Friday, January 23, 2009

An End to the Abortion Wars? I Don't Think So.

Yesterday while walking through the lobby of my office building I heard a very short bit on the lobby TV about Obama's abortion legislation. I didn't catch the whole piece and am not sure what Obama has in mind. But I do know that our President needs to proceed with great caution on this issue.

Americans have come - out of necessity on both sides - to a kind of fragile truce and fragile balance on the issue of abortion. Those passionate for abortion rights have their rights in almost all cases, with only the ban on partial birth abortion and some parental consent or waiting period requirements in various states. Roe v. Wade stands firm. And a Democratic President is in there for 4-8 years to watch over any new Supreme Court nominees.

Those passionate about the right of the unborn to life have had to concede that Roe V. Wade is not going anywhere. Pro-life advocates did at least achieve the ban on partial birth abortions, a barbaric procedure that most Americans oppose. Apart from that ban there isn't very much to celebrate on the pro-life side.

These being the lines of a very fragile truce, energies have shifted to other tangential areas. No one is terribly happy with things as they stand; after all, this is a truce not a peace treaty. sometimes a truce is all you can hope for.

If Obama tries to break the truce by passing the Freedom of Choice Act, he will, in one wave of his hand, profoundly alienate a very large percentage of the American people and totally destroy any benefit of the doubt being extended to him by conservatives. He will have wrecked all hope of change in the way things are done in Washington.

If he thinks that passing FOCA will in some way end the abortion wars he is either not as smart as we think or he has plans to suppress dissent. For the voices of dissent will rise like a tsunami.

Instead of ending the abortion wars FOCA will fan a spark that has been simmering for a long time - and a new war will begin. There will be many many screams - and these won't be silent. Perhaps Obama does not know the depth of feeling and passion on the other side of this fragile truce.

I remember hearing Bill Clinton say during his wife's campaign that if pro-life people really thought abortion was murder they would be storming the clinics (or something like that). Well Mr. Clinton, many pro-life people do believe that abortion is a kind of murder, partial birth abortion being the most egregious expression of it. The reason we do not storm clinics and such is because we (most of us) adhere to the rule of law. We do not like anarchy or vigilantism.

It may not always be so. Legalizing again partial birth abortions will create a tidal wave of renewed passion on the issue of life. I worry that not everyone will submit to the rule of law and that bad things may happen. Maybe that is what the left wants...

But it will be war (morally and politically and culturally); and it will wage until a truce can be restored, if that would be possible.

Obama has a shooting war to wind down, major legislation to pass on the economy, and profound energy issues to address. Lift the ban on partial birth abortions and he will lose any good will that is now extended to him on the other side of the aisle. He will become - in a flash - a fearful specter - a heavy handed left leaning president who has a congressional majority. It will all but guarantee a Republican comeback in 2010.

And one more note about the fragile truce that exists now. I believe that it is in Obama's best political interest not to stir the nest and to keep that truce going if he can. But in the end this issue is much more significant than whether a mere country is divided. On this issue families divide, friends divide, workmates divide, and even churches divide.

If we have a fragile truce for a while it would be in our countries best interest to preserve it. Obama will find that out too late that he has exacerbated and not ended the abortion wars.


Dwight Thomas said...

This is a well worded commentary on the present situation and the dangers of messing with the status quo. President Obama should stiff-arm the left-wing idealogues and focus on the important other issues we face as a nation, and he as a new president.

Betsy said...

Very well worded point.
Abortion, to me is in a way the moral equivalent of slavery. This is something Obama should be able to recognize. The movie "Amazing Grace" illustrates beautifully the sacrifice of William Wilberforce in his stand against this reprehensible, but "status quo," accepted practice of his day. Most people during his day while they may have had a prick of their conscience, still accepted the practice of slavery. Wilberforce made it his life mission to end the practice of slavery in England. Nearly everyone today recognizes this is right! I pray one day soon the world's eyes will be opened to the horror of our current and widely accepted practice of abortion in this same way. Someone has to stand and speak out in defense of these, our smallest and most defenseless American citizens.

Michele said...

thoughtful post. thank you.

Dave Ribar said...


You write that "there isn't very much to celebrate on the pro-life side." But there is.

The abortion rate (the number performed as a percent of women 15-44) and the absolute number of abortions in the U.S. have been falling steadily since the early 1980s. In 2005, the abortion rate reached its lowest level since 1974--that is, the lowest level since shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, the stunning drop in the abortion rate is certainly something to cheer.

Joel said...

