It is now 30 years since the Supreme Court, in its Roe v. Wade vision, blew down the barriers to abortion on demand, using as the essential rationale a constitutional right of privacy that the court had discovered less than eight years earlier. Since 1973 roughly 40 million abortions—that seems to be the generally accepted number—have been performed in America, and 40 million children banished from life.
Forty million. There isn’t a country in the world with an army that big. Many don’t have a population that big. Among the 40 million were, as romantics like to point out, a Leonardo, a Dr. Salk, the man who’d make the rocket to Mars and perhaps the first American pope. But there were men and women among the 40 million who would have grown up to be destructive too, and cruel. It seems realistic to assume the 40 million would have included your average mix of heroes, villains and those undistinguished by recognizable gifts.
But actually I wonder about that. It has seemed to me over the years that so many of the 40 million were the children of bright or educated or affluent parents, lucky young people and, in the way of things, might likely have gone on to—well, we might have lost more curers of cancer than we know. In any case, whatever these individuals would have become, they were all unique, blessed. They all deserved the same thing, life, and all suffered the same fate.
Looked at in this way, abortion might seem not a completely private choice but one that has had a profound public impact on our country. If you want to be cold and actuarial about it, you can note that in the next five to 10 years tens of millions of baby boomers will retire, and their futures would be more secure if they were benefiting from the financial support of the missing 40 million, many of whom would be paying into Social Security right now. But they’re gone, so they can’t help.
If you want to be less actuarial than cultural in your thinking, it’s hard to believe that we don’t all know, down deep, that abortion has not made our country a gentler place. I believe we haven’t begun to appreciate the effect on our children and their developing understanding of life that they are told every day, on television and in magazines, in advertisements and news stories, that we allow the killing of children. It’s not good for them to know that, not good for them to be told over and over that they live in a place where life is not necessarily respected and inconvenient life can be whisked away. Knowledge like that has a chilling effect on the soul.
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I think, as many do, that Roe v. Wade was as big a travesty as the Supreme Court decision on Dred Scott, which in 1857 declared that descendants of slaves could not become U.S. citizens. All Americans would now see that decision as terribly wrong, but back then the Court had spoken and Dred Scott was forced to continue to live in slavery.
I think also that if the legal status of abortion, a long-settled issue that was inevitably forced into play by the cultural revolution of the ‘60s and the rise of the women’s movement, had to be redecided, it should have been done politically, not judicially. That it was not, that a huge and radical change in law was forced on the entire country by black-robed fiat, caused avoidable and continuing unrest. It has contributed more than any decision in my lifetime to the national breakdown of faith in our institutions.
If it had been left up to the states, New York, California and other places would have legal abortion (as they already did in 1973). Utah, Louisiana and other places would have voted pro-life. The outcome would have been mixed and the argument would have continued, but not with quite the same citizen-hating-citizen level of intensity or quite the damage to our trust in the law and the law givers.
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The antiabortion movement isn’t going to go away. It will fight on until the day our country ends if that day comes. And it is making progress. Two recent polls, which the mainline media largely ignored, are revealing of that progress. A Wirthlin poll released last week reported 68% of respondents support “restoring legal protection for unborn children,” and almost the same number said they would favor future Supreme Court nominees who supported protections. That poll was commissioned by pro-life groups, but then came a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll in which 70% of respondents said partial-birth abortion should be outlawed, 78% backed a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for all abortions, 73% supported parental consent for girls under 18 seeking abortions, and 88% said they favor a law directing doctors to inform patients of alternatives to abortion before it is performed.
These data suggest the country may be slowly but surely turning, and looking at the question in a new way, and inching closer back to the old idea that abortion is tragedy, tragic for the baby and tragic for us. It is no good, we know it, it is avoidable, there are options, such as hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans eager to adopt.
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Why haven’t our courts and lawmakers made greater progress in protecting the unborn when polls suggest public support is there? Lots of reasons, but one that I think is not sufficiently appreciated is this: Abortion is now the glue that holds the Democratic Party together. Without abortion to keep them together, the Democrats would fly apart into 50 small parties—Dems for free trade, Dems for protectionism; for quotas, for merit. All parties have divisions, the Republicans famously so, but Republicans have general philosophical views that keep them together and supported by groups that share their views. They’re all united by, say, hostility to high taxes, but sometimes they have different reasons for opposing tax increases.
The Democratic Party, in contrast, has exhausted its great reasons for being, having achieved so many of them during the past 75 years. The Democrats often seem like the Not Republican Party, no more and no less. It is composed not of allied groups in pursuit of the same general principles but warring groups vying for money, power, a louder voice, the elevation of their particular cause.
The one thing they agree on, that holds them together and finances their elections, is abortion. The abortion-rights movement packs huge clout in the party; it can make or break a candidacy with contributions and labor and support. It has such clout that at the 1992 Democratic convention the party wouldn’t even let Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a popular liberal from a state with 23 electoral votes, give an afternoon speech. He was officially a nonperson at his party’s convention because he was pro-life. The Republicans, on the other hand, still have arguments over abortion. Whether pro- or anti-, it is understood you are not banned from a convention podium on that basis. The Republicans can still have a conversation, albeit with occasionally loud voices. But better a loud voice than no voice at all.
Democratic officeholders either agree with and fear the clout of the abortion-rights groups or disagree with and fear them. So the pro-abortion forces keep the party together, but they also tie it down. They keep the Democratic Party on the defensive—the lockstep pro-abortion party that won’t even back parental notification, the party of unbending orthodoxy that will fight tooth and nail against banning abortions on babies eight months old, babies who look and seem and act exactly like human beings because they are.
No party can long endure, or could possibly flourish, with the unfettered killing of young humans as the thing that holds it together. And so a prediction on this grim anniversary: Someday years from now we will see abortion’s final victim, and it will turn out to be the once-great Democratic Party, which was left at the end deformed, bloody and desperately trying to kick away from death, but unable to save itself.