There was a major freak-out when shortly after the fall of Roe Senator Lindsay Graham proposed a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks. I myself thought it was poor timing and impolitic. The pro-life stance had been about states’ rights, and the sudden change in focus came off like a bait-and-switch, and that matters. The ultimate battle prolifers will face is the one to win hearts and minds, made more difficult if there’s mistrust. The thing is, when you think about it, Roe v. Wade itself was a national ban on abortion—after 24 weeks. This rage about overturning abortion is about abortion as pro-choicers have come to expect it: available through the ninth month of pregnancy. But this wasn’t granted in Roe. That distinction goes to Doe v. Bolton.
Doe v. Bolton was a companion case decided the same day as Roe. Whereas Roe allowed abortion, hideously enough, up through the first six months, Doe took it to the ninth month by making the “health” of the mother exception so broad you could drive any abortion through it. Such as, for example, an otherwise sane woman choosing to abort simply because she has misgivings about her condition. This isn’t an “emotional health crisis,” it’s a lame excuse. In fact, the entire case for Doe was lame. The supposed litigant was a woman named Sandra Cano who was given the pseudonym Mary Doe in court papers to protect her identity. She was a young mother of three and nine weeks pregnant when the lawsuit was filed in her name. Cano described herself as pro-life and claimed that her attorney, Margie Pitts Haimes, hijacked a child custody issue connected to Cano’s divorce and then lied in order to get her to agree to be a plaintiff.
From cunning lawyer tricks to Supreme Court justices twisting the Fourteenth Amendment to accommodate abortion rights advocates, Roe/Doe employed layers of chicanery to make abortion the law of the land. Supposedly about reproductive “rights” for women (a peculiar goal since it didn’t address male responsibility), the justices knew that changing the law would not be enough; they had to win hearts and minds too—and conscience might get in the way.
Could the justices have found a means for circumventing conscience by channeling arguments (even subconsciously) that were made twenty-eight years earlier during the closing days of World War II? On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and three days later another one on Nagasaki. Hiroshima was justified by the possibility that over a million Allied soldiers would die in an invasion due to fanatical resolve on the part of the Japanese (aided by the fact that in their country suicide is honorable, even ritualistic). In the words of Winston Churchill, in a speech to the British House of Commons, August 1945: “There are voices which assert that the bomb should never have been used at all. I cannot associate myself with such ideas. . . . I am surprised that very worthy people—but people who in most cases had no intention of proceeding to the Japanese front themselves—should adopt the position that rather than throw this bomb, we should have sacrificed a million American and a quarter of a million British lives.” Still, the horror of that day is unmatched; they weren’t a people taken from their homes and murdered in camps, as awful as that was; they were vaporized where they stood, turned into a smudge on the walls of their own city.
Since their defeat was assured after the one bomb, the elephant in the room is “Why Nagasaki?” What purpose was there in dropping another? If there was no military imperative, is it out of bounds to consider that perhaps it was a way of asserting a moral stance on the world stage by “doubling down”—to continue to do something in an even more determined or dogged way than before to show you were right all along? Was the Supreme Court in 1973 doubling down when it extended elective abortion all the way to the ninth month in Doe? Was it a way to establish that abortion is morally fine no matter why or when? In “Roe v. Wade for Dummies” I wondered if the reason the justices adopted an “in for a penny in for a pound mentality” was so they wouldn’t be accused of inconsistency: They were covering their be-robed behinds. But was it something else as well? Were they tapping a war-time playbook in order to neutralize conscience?
The heated exchanges coming from pro-choicers these days make it seem as if they just landed here from another planet. With stern looks and wagging fingers, they exclaim in accusatory tones: Prolifers want to end abortion altogether!! Well, yes dear, that’s exactly so. Are you new in town? That has always been the ultimate goal, only the approaches vary. Some want a national ban on abortion yesterday, others see the state-by-state political process as not only safer constitutionally, but a path to changing hearts and minds by first easing women into accepting limits (which six months along is not). As I wrote in “Shall We Wince?”, the accepting of limits can create an emotional environment that fosters an understanding that ending life in the womb is always a big deal. Maybe that will lead to revisiting modern attitudes about casual hook-ups. Those old enough to remember society before the sexual revolution know that it wasn’t just the shame brought to family by having a baby out of wedlock that made people more careful about sex, it was the understanding that abortion was killing your baby.
The nine-month-elective-abortion-mentality inculcated fifty years ago has become completely fused with the concept of “freedom.” It’s all a tangled mess of wants and fears, with life in the womb reduced to that curious smudge on the wall no one wants to think about. This is the harm the 1973 Supreme Court caused to the soul of the nation. Why Nagasaki? Why Doe v. Bolton? It’s the Godzilla in the room.