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The Dutch on Abortion

J. David Price

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When you invoke the Dutch to Americans you may get a puzzled look. Their geography may be hazy, and they may not know that Holland and the Netherlands are the same country. But when you speak of Amsterdam to an American an eyebrow will furrow, and mention may be made of drugs and legal prostitution. From an American conservative, there may come smug condemnations, and from a left-winger may come praise. The assumption of most leftish Americans is that the Dutch, with their democratic socialism and laissez-faire morality, have succeeded in liberating their people in ways that America has not. For conservatives America's failure to liberalize is laudable. For left-wingers, this is something to lament. By both parties, it is assumed that the Dutch, having surpassed us in pleasurable personal freedoms and social programs, also must have beaten us to the punch with abortion rights, perhaps even adopting Mr. Singer's post-natal 'abortions.'

But they have not. Could a country which is that progressive have more restrictive abortion policies than the U.S.? I had figured that Liberalism, when it spreads individual rights to the populous, followed a logic similar to that of the our Cultural Revolution: there is no stopping the proliferation of rights once you admit that a certain group is in possession of general, inalienable rights. So women's right to equal employment morphs into women's right to reproduction (so that they can focus on their desired careers), and this becomes the right to any desired abortion at any time for any reason. This is of course a caricature of recent American history, but it is not too far off target. Nevertheless, the assumption was wrong. The Dutch have not succumbed to the same logic.

I have Dutch friends who would be considered moderates in their country. In America they would be far left-wing. They had not heard of partial-birth abortion, which I explained to them in euphemistic terms. "It's murder," the matriarch of the family said, to which her daughter and son seconded in turn. I was floored. I had argued with my American peers that the dividing line between fetuses and human is not the vagina. A fetus is an immature human just as a geriatric is very mature human. Coming out of a vagina does not make you a human. That is, killing a baby on the point of birth is not morally distinguishable from killing her immediately after she is born. And I have watched as the Partial Birth Abortion Ban has been lambasted by 'women's' groups. I furthered the conversation by asking my Dutch friends what was legal abortion in the Netherlands. "Up to twenty-four weeks is allowed, but only after counseling, a waiting period, and an explanation of other options. After that time, it is very hard to get an abortion if you are not ill, or have not been raped, or incest." What she described is the typical neoconservative position on abortion (once the baby is viable, abortion becomes mostly illegal), a position that the American left-wingers call reactionary.

Where does this leave us smug conservatives who are so quick to dismiss Europe as lost to Socialism? And what else has the Old World yet to teach us about moderation? Certainly, there are many, myself included, who would like to see abortions both here and abroad limited to as few as possible by pro-active, pro-baby, legislation. But America is an extreme country -- all or nothing, Baby. And, if certain groups have their way, the recent legislation toward curbing abortions will be declared unconstitutional by an ideological commitment to Women's Rights -- presumed rights loosely hung on the rights to happiness, life, and liberty in our founding documents.

J. David Price lives in Leiden, the Netherlands. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the "Clarion Review" from which this article was reprinted. The "Clarion Review" is published by the American Orthodox Institute, on whose board Mr. Price sits.

Posted: 02-Jun-07

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