I don't know Dave, if the number of Sudanese people killed in their genocide had decreased from 50 out of every 1000 to 45 out of every 1000 how much would you celebrate? If you know on of the 5% you would of course rejoice. I think the statistic is a little misleading. It does not take into account abortifacient birth control or morning after pills for one thing. To the extent that the numbers have changed because more people are choosing not to have abortions once pregnant I am particularly glad. For pro-life folks the point isn't merely the gross number of abortions or changes by percentage or absolute figures but the freedom a person has to kill their own baby. The legal injustice of abortion, the moral decadence revealed by the legality of abortion on demand, the issue of what kind of culture we are giving to our children - I think on these matters pro-life have little to celebrate.

Anonymous said...

Where did you here about this "adhere to the rule of law" concept? Because it certainly wasn't from George W. Bush, whose administration single handedly under minded our nation's Constitution more than all previous presidents combined.

There's a reason that Barack Obama won in November.

Joel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said...

sorry - grammatical mistakes...

This is one of those really dumb comments that it is hard to know what to do with. OK, were it not an anonymous comment I wouldn't call it "really dumb," even if it were. I am not keen about people hiding behind "anonymous." What I wrote had nothing whatsoever to do with George Bush. Oh, you think we all stay up late at night waiting to get secret marching orders from George Bush? Yea, we do that. We put aluminum cones on our heads like in "Signs" and marching orders from George Bush are beamed right into our brains. Of course, when I referred to the rule of law I was talking about why pro-life people did not, as Bill Clinton had suggested they should (given their convictions about what abortion is) go to greater links to stop abortions And what I said is the case. They do not do crazy things because they were committed to the rule of law. The legislative ban on partial birth abortion certainly came about according to the due process of law, and was upheld by the supreme court. Perhaps your point is that there are pro-life people who would not do crazy stuff because of their commitment to the rule of law, but who voted for Bush who, you claim, violated the rule of law over and over. Actually, you did not make that point. I am making it for you. Now your comment makes a little sense.

Dave Ribar said...


The declines that we are talking about are not trivial. The number of abortions is down 25% from the 1980s. That works out to 400,000 fewer medically-induced abortions each year.

That figure does not adjust for the growing population. In population-adjusted terms, the abortion rate is down by more than one-third.

Your post refers to an uneasy truce. Within that uneasy truce there should be "third-way" approaches that can reduce unintended pregnancies and thereby reduce abortion. When abortions are reduced we should acknowledge that success.

Joel said...


Of course one must be thankful for any reductions in the number of abortions. If these statistics weren't always being called by the pro-abortion lobby they might be more comforting to pro-life folks. Rather they are used as a debate tactic to undercut the more fundamental pro life concern, the which isn't simply to reduce the numbers of abortions in some statistical sense. And just so you won't misunderstand me there are tens of thousands of people all over the country ministering to women in the midst of crisis pregnancies and giving them care - care both through the pregnancy and after. For every child so saved I am thankful.

Pro-life folks are very wary of the "make abortion rare" language because it is usually accompanied by various programs that they cannot accept, plus it undermines their fundamental message about policy which permits taking of human life.

I myself desire and see the need for a multitude of things which will make people's lives better and likely reduce somewhat the occurrence of abortion. Assuming the continuation of the fragile truce it would be easier to put more energies into those needful things. That is one reason the FOCA will be so destructive. There may be a kind of "third way" as long as the truce holds. If FOCA passes enormous amount of energy, time, and money will then be spent trying to beat back FOCA. And Obama and the Democratic Congress are vulnerable on this issue since a considerable majority of Americans oppose partial birth abortion.

I still wonder, if FOCA passes, if there will be companion legislation or presidential directives squashing dissent.

In summation I do not think that there exists a significant "third way." Perhaps here and there pro-abortion rights advocates and pro-life advocates can find common cause but it is not likely on a large scale. The fundamental view of the humanity of the not-yet-born is just so different. Not only are there significant "worldview" differences, but many of the methods pro-abortion rights advocates would use to diminish the number of abortions are not acceptable to most pro-life advocates.

I spend a lot of mental energy thinking in the direction of "third ways." In my view the only remote possibility of finding a "third way" would require that the fragile peace holds.

The Logistician said...

It is interesting, and commendable, that someone recognize a "fragile truce and fragile balance" with respect to so contentious an issue. I raised the subject recently on my blog, only to revive long held emotions on both sides. I strongly suspect that this one is incapable of resolution on a national basis.

Nice piece.