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Santorum Abortion Remark Spurs Incomplete Discussion

Rick Santorum

First Posted: 01/21/11 01:12 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:25 PM ET

So, Rick Santorum is one of the many would-be candidates enmeshed in an interminable prelude to a preview to an announcement of an exploration of maybe running for president one day. You know, he's "staffing up" -- wink, wink! -- in New Hampshire, and junk, and so people have to make the bare minimum of accommodation to "taking him seriously" even though we can all throw money down on the table in the space marked, "This guy will never ever be president."

As a result, comments he recently made about abortion, which would normally go directly to the ether of "Stuff Political Has-Beens Like," became "a thing." Here, for the purposes of recollection, is the Stuff that became a Thing:

For decades certain human beings were wrongly treated as property and denied liberty in America because they were not considered persons under the constitution. Today other human beings, the unborn of all races, are also wrongly treated as property and denied the right to life for the same reason; because they are not considered persons under the constitution. I am disappointed that President Obama, who rightfully fights for civil rights, refuses to recognize the civil rights of the unborn in this country.

The shorter version is, of course: blacks were once considered to be three-fifths of a person, so it's terrible that a biracial president can't sympathize in similar fashion with the unborn. Because of the looming 2012 presidential junk, this all got amplified. It first ran to the "Oh my stars and garters, Rick Santorum said something Rick Santorumy to someone" stage. Now we've entered the semi-apologist stage, where various people mansplain to you that this statement was many things -- many objectionable things, even! But it was not -- not! -- a "gaffe." Did anyone say that it was? Whatever. Here's Joe Klein's contribution to this genre:

First, you must understand that Santorum truly believes that abortion is murder--at any point after conception, even when the mother's health is at risk (as it was in the case of one of his wife's pregnancies). This is an extreme position, but not an implausible one. If you believe that a fetus is a person, then abortion is the denial of its most basic right--the right to exist. According to Santorum, the only other category of Americans whose civil rights were so severely truncated were slaves. He's right about that. Slaves were considered property; there was also that most odious Constitutional assertion that, in terms of representation, blacks counted as 3/5s of a person. Santorum believes that this history should make the descendants of slaves more sensitive to the civil rights of fetuses. There are a great many members of the black church who would agree with him.

Got that? In case it didn't sink in, Klein summarizes it all thusly: "Now, once again, you may not believe that a fetus is a person--but if you do, as Santorum does, this is a perfectly reasonable argument, an argument against limiting the civil rights of anyone according to race or life status."

Yes, okay. But I'll tell you what it isn't. It isn't a "reasonable argument" against "limiting the civil rights of anyone according" to gender. To all the people falling all over themselves to assert the fact that Santorum really believes what he says and that there are others that agree with him -- two facts that no one has actually disputed -- I'll remind you that there actually exists a sizable portion of the population who have consistently made a "reasonable argument" that women are neither chattel nor brood-mares, and that Santorum's non-alignment with that argument is what makes him a radical.

Additionally, it shouldn't be overlooked that if we're comparing fetuses to slaves, we're equating women with amoral slaveowners, and elevating the rights of the fetus over those of the woman to choose whether to proceed with a pregnancy that has significant medical risks above and beyond the actual act of parenting.

I just wanted there to be at least one blog post on the Internet that sort of considered those matters worthy of discussion, okay?

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