of human life," indeed.

It seems that journalists and politicos cannot, these days, run away from the big life issues. All the roads keep crossing.

For example, in a section on "Genetic Screening and the Future of Personal Autonomy" Rosen writes:

In order to get a better sense of these coming debates, I turned again to O. Carter Snead, who recently served as general consul to President Bush's Council on Bioethics, to describe the kinds of developments that might give rise to Roe v. Wade-like controversies. The first issue he mentioned was genetic selection. In the future, he noted, scientists may have analyzed much more of the genetic makeup of embryos created through in vitro fertilization. They might then be able to use that information to help aspiring parents implant in the woman's womb only those embryos that display a specified range of desired characteristics -- including those having to do not only with sex but also, perhaps someday, traits like intelligence, eye color and height. Not all the traits that parents demand will be conventionally desirable: a few years ago in the United States, a deaf lesbian couple attracted attention (and criticism) by deliberately choosing a deaf man as a sperm donor in order to increase their chances of having a deaf child. And if scientists ever learn to identify a genetic predisposition to homosexuality with a high degree of certainty, genetic screening might be used to "weed out these embryos," as Snead put it, "or to select for them."

The political response to so-called designer babies might create strange bedfellows. "Feminists are rightly concerned that male embryos will be routinely selected over female embryos," Snead noted, which is why many feminists say they would oppose the practice. . . . Social conservatives would also oppose these efforts, but out of concern for the right to life of fertilized embryos. Earlier this year, in fact, a Republican state legislator in Maine introduced a bill to ban abortions based on the sexual orientation of the unborn child. Snead imagined that a conservative state might pass a law banning genetic screening "for elective sex selection or sexual-orientation selection not linked to a therapeutic concern."

Just try to count all of the potential stories in these few lines of a long essay and note how many of them lead right back into the heart of issues linked to faith, family, marriage, sex and, yes, the "culture of life." Like I said, the roads keep crossing, and they still all seem to lead, well, to Rome. If Democrats want to know what Judge Roberts believes about this stuff they may as well ask him head on.

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