There has been a lot of coverage on the news this week about the issue of abortion, most notably because Rudy Giuliani is attempting to become the GOP presidential nominee as a pro-choice candidate in a pro-life party, and also because one of his rivals, Mitt Romney, recently changed his position from pro-choice to pro-life. I have a few thoughts on the topic--some of which may not be quite what you would expect.
Let us stipulate, for starters, that this is a difficult issue. Those who think it is simple probably have never been forced to think about it very deeply. I have always been pro-life, and in a theoretical sense, I had always just figured that Jefferson's formulation of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" was listed in descending order of importance--that the right to life trumped the liberty to choose. Case closed. But a little over 10 years ago, a student-athlete of mine got pregnant. Of course, she shouldn't have, and saying "no" was an option she should have exercised from the outset. But Joanne (not her real name) was not an average student. She was an orphan, and lived at a local orphanage. To say she wasn't getting the best of advice from her parents was a real understatement. You can even see without a psychology major why she might have been starved enough for affection to not refuse the advances of some teenage boy. Worse, she was right on the verge of being accepted into a program for orphans about to graduate from high school, which would have set her up in a sort of halfway house program, with a checkbook, an apartment, and a job (I should say, a better job. She already worked, and I was often her ride from track practice to the store where she ran a register). Trick is, the program was not open to unwed mothers. All the input she was getting from the adults (and other kids) in her life, was to get an abortion. And you can see why--this baby was going to cost her the greatest opportunity to "get out" of her situation she had ever been offered. She came to me, her coach, who had taken her to church, for my opinion. All of a sudden, a lifetime of seeing abortion as a cop-out for immature middle-class kids who couldn't keep their pants up went fleeing out the window.
That's not to say that I joined the chorus of pro-choicers. I told her that I believed that she was carrying a genuine, living, baby, and that to kill it, for any reason, was morally wrong. I offered to help her work on the option of adoption. (And, over the next couple of weeks, I even found a family that would have been willing to adopt her child). Most importantly, I told her that I loved her, and God loved her. In the end, she chose the abortion. And I still think that what she chose was wrong. But I don't think she was just being selfish, or immature, or any of the other adjectives I used to associate with the pro-choice position.
An extreme case? Yes. Typical of most abortions in America? Certainly not. And it goes without saying, as so many of us learned in our childhood, that two wrongs don't make a right. That said, I do believe that there are difficult situations in some cases--the standard, "rape, incest, or life of the mother" formula, to name a few. But let me make a suggestion here. What if, just for argument, I was to say that I, a 100% absolutist on the immorality of abortion, would give in on all of those "hard" cases. Not that I'll change my moral viewpoint; I'll still think that life is life, killing is killing, sin is sin. But for the sake of practicality, I would give up on every single case of rape, incest, or where the mother's life was threatened. I might even allow a very strict scrutiny of some sort to allow cases like Joanne's to be heard fairly. How many millions of unborn lives would be saved if we could all agree, just to that? Most estimates say that over 95% of abortions are NOT the "hard cases."
But here's the rub. The "pro-choice" side, all the while mouthing the party line that they "hate" abortion, that it should be "safe, legal, and rare" would, for the most part, never take that deal. This is what I find so very striking about the legal side of the abortion debate: the first amendment, explicitly enshrined in the Constitution, is subject to reasonable restrictions (you can't shout "fire" in a crowded theater, and if John McCain has his way, you can't even mention a candidate's name in a political ad 60 days out from an election). The second amendment, which again, explicity states that the right to keep and bear arms "shall not be infringed" is restricted in dozens of ways (you can't have a bazooka, there are instant background checks, minors can't own guns, you can't have them near schools). But Roe v. Wade, in finding the "right" to an abortion implicit--not ever mentioned--in the Constitution, cannot be restricted in ANY way without threatening our fundamental liberties. Whether Planned Parenthood, or NARAL, or any of the other pro-abortion lobbying groups, the line is always the same--no parental notification is OK (even though your teen daughter can't get a Tylenol without your consent, she can choose major surgery). No limitations on term are allowed, right up to the moment of conception, even if the baby is viable (The Supreme Court just recently ruled that "partial birth" abortion could be restricted, and you would have thought from the rhetoric that followed that Sharia Law had been imposed on the country). "Protecting a woman's right to choose" trumps even near-infanticide.
This, for me (like millions of others), is a completely untenable position. And so much of the rhetoric is intended to mislead. We're told all the time that Roe only legalized early abortion. And we're told that pro-choicers would gladly accept restriction, if only there was an exception for the "health of the mother." Yet the companion Doe case we never hear about allowed an exception for "health" reasons, which the Supreme Court agreed included anything up to and including mental discomfort. So "health" just means "anything goes, right up to partially born." Hogwash. Again, I'll be reasonable. If you got an MD (a real Ob-Gyn, not a "doc" who only does abortions at a mill) to swear an affadavit that an abortion was necessary because it would leave a woman sterile, or otherwise physically damaged, I'd lump that one with the "hard cases." But a little good-faith effort on the other side... just a little. That would be nice.
And this has major party implications, as well. I really don't consider myself a Republican. I am socially conservative, and traditionally (but not always) think that conservatives get the better of most economic arguments. Again, I'm not comparing the GOP of the 1880s or 1930s with their Democratic counterparts--I'm talking post-1980 Republicans and post-1968 Democrats. But I could buy in to a centrist Democrat who shared my values over a Republican who didn't (hence my disdain for Giuliani). However, so long as the Democrats remain the vehemently pro-abortion party (and that includes making disingenuous statements about "health" when they know better), then I just cannot go there. More than the war, more than the "gay marriage" issue, this, to me, seems one of the areas where I cannot just say "good, smart people disagree on this one," or, "if I accepted your premise I might reach the same conclusions." We're talking about a crime. With an innocent victim. And so, even as much as I might hate to defend George W. Bush when it's so easy to join the chorus of bashers and get the approving looks around the faculty table, I still have not been able to find it within myself to wish that John Kerry or Al Gore had appointed the last two Supreme Court judges.
One last point, and I'll put this over-long post out of its misery. What if Roe were overturned, today? To hear the rhetoric, you'd think that abortion as a procedure would instantly be outlawed nationwide. But, in reality, nothing would change. It would just open the door to states making their own rules. Some would keep the on-demand system we have now. Certain others (I think most) would adopt some varying levels of restriction. A couple might try to outlaw the procedure entirely, but I'll bet they'd have a hard time, at least on what I called the "hard cases." It would just take this very difficult issue and put it in the hands of the voters, instead of 9 judges. It's not like the court is always right. Obviously, Dred Scott v. Sanford, which held that slavery was OK, was a bad decision. To insist that because Roe is "settled law" and therefore can't be revisited is just ludicrous. Although, as I have said, I wouldn't mind overturning the Doe case first, and working on the hard stuff later.