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What Did Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Mean?

From her upcoming Sunday interview with the New York Times:

Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe [v. Wade] was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.

I leave it up to you to interpret that pronouncement. But it prompts two thoughts from me. First, that if any conservative said this, no matter what they meant by it, they would be immediately exiled from polite and political society, and subjected to the unremitting scorn of the New York Times and all other left-thinking fora.

Second, we tend to forget that enthusiasm for coercive birth-control was associated not with conservatives, or with “the right,” but with Progressives, for whom it was an element of scientific, expert-driven, modernity. In its heyday, progressivism did not map easily onto Democrats v. Republicans: both Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson were progressives, as was Herbert Hoover. Progressivism became associated with liberalism only during FDR’s time.

The supposed “modernity” of expert manipulation of the population appealed to self-consciously modern places, which is why the U.S. and the Scandinavian countries initially led the movement—both in theory and in practice. But as Walter Lippmann stated in a letter to Yale psychologist Robert Yerkes—one of the leaders of the American progressive movement—”your data are insufficient and your definitions altogether too broad. Such statements, made with the prestige of science, leave you open to the gravest misunderstandings.”

A grave misunderstanding, indeed.


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