For the past 25 years or so Alexander Cockburn has been flirting with the American ultraright. I first took note of how he put a positive spin on the militia movement in the 1980s, a typically contrarian position that probably reflected his evolving social position as a country squire in Northern California. It also probably reflected his hatred of “big government” tied to a protracted battle with the IRS.
When he began publishing Counterpunch, the symptoms grew apace. From his dalliance with Ron Paul to his inexplicable decision to run economic commentaries on a weekly basis from Paul Craig Roberts, Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, who advised his readers on lewrockwell.com:
President Ronald Reagan’s stature will grow as his achievements come to be more widely recognized.
Few Americans realize that President Reagan’s economic policy won the cold war by rejuvenating capitalism. Members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, with whom I spoke in Moscow during the Soviet Union’s final months, agreed that it was President Reagan’s confidence in capitalism, not his defense buildup, that caused Soviet leaders to lose their confidence.
This is not to speak of his climate change skepticism which has drawn from the poisoned well of bogus science, including from a character who has written numerous articles for a Lyndon Larouche magazine.
But a new chapter is being written apparently. For the first time, Cockburn is echoing the complaints of the anti-abortion movement. He feels that since women have gotten the right to a safe and legal abortion, the fetuses have gotten the short end of the stick. In the latest Counterpunch, he writes the following in an article dealing with health care reform:
The liberals are howling bout the unfairness of these attacks, led by Sarah Palin, revived by her “Death Panel” talk and equipped with a dexterous new speech writer who is even adding footnotes to her press releases.
But what is a conservative meant to think? Since the major preoccupation of liberals for 30 years has been the right to kill embryos, why should they not be suspect in their intentions toward those gasping in the thin air of senility? There is a strong eugenic thread to American progressivism, most horribly expressed in its very successful campaign across much of the twentieth century to sterilize “imbeciles.” Abortion is now widening in its function as a eugenic device. Women in their 40s take fertility drugs, then abort the inconvenient twins, triplets or quadruplets when they show up on the scan.
In 1972, a year before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion on demand nationwide, virtually all children with trisomy 21, or Down syndrome, were born. Less than a decade later, with the widespread availability of pre-natal genetic testing, as many as 90 percent of women whose babies were pre-natally diagnosed with the genetic condition chose to abort the child.
One survey of 499 primary care physicians treating women carrying these babies, however, indicated that only 4 percent actively encourage women to bring Down syndrome babies to term. A story on the CNS News Service last year quoted Dr. Will Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life, reacted to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) pre-natal testing endorsement as another step toward eugenics. “The progress of eugenic abortion into the heart of our society is a classic example of “mission creep,’ ” Johnson said. “In the 1960s, we were told that legal abortion would be a rare tragic act in cases of exceptional hardship. In the ’70s abortion began to be both decried and accepted as birth control. In the ’80s respected geneticists pointed out that it was cheaper to hunt for and abort Down’s babies than to raise them. By the ’90s that observation had been widely put into action. Now we are refining and extending our eugenic vision, with new tests and abortion as our central tools.”
When Cockburn writes “Since the major preoccupation of liberals for 30 years has been the right to kill embryos”, one must ask the obvious question whether he is philosophically committed to the idea that an embryo is a living human being. This would lend credence to the idea that a ban on abortion prior to Roe-Wade made sense and that the state had the right to punish women and doctors involved in such medical procedures. Additionally, the idea of innocents being “killed” might inspire some ultrarightists to take the law into their own hands. If the state is immoral enough to allow innocent babies to be slaughtered, then an act of civil disobedience involving putting a bullet into an abortion provider could well be justified.
And what do we make of a supposed epidemic of women in her 40s taking fertility drugs, and only deciding to have an abortion when they discover that they will have twins, triplets and even more? To begin with, this does not exactly sound like “eugenics” but rather a woman’s decision not to bring children into the world that she is physically and psychologically incapable of rearing adequately let’s leave that aside for the moment. The real issue for me is how in the world can we make a judgment on Cockburn’s claim when he offers no evidence for such an epidemic? What are the numbers? How many 40 year olds? How many twins or triplets as a result of taking fertility drugs? How many abortions? If this is such a big problem, why haven’t we seen the cable news outlets reporting on it?
Indeed, a search on Lexis-Nexis reveals what Cockburn omitted. In the case of multiple embryos, a physician will occasionally use an injection to terminate all but one of them. This is called “selective reduction” in the medical profession and is often opted as a way to increase the health of the single birth. This is a matter of some urgency for married couples facing onerous medical costs and unsure economic situations in today’s world, a matter that Cockburn contemptuously dismisses as “eugenics”. Now none of this should be the business of the fetus fetishists, or their friends on the left like Alexander Cockburn, should it?
The final paragraph excerpted from Cockburn’s article cites a physician affiliated with the Canadian Physicians for Life, leaving no doubt where Cockburn’s loyalties lie.
I was so shocked by Cockburn’s newfound fetus fetishism that I scoured through Counterpunch to find early signs of dementia. This one from 4 years ago caught my eye. It was a nod of approval to Howard Dean. My emphases are in bold:
DNC Chairman Howard Dean told a student audience last week that “I think we need to talk about this issue differently. The Republicans have painted us as a pro-abortion party. I don’t know anybody in America who is pro-abortion. [But surely he's read Katha Pollitt.] We do have to have a big tent. I do think we need to welcome pro-life Democrats into this party.”
He also approves of Dean’s comment that “a woman has a right to make up their own mind” but you have to wonder why he regards Katha Pollitt as “pro-abortion”. Does Katha Pollitt go around at Nation Magazine cocktail parties lecturing pregnant women to go get an abortion? Who the hell can figure out what this one-time crack journalist was trying to say?
For all of his animosity toward Christopher Hitchens, this is one issue that he and his fellow British expatriate have in common. Although both are formally in favor of a woman’s right to choose, at least for the time being, both are disposed to hand-wringing exercises when the question of “unborn children” comes up.
In a February 2003 Vanity Fair article titled “Fetal Distraction” (ha-ha), Hitchens makes a case for abortion as “killing”, just as Cockburn does:
As the evidence about early “viability” mounted, and as advances in medicine made it ever easier for even a distressingly premature fetus to survive outside its mother, the argument showed a tendency to shift. Suddenly, we were talking trimesters. And there was no longer much dispute about whether the unborn subject was alive. It certainly couldn’t be dead, since the whole battle consisted in how or whether to stop its growing and developing (not metastasizing). Now and then there would be a tussle over whether it was a fully “human” life, but this was casuistry. What other species of life could it be? Some states even announced laws on fetal personhood, conferring the moral equivalent of citizenship on every fertilized egg, thereby presumably extending to it the warm embrace of the equal-protection clause and voting rights at age 17¼.
Unfortunately, given the sorry state of Hitchens’s journalism in the past decade or so, it is almost impossible to figure out if he is joking or not when he raises the possibility of “fetal personhood” enjoying the equivalence of citizenship. Who knows? Maybe he will someday back humanitarian intervention in abortion clinics in order to protect the rights of the human life under attack from the medical Milosevic’s of the world. That would be consistent with a worldview that went into the toilet long ago.