The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Unborn victims bill: Saletan wrong on the numbers - and on the principle, too?
Last time (March 26) we were talking about the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (HR 1997), it was to record the Senate vote on passage of the bill, which is now awaiting Bush's signature.
Slate's William Saletan has done a good deal of work - including a book - on the politics of abortion - so his piece (March 29) on the UVVA should be worthwhile.
His lede is a stark warning:
How long can supporters of abortion rights go on denying the distinct legal significance of unborn human life? Not any longer, if they want to save Roe v Wade.
He tells them:
...if you deny the human distinctness of the fetus, most people will stop listening to you. Given a choice between calling the fetus a child and calling it a pregnancy, they'll call it a child.
In particular, he compares two roll call votes in the Senate : on the Harkin Amendment to S 3 - the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 - and that on the Feinstein Amendment to HR 1997.
The Harkin Amendment  was a declaration of support for Roe - and thus a gauge of the strength of pro-abortion (or, at least, of anti-anti-abortion) forces in the Senate: it passed, 52-46.
Feinstein fell, 49-50.
Saletan explains that, of those supporting Harkin
Four of them voted against [the Feinstein amendment.] Feinstein's amendment was the sole alternative put forward by abortion rights supporters. It was the whole ball game, and those four senators held the balance of power. With their support, Feinstein's amendment would have been adopted, and abortion rights would be safe. Instead, the amendment failed, 50 to 49.
First, the math. Much as I loathe it - and there seems no easy alternative, even in these modern times - I've got down amongst the numbers. Saletan is wrong.
The difference between the 52 who voted for Harkin and the 49 who voted for Feinstein is accounted for like this:
Thus, 52 minus 5 plus 2 equals 49. QED.
How Saletan arrived at four votes switching, I know not.
Second, the principle. How does Saletan know what caused the switch?
He doesn't explain how - by indicating, for example, public position statements of the senators in question; or that he had asked the senators, or their people, what had motivated the switch.
Even under the putrid system of anonymous sourcing in place in the best newspapers, there is usually some indication of source, however absurd. Saletan gives none.
And I don't believe there is any a priori reason why his explanation should be the correct one. Perhaps the senators had differing reasons.
I can speculate. But Saletan is well-placed to do some actual journalism to find out!
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