Disparate Impact and the Progressive Con

In their single minded drive to transform America into a collectivist polity, Democrats routinely brandish disparate impact studies. The claim is that differential outcomes “prove” that America is rotten to the core; that it is irredeemably racist; that America is structurally racist, and that systemic racism is the defining feature of American life. Needless to say the terms are left undefined. Details.

There are some who argue that moderates in the Democratic Party do not really believe these things and that they will tone down the progressive wing of the party. To which I say, where are these “moderates” hiding? Something like 95% of the Democratic caucus favors abortion on demand up to and including the moment of birth, as well as taxpayer funding of same. 

Which brings up an interesting question. How do progressives view the disparate impact of abortions with respect to race? Here it is important to note that progressives now speak in terms of “equity” which refers to outcomes, rather equality which refers to opportunity. 

First, the facts. Black women are far more likely to obtain abortions than white women. In any given year, adjusted for population size, black women are 5 to 6 times more likely to abort than white women. Even adjusting for income differentials, black women are still more likely to abort than white women. In some areas, like New York City, it is so extreme that more black babies are aborted than are born alive. 

So what do progressives have to say about this? Well the response is very interesting, to say the least. The usual arguments are rolled out.  Black women have less access to health care, which by implication means that killing babies in the womb is somehow related to health care. Then there is the argument that black women have lower incomes, black women are subject to racism, etc. See for instance, Atlantic Magazine.

These arguments reveal a lot more than than their proponents may care to admit. Consider the underlying question: if the differential in abortion rates reflects racial discrimination, systemic racism and a lack of racial “equity”, in which direction does the discrimination run? 

Should policy be directed at achieving equal outcomes? If so, how? Should white women receive incentives to increase the abortion take-up rate to achieve parity with black women? Which is to say, should the policy goal be to quintuple the white abortion rate?  Or should black women be discouraged from having abortions? That would imply a policy goal of reducing the black abortion rate by about 80%. Or maybe we should adopt Margaret Sanger’s solution and require people to obtain a permit before being allowed to reproduce. You know, so we have “the right kind” of people. More about which later. 

Now keep in mind that these questions are predicated by applying the disparate impact standard. And according to this standard, policies that are facially neutral need to be evaluated in terms of their consequences. Otherwise hidden biases may slip through. Welcome to Postmodernism.

So let us continue with the analysis. It is clear that the progressive case for disparate impact analysis rests on the assumption that disparate outcomes are ipso facto unacceptable.  Not only that, it assumes that there is such a thing as a “correct” distribution of outcomes; that we know what the correct distribution is, and that we know how to achieve it. We can see how nonsensical this is by an analogy. To wit: tall people are unfairly overrepresented in the NBA.

There is a much deeper problem than the nonsensical disparate impact methodology, which by the way, is a measure of correlation, not causation. The problem is that to apply the methodology requires identifying the correct outcome. Which in turn requires making the judgement that one outcome is desirable and the others undesirable. By this standard, it is not enough to say that people have a free choice in the matter. Equality of opportunity does not count—equality of outcome is the driver, just as it is with respect to income, housing, education and so on. Further, progressives have to consider abortion in non-neutral terms. Which means that, in the progressive world view, abortion is considered a social good. 

That gets us right into John C. Calhoun territory. In seeking to preserve slavery before the Civil War, the South argued that slavery was “a necessary evil”. That calls to mind Bill Clinton’s formulation of keeping abortion “safe, legal and rare”. But as the debate over slavery heated up, the South switched its tune, led by John C. Calhoun. Slavery was, according to Calhoun “a positive good”. 

John C. Calhoun

He went on to say “Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually… It came to us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions.”

That is territory that the abortion rights movement shares with both the alt.right and John C Calhoun of the old South. They argue that unborn fetuses are mere “clumps of cells” certainly not rights bearing human beings worthy of dignity and respect. But I can hear the progressive argument now—human fetuses are “potential” human beings, not actual ones. A distinction without a difference. There is no difference in the fact of DNA in the unborn and the born. We are all headed for our potential.  And we are all going to die. But there is a big difference between a natural death and being killed. 

That aside, today we have a celebration of abortion with the #Shout Your Abortion movement. In fact, Ilyse Hogue of NARAL did just that at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. (See video below). That celebratory posture is also analogous with the territory John C Calhoun occupied vis-a-vis slavery. 

Consider for instance the devastating impact of abortion on the black community. Michael Novak, the Harvard philosophy professor, back in 2002 calculated that the black population would be at least 36% larger were it not for abortion. The black population in the U.S. is now in decline relative to other minorities. 

