It’s not civically edifying or anything else when some jerk throws a Molotov cocktail at a “reproductive health facility”—leave aside the verbal evasion meant to conceal the identity of an abortion clinic. It is no more edifying when another apostle of free speech, differently persuaded, spray-paints on a pregnancy resource center the message: “IF ABORTION AINT SAFE NEITHER RU JR.”
Such is our rhetorical descent from Daniel Webster. We burn, we threaten.
Let that go. We debase, we degrade ourselves, is what it comes down to. And we draw in the Federal Bureau of Investigation with an offer of $25,000 for information as to the perpetrators of, among other offenses, a Molotov cocktail party that caused over half a million dollars in damages to a Buffalo, NY, crisis pregnancy center.
It is all so 21st-century—so indicative not just of divisions over abortion but of modern divisions as a class. We might profit by looking below the surface of these and so many other hostilities. But there isn’t the inclination right now for ministering to the pain of enemies.
Pain: there you go. You want to hurt: to make a moral opponent, or just any opponent, cry out. Not so loudly, you understand, that the cops come running. The point isn’t to boast over the physical affliction of pain. The point is to hit and run. Thus out come the matches and the gasoline-soaked rags. Fire! Fire!
Some fun. Easier than writing a speech or a pamphlet: which you could call a major consequence of the politicization of life. Via politics, effectively employed, you make everybody conform to the same rule, whatever it may be.
Does that put anyone in mind of Roe v. Wade?
True enough, freshly turned soil adorns the legal plot where the handiwork of the U. S. Supreme Court, half a century ago, now rests. But Roe’s legacy is not so easy to inter. Half a century is a long time to massage opponents’ memories with the bitter knowledge that their nation’s highest court had told them, essentially, to get lost. Abortion was a constitutional right. Get used to it, buddy.
Get used to what? The impassioned or casual decision to end—with the law’s permission—an unseen life initiated through the conjunction of seen, fleshly lives unwilling to create yet another one? Roe said in effect, no big deal. Not so far as the U. S. government and its agents were concerned.
The death of Roe, at the hands of the same institution that gave it life, 50 years earlier, afforded occasion for the moral conversations in which judges and politicians showed little interest: the problem being the loss, thanks to Roe, of the ability to hold respectful converse about human life.
Talking about morality isn’t like riding a bicycle. The habit doesn’t come back with the turn of the handlebars. You have to work at it. You have to recover lost premises. You have to ask whether the old premises still have force. If they do, you have to convince others of it. Not force others—convince them, in the spirit of democratic partnership.
And if that’s too much like work, there’s always the Molotov cocktail, the spray-paint container. The dark of night, the excited flight to avoid the cops. What we ought to be doing right now as a people is talking to each other about the unborn and what their unborn-ness really, truly means. We were doing it a little bit, in the ’60s, before Roe foreclosed that pursuit.
Who knows what unforced conclusions the revolutionary temper of that time would have produced? There might have been fire bombs and worse; there might not have been. Just one thing seems clear: the opportunity we enjoy, thanks to the death of Roe. It is the opportunity to essay moral—not police-court; moral—discourse concerning human life: its whys, its hows, its eternal and mysterious what-fors.