Nat Hentoff Passes . . .
Nat Hentoff died a few days ago at the no longer advanced age of 91. I first read Hentoff in his column for the Village Voice back in the late 1980s, mostly for his varied and various defenses of free speech. But I saw that he also penned articles on the right to life, and I began reading those. Here is a passage from his talk, The Indivisible Fight for Life (Presented at AUL Forum, 19 October 1986, Chicago), in which he speaks on why he came to oppose abortion:
For me, this transformation started with the reporting I did on the Babies Doe. While covering the story, I came across a number of physicians, medical writers, staff people in Congress and some members of the House and Senate who were convinced that making it possible for a spina bifida or a Down syndrome infant to die was the equivalent of what they called a "late abortion." And surely, they felt, there's nothing wrong with that.For those readers who wish to read more, go here.
Now, I had not been thinking about abortion at all. I had not thought about it for years. I had what W. H. Auden called in another context a "rehearsed response." You mentioned abortion and I would say, "Oh yeah, that's a fundamental part of women's liberation," and that was the end of it.
But then I started hearing about "late abortion." The simple "fact" that the infant had been born, proponents suggest, should not get in the way of mercifully saving him or her from a life hardly worth living. At the same time, the parents are saved from the financial and emotional burden of caring for an imperfect child.
And then I heard the head of the Reproductive Freedom Rights unit of the ACLU saying - this was at the same time as the Baby Jane Doe story was developing on Long Island - at a forum, "I don't know what all this fuss is about. Dealing with these handicapped infants is really an extension of women's reproductive freedom rights, women's right to control their own bodies."
That stopped me. It seemed to me we were not talking about Roe v. Wade. These infants were born. And having been born, as persons under the Constitution, they were entitled to at least the same rights as people on death row - due process, equal protection of the law. So for the first time, I began to pay attention to the "slippery slope" warnings of pro-lifers I read about or had seen on television. Because abortion had become legal and easily available, that argument ran - as you well know - infanticide would eventually become openly permissible, to be followed by euthanasia for infirm, expensive senior citizens.