One aspect to pro-choice thinking is that it’s not automatically about actual aborting but simply about the concept of choice, and, intellectually, that’s hard to argue with.
Indeed, my own feeling is this: Do I want the practice of abortion to cease? Absolutely yes. Do I want the Sheriff involved? Absolutely not. For me a society where a woman is stripped of all personal freedom once her womb comes into play is cold and tyrannical. The ideal is for abortion to be legal but in practice an option a woman would use only in the direst of circumstances—to save her own life. In cases of rape and incest, women who can transcend the horror of the attack and give life anyway are true saints, whether recognized as such by the church or not. But sainthood shouldn’t be state-enforced. The way things stand now, this ideal is seen either as a Pollyanna pipe dream or an annoying intrusion upon unmitigated freedom. All the heated arguments being hurled from both camps indicate two sides hopelessly dead-locked, two sides with heels dug in deep. If the swinging-pendulum model means anything, we may go from being a society of the resolutely apathetic about the unborn to one that exerts cold and tyrannical control over women. Neither is humane.
The current abortion debate seems like a dumb western: While the settlers are in a panic pointing at the horizon screaming “Injuns!” they are completely oblivious to a stampeding herd of buffalo right behind them. Depending on your position, the “Injuns” are either recent pro-life gains or pro-choice pushback; the stampeding buffalo herd is the Court of Public Opinion. Never underestimate the Court of Public Opinion.
Ironically, the Court of Public Opinion helped determine the ruling in Roe v. Wade. In the years leading up to the decision, a number of states had already liberalized their abortion laws, and it was the view of the Supreme Court justices who affirmed Roe that legal abortion was “the way society is trending.” Another example of how popular opinion can affect our laws is Prohibition. In a country where it’s held dear that citizens have the right to live life as they see fit, a federal ban on the production, transport, and sale of alcohol nonetheless was enacted. State laws were even more restrictive, banning possession and/or consumption as well. Spearheading Prohibition was the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, which had a national grassroots base and an extremely compelling narrative: Alcoholism, they preached, had reached such epidemic proportions that children were going hungry because their fathers were drinking up their paychecks. And the Movement succeeded in its mission. We did dry out, the country did get back on track, and the epidemic was stemmed, all thanks to the 18th Amendment, supported by a public that was sick and tired of drunks. Of course, Prohibition itself caused problems. There was the unintended consequence of the rise of organized crime. People rebelled against a Protestant religious faction imposing their values on everyone. Government felt the loss of tax revenue. So the Court of Public Opinion pivoted once more and in came the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition.
Recent battles in the Abortion War involve heavy-handedness on both sides. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “reform law,” allowing viable babies who survive an abortion procedure to be killed, is an obscene example of overreach on the pro-abortion side. But the very strict law signed by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey—banning abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother—arouses sympathy for rape and incest victims, and paints prolifers as unfeeling demagogues. Both laws inflame sensibilities, and while inflamed sensibilities are good for fundraising and mobilization among their respective bases (the heels dig deeper), it’s also true that both of these events caused eye-rolling in the more middle-of-the-road general public. Both are a turn-off and for the same reason—both seem cruel.
However, the response of pro-abortion advocates to another recent event is so lame it paints a picture of them in the Court of Public Opinion as not only being heels-dug-in for the mere sake of it, but resolutely sullen, apathetic, and with a sense of entitlement to boot (or as the country folk might say “independent as a hog on ice”). The event is the passing—in Georgia and a few other states—of “fetal heartbeat laws” which forbid abortion once one is detected, which is at about six weeks. The ensuing wail and gnashing of teeth was based on the contention that women don’t always know they’re pregnant at six weeks. Really now! In this day and age the only way to figure out if you’re not pregnant is the arrival of your period? Or are they saying that to expect women who are sexually active to take an at-home pregnancy test once a week is over burdening? It’s non-invasive, all you have to do is pee on a stick, and eight bucks gets you 25 strips. Splurge, and showing an abundance of caution, do it twice a week. Is this really too much to ask? The heartbeat law doesn’t even limit the reason for aborting, it’s still abortion on demand. Is the idea that with freedom comes responsibility really so unreasonable?
If the Court of Public Opinion does come into play, does indeed pivot once more and this time society trends away from supporting the concept of choice, especially when it means a woman can have an abortion at any point during pregnancy, what demographic would this “Court” consist of? It’s human nature to be most committed to things that impact one personally. As men and women get older and no longer need to worry about getting pregnant or impregnating (yes, men can sire into old age, but their decreasing partner pool renders it unlikely), their immediate and personal concerns diminish. They no longer have skin in the game. Yes, there are ideological passions, causes to join, flags to wave, but once it no longer affects you directly it is easier to step away from it, to lower the flag. The other demographic is the young. Of childbearing age they may be, but their perspective may be different. Obviously, birth control decreases the need to abort and it’s plentiful; they may not share the same ideological fervor for unadulterated choice that dusty old feminists do, and lame excuses to resist the heartbeat law will fall on their ears with an obnoxious clunk because this generation will simply shrug and download an app that sends weekly reminders to their smart phones to go home and pee on a stick.
What I am saying here will not sit well with ideological purists on either side of the debate. Does life begin at conception (of course, when else?), but as with Prohibition, history shows us that religious factions imposing their values on a democratic and pluralistic society can actually weaken their ability to accomplish good, and may even send people in the opposite direction.
Catholic teaching says that birth control is wrong except for the rhythm method, now known as natural family planning, that anything artificial is taboo. If the intent is to prevent conception, what difference does it make? The religious standpoint is that using artificial birth control means you’re not allowing enough margin of error, you’re not putting yourself in the hands of God. But if the idea is to recognize life from the moment of conception it makes more sense to allow birth control that prevents it, natural or not. Unless “life begins at conception” in fact takes a back seat to putting an ecclesiastically fine point on what method is allowed. And that’s what the country folk might say is “a religious faction imposing their values on everyone.”
Better to really and truly listen to women and understand how fear and fury ignite when fueled by ofttimes smug and tyrannical demands about what her place is—that she should accept that her body is a prison and just shut up about it. But women also need to cede some territory, to relinquish the fantasy that abortion is an inconsequential shedding, and that abortion law is there to protect her from all inconvenience, both practical and mental. And if both sides refuse to budge? Hark, panicked settlers! Hear those hoof beats?