Sunday, July 21, 2013

No magic variable

In Sunday's New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat looks to place the current controversy about abortion restrictions in Texas in an international context and specifically by comparison with Ireland, where as he notes there are some similarities in the destination to which Texas appears headed, namely severe limitations on legal abortion but a right to travel outside the jurisdiction. His point is that Ireland doesn't look like the benighted anti-women inferno which he infers as a theme of the pro-choice rhetoric in Texas.

A couple of reactions. First, his column contains the subheading What Dublin's experience means for Dallas's future. It could just as easily be What Belfast's experience means for Dallas's future. Because Northern Ireland has essentially the same landscape of access to abortion as the Republic, with only the recent exception of the arrival of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast. Both sides of the border, the National Health Service in Britain remains the key fallback mechanism for access to abortion.

Second, as Douthat admits,an important backdrop in the European case is good access to health services in general, something that Texas is busy shredding. Strangely through he views this as something that liberals should be putting more energy into countering, when his own comparison suggests that it's pro-life conservatives who are being the hypocrites.

Finally, if you're looking for one decisive indicator or country comparison to make a devastating critique of one side or the other in the abortion debate, you're not going to find it. European indicators for child and maternal health show all sorts of variation that is not obviously correlated with the stance on abortion, but there are hints of that landmine variable of "culture" playing a significant role.

Also perhaps important in that Ireland-Texas comparison: Ireland confines its biggest political clowns in the abortion debate to a weak upper house of the legislature, but in Texas, they run the state.

Photo: London Olympics NHS tribute via the Guardian.