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Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Idiots? (Attorney General Ashcroft Edition)

Mark A. R. Kleiman writes:

Mark A. R. Kleiman: More support for the troops: A story from Friday's New York Times leaves me undecided: I can't figure out whether to laugh, cry, or throw up.

A sailor's wife was pregnant with an anencephalic child, whose probability of surviving or of ever being conscious was zero. She, reasonably, wanted an abortion. But the Congress had decided that no federal funds should be used to pay for abortions except where the life of the mother was at stake.... The family sued, and a federal court ordered Tricare to pay, and the abortion went forward. Then the Justice Department (with John Ashcroft as Attorney General) sued the family to recover the $3000, out of the sailor's pay of less than $20,000 a year.

The Justice Department just won.... It's worth asking who is, and who is not, morally culpable for bringing about this disgusting result.

  1. The gravest onus of responsibility lies, of course, the Republican majority in Congress, and the lunatic fringe of the anti-abortion movement to whose tune it dances. The statute clearly applies to just this situation: its framers desired that the woman in question go through all the pains of pregnancy and labor facing a two-thirds chance of stillbirth and the certainty that she would never see her baby smile.

As the court recited:

Anencephaly is a neural tube defect that occurs when the cephalic end of the neural tube fails to close. Closure usually completes between the third and fourth week of pregnancy. The tube’s failure to fully close results in a fetus that develops without a forebrain or a cerebellum.

Anencephaly is an ultimately and unequivocally fatal birth defect. Approximately one-third of anencephalic fetuses carried to term are born alive. Fewer than two percent that are born alive survive more than seven days. There is no cure for anencephaly and even extensive medical intervention and continuous life support will not prolong the life of an anencephalic infant more than two months.

No doubt Sen. Frist and Randall Terry will assure us that a being with no forebrain and no cerebellum is in fact aware, but anyone in minimal touch with reality knows otherwise. (And yes, that such beings come into existence is one of the stronger arguments against the existence of an all-powerful and loving deity.)

So the Congress, in its wisdom, decided that those who risk their lives to preserve ours should be treated like paupers when it comes to medical care, with their needs completely subordinated to the prejudices of the most unreasonable of those who call themselves "right-to-lifers." (I don't say that everyone who wants to restrict access to abortion is unreasonable, but I can't think of a reasonable basis for opposing an early and merciful end to this particular pregnancy. And in fact I very much doubt that more than a tiny proportion of "right-to-life" voters or leaders would want themselves or women they cared about to bring such a monster to term.)

If anyone says that the Congress did not intend this particular result, I say: Then let them change the law now. But of course no such change would have a snowball's chance in Hell of making it to the floor of either House of Congress, or of receiving the President's signature....

The Justice Department can't be faulted for fighting the original lawsuit.... DoJ doesn't get to decide which of Congress's enactments are just too awful to defend.... [But e]ven assuming, as seems to be the case, that the order was issued in error, was it really necessary to sue to get the money back? It seems to me that either DoD as the client or DoJ as the lawyer -- or, of course, the President of the United States as the head of the Executive Branch that includes both of them -- could reasonably have said "Enough is enough; we don't accept this case as binding on our future actions, but we're going to let it drop now" rather than trying to impoverish a military family that had already been put through an emotional wringer...