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 previous issue                         issue #57,  posted 7 /16/ 2018                      archive of all  issues

Abortion and Winner Takes All at the Supreme Court? 

in the news: President Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the USA Supreme Court was greeted by those on the liberal left / pro-choice side of the abortion debate with disdain. Among them was California Senator Kamala Harris. With respect to the nominee's views on abortion, she worried, "he seems to believe that the government is in a better position to make a decision about what that person does with their body than allowing that person to make the decision about their life, in consultation with their physician, in consultation with their family, in consultation with their god." Even some on the religious right / pro-life side were upset. National Review senior fellow David French argued Trump should have picked Amy Coney Barrett, who he described as "...a mother of seven kids, an outspoken Christian...a nominee who would so clearly inflame the culture wars." 

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org) In what follows I want to link the decades old abortion debate to something I wrote about a year ago in this space: Winner Takes All Society. With his statements during the 2016 presidential election campaign, Donald Trump essentially promised to pack the court with justices who would overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision and open the door for states to completely outlaw abortion for any reason. It that were to happen, the pro-life forces would have a clear win. An equivalent victory for the pro-choice forces would be for national legislation outlawing any restrictions on abortioneven permitting them in the ninth month of pregnancy. I believe either such outcome would be a dangerous mistakejust as many Winner Take All outcomes are in other areas of our economic and cultural lives. 

Consider what my mentor Donella Meadows wrote in a 1987 essay (included in Coming of Age in the Global Village): "We are... the only species with the intellect to control our numbers voluntarily in a way that respects both the preciousness of each individual and the limits of the planet. We haven’t yet figured out how to do that. But we have a chance to pull it off as long as both the idea of Enough and the idea of the sanctity of life are vigorously represented in our society. Neither should be permitted to overpower or silence the other."  The two relevant worldview themes here are Enoughness (theme #23B) and The Sanctity and Dignity of Life (theme #44A) .  

How some Libertarians (see worldview theme #50A) deal with the abortion issue is also instructive in appreciating the wisdom of not allowing Winner Take All extremists to prevail. Consider how Stefan Roever (interesting last name given the context!) finds a middle ground. He writes "Libertarians subscribe to the nonaggression principle. Under that principle everyone has full rights to their life/body and their property. You can't violate those without the owner's permission...Abortion violates the right of the fetus to its life. Not allowing abortion violates the right of the mother to her body. How you weigh these conflicting rights is a thorny issue...Personally I think a compromise position is the most reasonable. The German law, for example, is that a woman has full freedom to choose an abortion in the first trimester. After that the fetus is assumed to have its own rights and an abortion can only be performed if the health of the mother is at risk. "

Do I often promote Libertarian arguments? No! My blog issue #53 "America: Toward a More Perfect Union or Winner Takes All?" does not cite libertarian arguments for allowing the powerful few to economically triumph over the weak many. A starting point for many of those arguments is something written by Ayn Rand. I believe it was in her classic novel Atlas Shrugged, she wrote, “Man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.” Writing about a month after my June 2017 blog, Kiril Sokoloff and friends at 13d.com wrote "The cultural rise of winner-take-all-ism in America has reached a dangerous and self-defeating extreme", and  "winner-take-all-ism is unsustainable in a world of democracy and the more influence it has over economics and culture, the more inevitable a reckoning becomes." Simply put, the counterbalancing argument, to libertarian calls for allowing greedy individuals to operate in unfettered free markets (see Economic Individualism theme #19A) and take all, urges government to step in and regulate in promoting the common good. 

Should that be carried to extreme, meaning the other side of this economic distribution of resources, etc. position, see Socialism (worldview theme #49B), triumphs? Like Donella Meadows argues in her essay on the abortion issue I'd say no: "Neither should be permitted to overpower or silence the other." I believe that, for many controversies in which the public as a whole is well informed (see note #1 below), compromise—not Winner Take All—is what political leaders, our laws, Supreme Court Justices, need to promote. 

#1 The February 2018 Scientific American article "The Tribalism of Truth" distinguishes between "arguing to learn" and "arguing to win". Besides pointing out that the former is well suited to issues where there is "no single objective truth and different answers can be equally right", it laments the general scientific illiteracy of the American public. And that "arguing to learn" can be pointless—even counterproductive—when overwhelming scientific consensus is on one side of a controversial issue (examples: 1) whether or not human activity is driving global climate change, or 2) whether long-term Earth history can be better explained with a Darwinian evolutionary or Biblical creation framework.) 

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