There is perhaps no other “wedge” issue today that so divides the American people. Almost all Republicans are vehemently opposed to abortion while almost all Democrats side with a woman’s right to choose.
I stopped to chat with my neighbor the other day after taking our dog out for a walk. He, a much younger man than me, was outside cultivating his rose bushes. Roses seem to be a passion with him. He grows some real beauties. I, on the other hand, prefer air-conditioned comfort and a good book or my computer.
Immediately after we had answered each other’s query about how we have been doing lately, my neighbor asked me where Barack Obama stands on abortion. Obviously, he had noticed the Obama signs that are posted prominently in both the front and back of our townhome. Caution, I thought, This is a trap.
There is perhaps no other “wedge” issue today that so divides the American people. Almost all Republicans are vehemently opposed to abortion while almost all Democrats side with a woman’s right to choose. Many will cast their votes on this one issue alone in the fall, even over concerns that they may have about the economy or the war in Iraq. So I prefaced my response with, “I’m no expert on this, nor am I a spokesman for Senator Obama, but I do remember him saying that he personally thinks it is wrong and that there are way too many abortions each year in America.”
I did not say, although I probably should have, that I am neither pro-life nor pro-choice. I can come down on either side of the argument, which makes me something of a rare bird. Even though my mother once told me that I would not be alive had abortions been safe and legal when she first realized that she was pregnant with me, I can understand and respect the problems inherent in imposing an outright ban.
“Really!” my neighbor reacted. “So, he would favor overturning Roe vs. Wade.”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “Obama has said that he favors reducing the social and economic factors that are behind women opting for abortion to terminate unwanted pregnancies.”
A long discussion ensued. He stressed the moral side of the issue, while I tried to steer the debate to the secular/societal consequences of criminalizing abortion. This had been done in most of America from the mid-1800s until1973. It was in 1973 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade. The court held that during the first trimester, a woman has the right to decide what happens to her body. This landmark decision rested on the “right to privacy,” which was introduced in 1965. In addition, the Court ruled that the state could intervene in the second trimester and could ban abortions in the third trimester. However, a central issue, which the Court declined to address, is whether human life begins at conception, at birth, or at some point in between.
“Y’know, outlawing abortion in America for years,” I said, “did nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and some estimates put the number of illegal abortions before Roe vs. Wade at over a million each year. Besides, almost every man and woman in prison today was an unwanted child.”
My neighbor countered with his knowledge of Scripture, which he believes is quite literally the Word of God.
“Yes,” I said, “you and I are both Christians, and you and I both deplore the taking of life, especially innocent life. But we’ve been down this road before. Banning abortion will not stop abortion. It will merely drive it underground, into back alleys and sleazy, unsanitary motel rooms.”
I was running late and would already have to leave unprepared for a committee meeting that I was in charge of at my church, so I bid my neighbor goodbye. I explained my reason for having to cut our discussion short, suggesting that we might continue it when next we meet. However, this was disingenuous of me. I actually hoped to avoid a second round as I now know that reason cannot prevail where passions run so deep. I do hope though, perhaps in vain, that our discussion planted the seed of reason in my neighbor’s mind. There are many different ways to look at problems like this, and many different consequences to consider for the choices that we might make.
This election year, I am hoping that Americans won’t neglect the bigger picture for the sake of a single issue, be it the abortion issue, the tax cut issue, the gun control issue, or even the issue of how and when to bring our forces home from Iraq. I believe that it’s alright to feel passionately about things, I do… But I also believe that we must begin to act rationally and start pulling the oars of progress in unison again or else this wonderful nation of ours will continue its decline from greatness.
I invite your comments, pro or con.