And that’s just fine with plenty of abortion rights activists, among them the white supremacist Richard Spencer. As he put it, “the people who are having abortions are generally very often black or Hispanic or from very poor circumstances.” White women will avail themselves “when you have a situation like Down Syndrome” which in his view is just fine.

Margaret Sanger

Not to be forgotten is Margaret Sanger, the eugenicist Founder of Planned Parenthood who dreamt up “The Negro Project” specifically designed to restrict black reproduction because, after all, they were “inferior”. And lest we assume that was just in the past and has no relevance today, we should consider the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the subject. 

In an interview with Sunday New York Times Magazine writer Emily Bazelon, Ginsburg said: 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” She then went on to say: “It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people”.

“Populations we have too many of.” Think about that for a minute. And let’s not pretend that she didn’t mean every word of it.

Somewhere John C. Calhoun is smiling.


The March for Life

Thousands, probably tens of thousands, came from all over the country to bear witness to the continuing atrocity of the U.S. abortion regime. They were mostly young and mostly female. Their presence and the message they carried spoke truth to the lie that is routinely propagated by the abortion industry. Which is to pretend that abortion is something other than what it really is: the deliberate killing of defenseless human beings. 

Early on the marchers began to assemble on the national mall near the Washington Monument carrying placards identifying where they came from and their message. One sign read “I’m from the Pro-Life Generation”. Another read “It’s a Child, not a Choice”. Other signs had slogans like “Women Deserve better than Abortion” and “Pro-Women, Pro-Health, Pro-Life”, and “I Vote Pro-Life First”. They were slogans, but they were slogans that spoke truth. They are truths that bear repeating over and over because language matters in framing the debate.

Washington DC, USA — March 24, 2020. A Park Police Officer directs traffic at the annual March for Life in Washington, DC.
Washington DC, USA — March 24, 2020. Pro LIfe Marchers on the Mall for the annual March for Life.

The abortion industry rarely talks about abortion, at least in public, preferring to rely on euphemisms that mischaracterize what is really going on. They like to refer to “reproductive health” as if aborting an unborn child has anything at all to do with a woman’s health. The truth of the matter is that when it comes to abortion, what is at issue is the meaning of the term “medically indicated”. The term “medically indicated” has been used to refer to situations in which the unborn child has Down’s Syndrome, which is hardly a threat to a mother’s life or health. But there may be cases in which an unborn child is threatened by a medical treatment given to the mother, for instance, some cancer treatments. But the point is to treat the mother, not to kill the child, which could happen as a result of the treatment. And in any case it is an unborn child, not a mere clump of cells as the abortion industry would have it. 

Partly because of the work of Pro-Life groups, rates of abortion in the United States have been falling rapidly. According to the Guttmacher Institute 862,329 abortions were performed in 2017, down 7% from the 926,190 abortions performed in 2014. The abortion rate for women aged 15-44 in 2017 was 13.5%, the lowest rate observed in the United States since abortion was legalized in 1973 by Roe v. Wade. In that year the rate was 16.3%.

Washington DC, USA — March 24, 2020. Young women gather with placards for the annual March for Life rally in Washington, DC.

But while overall abortion rates have declined, abortion has become increasingly concentrated among poor women. According to the Guttmacher Institute poor women had an abortion rate of 36.6 per 1,000  women of reproductive age, and accounted 49% of patients in 2014. (See this link). It is hard to look at those statistics without thinking of Ruth Bader Ginsburg who in 1980 let the veil slip on this particular subject when she said:

“Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding of abortion.” (See this link to the Ethics and Public Policy Center).

All of which points to the underlying problem, which is that the current culture regards some people as not being fully human and therefore worthy of legal protections. Which is why unborn babies are routinely referred to with clinical terminology. They are fetuses, not people. Unborn children with Down’s Syndrome are terminated, not killed. After all, they are imperfect and inconvenient. As if we all are not imperfect and flawed. 

Washington DC, USA — March 24, 2020. A woman stands in the street holding a sign protesting abortion at the annual March for life rally in Washington, DC.

The Pro-Life movement has been extraordinarily successful in changing the terms of the debate so as to focus it on the fact that the these are children, as yet to be born, but children nonetheless. In so doing the Pro-Life movement has accepted the long hard work of changing the culture so that over time it will embrace life and dignity each and every individual person as a unique and uniquely valuable human being. Let this work continue. 

Washington DC, USA — March 24, 2020. People walk past the Department of Commerce Building as they head for the annual March for Life Rally in Washington, DC.