Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Yesterday Queensland legalized abortion on demand during the first 22 weeks of pregnancy. Obviously I think this is fantastic, but even if you disagree, the less controversial and even more fantastic side of the story is how civilized the democratic process leading up to the vote has been. There are people protesting outside abortion clinics and people distressed by the protestors outside abortion clinics, but no violence or doctors fearing for their lives or shutting down of all abortion clinics in great swaths of the state. How sad is it that, as an American, I expect worse?

This hit me last week when I noticed a billboard near my house saying simply "Should abortion be legalized in Queensland? Take our poll [link]". Implicit in this is the assumption that reasonable people can disagree on the issue, that it's up for debate, and subject to democratic decision-making. I think this has been lost in the American political rhetoric. Certainly on the issue of abortion, and increasingly so in other domains. Instead, both sides believe the other is inhumanly immoral, that the laws of whatever god or ethical code they adhere to don't allow any debate at all, and that any political means are justified in ensuring their side wins.

This is an attitude I associate with dysfunctional and brutal theocracy, not American democracy. A strong belief in democracy is a very effective way to sustain culturally heterogeneous states, as in the U.S., India, Australia and New Zealand, etc, both because it provides a point of common identity that those very different cultures can rally around, and because it directly insists on respect for alternative views. I don't know if moralistic political attitudes are increasing for the same reason that belief in democracy is declining, but I'm worried about both.


Andrew G. Biggs said...

I think the extreme debate in the US is due in large part to abortion law being settled mostly through the courts, and in a way where one side almost totally defeated the other. Legsilative solutions usually involve more compromise and (hopefully) less extremism.

Vera L. te Velde said...

Good point. I hope you're right.

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