Abortion And Imprudence

There were two very good articles on the South Dakota abortion law this weekend: the first of which comes from columnist Steve Chapman:

For 33 years, opponents of abortion have followed the advice of St. Vincent de Paul, who said that if you must hurry, “hasten slowly.” Ever since the Supreme Court made abortion on demand the law of the land, pro-lifers have worked tirelessly to move the court and the country toward allowing greater protection for the unborn.

But today, some people in the anti-abortion movement are running low on patience. They are hastening quickly, oblivious to the risks to those they want to protect.

The people responsible for this bill did not consider what the ramifications would be. This was a horrendously rash decision that was not thought through at all – and the ultimate effect of this bill will be to ensure that abortion remains legal. Anyone who seriously believes that this bill will be a stake through the heart of Roe simply isn’t thinking rationally. As Chapman explains:

Assuming that Alito and Roberts would jump at the chance to scrap Roe, that still leaves five of the nine justices in favor of preserving abortion rights. If the court were to hear this case tomorrow, the chance that the law would survive can be calculated with depressing precision: zero.

The law also runs the risk of demanding too much of the two new members. Both are conservatives, and both have stressed their due respect for precedent. There are steps a justice might be willing to take after a few years on the court that he might not be willing to take right away. One of those is chucking a major decision that has been on the books for a generation.

The bill’s sponsor says he sees a “strong possibility” that John Paul Stevens will leave the court soon, to be succeeded by an anti-Roe justice. But that’s not counting chickens before they’re hatched — it’s counting them before the eggs are even laid.

The idea that Roe is going to be overturned by this court would require another justice to change their mind about Roe – which doesn’t seem likely. Furthermore, that assumes that the Supreme Court will even grant certiorari in this case – which is certainly not guaranteed. The chances of the sponsors of this bill getting what they want are not just imperceptably small – they’re zero. This bill won’t overturn Roe. It certainly won’t end abortion. What it will do is make the debate even more vitriolic than before and force the pro-life side to either repudiate part of itself or defend a bill that does not even make exception in the cases of incest or rape. That is not a tenable position, and those responsible for the bill have done more to aid the practice of abortion than nearly anyone.

Thomas Bray also considers the need for prudence:

Impatience also could jeopardize the solid progress – abortion declined nationally by 17 percent in the 1990s, and by up to half in states like Michigan between 1987 and 2003, it has been estimated –that anti-abortion forces have made by gradually de-legitimizing abortion while chipping away at Roe. This might be a good time for conservatives to choose prudence over Utopianism.

Bray is quite right. The South Dakota bill and the others like it are incredibly imprudent pieces of legislation. Even if Roe were repealed, abortions would still be endemic in this country. How many lives would truly be saved if Roe were repealed? New York and California represent the largest share of abortions in the country, and neither state would be particularly likely to ban the procedure any time soon. The only way to truly reduce the number of abortions nationwide is not to change the law but change the culture. That had slowly been happening as technology allowed women to see a fetus not as some “tissue mass” but as a person in its own right. Now, because of this imprudent and ill-considered move by the legislature of South Dakota, those cultural shifts will be washed away in a tide of political rancor.

3 thoughts on “Abortion And Imprudence

  1. “This bill won’t overturn Roe. It certainly won’t end abortion. What it will do is make the debate even more vitriolic than before”

    Which, in general, is exactly what the Republican Party wants. Traditionally, when the abortion issue is high on the public radar screen, Republicans stand to gain since their ideologues outnumber those on the pro-choice side, who are more likely to take the right for granted. However, the South Dakota Legislature appears to legitimately interested in criminalizing abortion rather than just using it as a political football, and probably overplayed the issue to where pro-choicers (the vast majority of the electorate) will no longer take the right for granted.

    Bush won the 2004 election because of “security moms” deluded into believing his tough talk about terrorists equated to a more secure homeland. These women otherwise lean Democrat and with the abortion gauntlet so forcefully thrown by the SD Legislature, nearly all of these voters are likely gone. One has to suspect Karl Rove and other GOP operatives are very unhappy that the South Dakota Legislature actually took the party’s pro-life position seriously. By raising the stakes of the debate this severely, an issue that traditionally benefits Republicans may end up benefiting Democrats this time.

  2. “Even if Roe were repealed, abortions would still be endemic in this country. How many lives would truly be saved if Roe were repealed?”

    I don’t know if anybody has looked at this information, but it seems to me that if criminalizing abortion actually prevented abortions we should see corresponding increases and decreases in the birth rate before and after Roe (adjusting for things like population growth). If suddenly a significantly greater number of women began aborting their fetuses after Roe went into effect we should see the birth rate drop also. No significant change in the birth rate would lead me to suspect that criminalizing abortion has little effect on the number of abortions performed/babies buried alive in the woods. Because I suspect that the rate at which people have sex has not changed since we diverged and became Homo sapiens.

  3. I’ve heard rumblings that the number of abortions dropped under Clinton, largely because of better sex education and no laws on the books that made it possible for pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control, and that abortion numbers have risen under Bush. I’d be interested to know if anyone has heard anything corroborating these statistics.

    In my opinion, what happens to a fetus is the mother’s decision, not society’s. Until society actually steps up and provides more necessities for children such as universal health care for those under 18, support and education for single mothers, enforcement of paternity payments, equal education for the poor, etc. then society has no room to bring its personal value judgments into a legal arena. If you were a poor parent, would you choose to bring your child into this culture, or give it away on birth? Not likely. Unless the money of giving adequate sex education and providing for unplanned children is put where this anti-abortion movement’s mouth is, it simply looks as if antichoicers are punishing women for having sex for reasons other than procreation. Please, people, it always takes two to tango. Don’t punish the mother and the child.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.