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Failure to communicate

Interview | Amherst College Professor Hadley Arkes on ways a pro-life and pro-family president could be more effective

Issue: "Francis Schaeffer's legacy," March 26, 2005

Despite success in the U.S. elections last year and Iraq's success in its recent elections, many conservatives as we enter spring are walking around with wintry faces. Perhaps that's because the left still dominates the realms that create cultural messages-media and academia-and because last week judicial imperialism reared its head once again, this time in the person of a California Superior Court judge who ruled that gay couples have a right to marriage licenses.

Hadley P. Arkes is one of the nation's leading observers of how the interplay of law, media, and presidential leadership can change a culture. A political philosophy professor at Amherst College since 1966, he is the author of Natural Rights and the Right to Choose (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and five other distinguished books. He was the architect and main advocate of the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act, which he first proposed in 1988 as "the most modest first" step for legislating on abortion and pushing those who call themselves pro-choice to face the logic of their positions. President Bush signed the act into law in 2002.

Here he answers questions about how to fight back against abortion and same-sex marriage propaganda.

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WORLD: Is President Bush missing opportunities to have an effect on changing the abortion culture?

Arkes: The Department of Justice, in the middle of February, moved to enforce, for the first time, the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act, the law that protects a child who survives an abortion. This was a focused, important act, making a strategic point, but so far the news has not made its way to the public. Nor did the media cover the debate over the law itself and its enactment, for they did not care to draw attention to the bill and its import.

The matter might have been different if President Bush had joined the argument over the bill or even pointed up its significance before it had been passed. We see then that even the most focused acts of an administration may not draw notice, or shape the public understanding; but a president, at the top of the state, does draw attention, and even his words offered in passing may have a deeper resonance.

WORLD: Like Reagan?

Arkes: Ronald Reagan mused aloud on the question of whether fetuses feel pain, and those words set off discussions and debates rippling through the country, and making their way to late-night television. President Bush could have a comparable effect if he were willing, in the same way, to pose questions, or muse aloud, for as we've learned, when the president of the United States muses aloud, people listen.

WORLD: Could he also put some pressure on the Democrats?

Arkes: The Democrats now sense that they have a problem with the issue of abortion, and they are trying to make overtures to the pro-lifers. But all of their offers leave intact the notion that a child in the womb may be destroyed for wholly private reasons, without the need even to render a justification. The president can test the Democrats and lure them in by drawing them back to the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act.

He can remind them that they did not oppose this Act-that no Democrat voted against it. But he could point out that the Act did not contain penalties, and he could invite them to join with the Republicans in revisiting that Act and facing that question of penalties: How serious a matter is it-how serious a penalty would be appropriate-for withholding medical care from a child born alive, marked for abortion?

WORLD: And how would the Democrats react?

Arkes: They would be given a chance to show their sincerity, but the question would be a stern one for them, for it would mark the first instance of the Congress legislating penalties for abortion since Roe v. Wade. At the same time, the President would bring home again to the public that abortions may be performed now through the entire length of the pregnancy, extending even to the moment of birth.

The president could advance matters further-and deepen the problem for the partisans of abortion-if he proposed simply to remove federal funds from all hospitals and clinics that house partial-birth abortions or the "live-birth" abortion, the procedure in which a child is delivered, and then put aside to die. He could raise the question-just raise the question-with the Internal Revenue Service about the hospitals that perform these "abortions."

WORLD: Some folks in the administration would be concerned that he would receive a press roasting for that.

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