There’s a lot of crowing and barnyard strutting about a recent referendum in Kansas. By voting against it, Kansans upheld a previous court ruling that found a right to tax-payer-funded abortion in their state constitution. If the Democrats had any honesty, they would now be humbly acknowledging that overturning Roe is what allowed Kansans to decide the issue for themselves, but they’re too busy gorging on what they see as a political feast. And so there’s also a lot of feather-preening about how this vote in a red state like Kansas proves that abortion will supersede inflation, crime, and what’s going on in grammar schools in the mid-terms and beyond. First of all, this was a local referendum, not a national election, and it didn’t have to compete with inflation, crime, and what’s going on in grammar schools. A more important question is: Did a NO vote on this measure indicate support for abortion pure and simple, or were folks balking at the idea that “representatives” of the people should have the power to decide on this issue instead of the people themselves?
Right after the Kansas vote I tuned into a news-and-issues show on public television. Donna Shalala, an American politician who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations, was being interviewed. The subject was the failed referendum, and she was absolutely giddy, waxing poetic about how “the stars aligned over Kansas.” The political landscape for the midterms had changed, she insisted, with eyes aglow and a fixed smile so wide I’m surprised her face didn’t break in two. All a great success—ending life in the womb was irrelevant, not to interfere with her festive mood. Further along in the interview, however, perhaps her tackiness dawned on her, because the maniacal grin evaporated as she tossed out: “Abortion should be legal, safe and rare!” Twice. Wow! I haven’t heard that phrase since that lady got canned from her job at Planned Parenthood for tweeting the Clinton era motto. Dr. Leana Wen was fired as PP’s president after only eight months on the job because “Safe, legal and rare” isn’t favored by abortion rights groups, having been edged out by the sociopath-preferred “Abortion is a social good, and there should be no stigma attached to it.” But Shalala isn’t just some company executive, she’s been in government and politics for much of her life. Did she panic on a personal level, realizing her gauche demeanor was so on display? Or is it a subtle but so far secret admission that the Democrats, with their no limits whatsoever approach, are the true “abortion radicals,” not the Republicans? (Disclosure: I’m not a Republican). Did somebody blink?
Abortion in Europe
Speaking of limits. Shortly after Roe was overturned President Biden claimed the United States was now the “outlier” on this issue compared with other countries. A Wikipedia abortion-ban chart reveals the reality: Frances, Romania, and Spain set the limit at 14 weeks. Austria at 13. Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland all have 12-week bans. Estonia has an 11-week ban. Croatia, Portugal, and Slovenia 10 weeks. And Liechtenstein, Malta, and Poland have total bans. All these are earlier than the 15-week Mississippi ban at issue in Dobbs. (Countries with later bans are Sweden at 18 weeks, and the Netherlands and Great Britain at 24 weeks.)
Of course, in all cases, including where there is a “total” ban, saving the life of the mother takes precedence. Limits can also be extended if: there is either a severe deformity of the fetus or a large probability that the child would be born with a serious, incurable disease; the woman is a victim of sexual violence; a girl is under the age of 14; serious psychological damage to the woman may result. So, yes, there are exceptions to the time limits, but conscientiousness is present in (mostly) determining twelve weeks or less as the cut-off point. Abortion defenders might jump on the fact that in much of Europe birth control and abortion are provided by the state, but does that indicate a special nodding approval, or is it that most are cradle-to-grave welfare states anyway? Also, in European countries there doesn’t seem to be anything akin to the Doe v. Bolton linguistic merging of life of the mother with health of the mother, and then making the definition of “health” so broad you could drive a truck through it, paving the way for abortion through the ninth month and beyond. Shalala shamelessly used verbal gymnastics during the interview by referencing “radical Republicans” who don’t want exceptions, even “. . . for the life of the mother!” Life in what sense? As in alive and breathing, or as in the life she has that doesn’t have room for a kid in it?
The pro-life community is multifaceted. There are the womb-to-tomb absolutists; the defenders of “innocent life” that allow for capital punishment; the incrementalists. I’m an incrementalist. I admire the passion and conviction of the absolutists and sometimes envy their uncomplicated one-way off-ramp regarding the abortion infestation in our country. My happiness at the overturning of Roe included a patriotic pride that my country’s flag no longer flew over the fetid cloud of an overreaching 1973 Supreme Court decision that, incrementally, hardened hearts and encouraged blinders on selfishness. But ultimately, I’m for what works. A federal law against abortion is just as wrong-headed as a federal mandate for abortion. A federal ban would erode trust in whether the pro-life legal position—that this is a matter best decided by individual states—was sincere. It would look like a bait and switch, and appearances count. And it would provide fuel for the hot furnace of the “Us Against Them” mentality of divisive politics. Even talk about a total, nationwide ban scares the hell out of women and makes them dig in their heels and shut down their minds. This is not a new position for me, I’ve written about it here before. But there’s another reason I’m an incrementalist.
This state-by-state approach will probably take years and many referendums and elections to play out. When the dust settles, I believe we will have a handful of states with total bans—except to save the life of the mother—and another handful will follow the barbarism of New York State—legal abortion through the ninth month and beyond (if the baby survives an abortion, you’re allowed to kill it). I think the majority of states, if fear is not exploited, will, like most European countries, limit abortion to the first trimester. Already the vast majority of U.S. abortions—around nine-in-ten—occur during the first trimester.
Polls are unreliable and the voting booth hardly cut and dried, what matters most is how women behave, and this statistic shows that first-trimester limits are not the bug-a-boo abortion radicals would have us believe, that it’s something 90 percent of women could support. And I believe that living with limitations will create an emotional environment that fosters an understanding that abortion really is a big deal and deserves circumspection—the polar opposite of the no-limitations mentality launched by the 1973 Roe and Doe Supreme Court decisions that invited “It’s just a cluster of cells” to snowball into “It’s only a baby if I want it.” In “Roe v. Wade for Dummies” I expressed the hope that perhaps one day they would build an abortion clinic and no one would come. It would just gather dust. What would it take to get there? Not by law alone; and changing hearts and minds won’t happen overnight—but incrementally, as they were changed after Roe v. Wade.
At one point in the Shalala interview the lady interviewer said: “And in Kansas—it’s [the ban] 22 weeks of pregnancy?” Shalala nodded yes in a perfunctory manner, as if she were saying, yes, a baker’s dozen is thirteen, yes, there are four quarts to a gallon, simply acknowledging a quantity, a weights-and-measures factoid without emotion. Did the interviewer wince? I did.