Roe vs. Wade ~ The Mother of All Political Issues

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.

Published in: on June 4, 2008 at 12:48 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I discuss wedge issues and the mentality behind them here:

    An emotional issue like this one requires a more subtle, emotionally moving argument to counter it.

  2. Kent, I do not believe abortion is an easy issue for most people. I will use myself as an example. My religious beliefs tell me it is wrong but my profession as a RN knows there are times everyone would be better off. Therefore, abortion is not going to be the decisive issue for me in politics. But I do take exception to your statement,”almost every man and woman in prison today was an unwanted child.” I have a hard time buying that. Where did you get this information?

    As far as the upcoming election, I’m still waiting to hear something definitive from Obama. He keeps saying change but change to exactly what? I want to hear some concrete plans on what he will do.

  3. Kent, you are really opening a can of worms. Now I do not believe in abortion and I think each person should decide for themselves. I try to live my life in a Christ like manner and struggle each day to work on my salvation knowing that it is by God’s grace that will get me through. I do not want to critize anyone for their stand on abortion but I will never let this prompt me to vote one way or the other.

    I feel that those who are use abortion as a tool to vote one way or the other is simply wrong. How can one be so adament about abortion and hate their fellowman. It just doesn’t make sense! I have been blessed to see many winters and the hatred & mistreatment by people who quote Scripture leaves me in a quandry. I do not want to be judgmental of others BUT it seems we speak out of both sides of our

  4. Thank you for posting your comment, Charla.

    I got the idea about people who commit most crimes having been unwanted children from a best selling book by award winning economists, Steven D. Levit and Stephen J. Dubner. The book is called “Freakonomics.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. In the book, they report on a 1972 Rockefeller Commission study about Population and the American Future, correlating crime statistics associated with the children of women denied an abortion who, as it turns out, were registered more often with psychiatric services, engaged in more antisocial and criminal behavior, and had been more dependent on public assistance. The authors used this information to advance an explanation for the dramatic decline in crime in the U.S. that started in the early 1990s… eighteen years or so following Roe vs. Wade. Many of the children who would have grown up to commit crimes, they purport, never were. Granted, this theory cannot be conclusively proven. But, to my mind, it is at least plausible.

    I’ve been listening to Barack Obama quite closely, as you might well imagine. In Tuesday night’s “victory” speech (it is now certain that he will be the Democratic nominee), he talked about taking the big tax breaks away from the wealthiest of Americans, who don’t need them, and giving them back to the middle class, who will spend the money rather than save it, thus contributing to economic stimulation. This is a much better idea, in my mind, than it is to add to the national debt by borrowing from China to dole out stimulus money, which, at best, will have only a short-term effect.

    Obama has talked in the past too about increasing revenue in other ways, perhaps by raising corporate taxes back to where they were during the Clinton years and suspending the oil company subsidies Bush gave. Big oil’s making plenty of profit just know anyway, and certainly doesn’t need the extra money — wouldn’t you agree. Recall that, except during two quarters of the Clinton years, the economy was booming, so there’s no reason to suspect higher corporate taxes will hurt the economy. Afterall, they are currently mong the lowest in the world! Obama would rather give tax credits to corporations that create and secure good paying jobs for Americans in this country so as to discourage the offshoring of jobs. At any rate, we’ve got to reduce deficit spending somehow to rescue the declining dollar, which is one of the reasons gas prices are going up. Obama knows this is true because he listens to his economic advisors. Also Tuesday night he talked about creating American jobs with some of the money that will be saved by redeploying forces from Iraq and suspending the billions that are currently being spent on infrastructure there to spend it here. He wants to invest this money in American infrastructure, in new energy technology, and in human capital, a.k.a., education. He wants to restore some, maybe not all, of the banking regulations that were put in place following the Great Depression to ensure that nothing like the subprime mortgage debacle ever happens again. And he wants to make sure that affordable health care is available to all. This is not the “single payer” concept that Hillary wants, as I understand it. People will have options for health care under his plan.

    This is probably more of a dump than you really want, but I’m happy to know that you are at least curious on some level.

    What has McCain proposed doing? All I’ve heard so far is that he intends to extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy if he is President, and keep our troops in Iraq for “as long as it takes.” Oh yeah, I heard him tell George Stephanopolis awhile back that he thinks he can trim enough from the discressionary part of government spending (wasteful pork and subsidies), and without new sources of revenue, to balance the budget. This alone convinced me that he hasn’t got a clue about what’s going on fiscally. But then, he did say that economics isn’t his strong suit. For this he has hired former Senator from Texas, Phil Ghramm who was until recently a registered lobbiest for UBS, a huge part of the mortgage finance industry.

  5. You and I are in total agreement yet again, Nancy.

    Can of worms? Perhaps. But trust me, abortion will be an issue debated during the general election. It always is. Obama will not be able to avoid it, much as he might want to do so, and many thousands will cast their votes for one candidate or the other based on their personal biases with respect to this issue.

    Remember the purpose of my blog, that we should all have a safe place to express ourselves on controversial issues.

  6. Kent,

    I have always found it ironic that the “pro-life” movement has, generally, no problem with the death penalty. I appreciate your political cartoon because it rings so true. Women and children (born or unborn) become “collateral damage” during war but we must stop abortionist at all costs. We want the government to stay out of our business – and bedrooms – unless it has to do with a woman giving birth. The word hypocrite comes to mind. Thanks for your willingness to broach this subject. Voting for our next president should be throughly discussed but the litmus test of “Roe v. Wade” should NOT be the deciding factor.

  7. Wow,
    I started reading your website a few nights ago. I linked onto it through google. I feel like you are typing my feelings and thoughts almost to a “T”!!! I have been thinking about your “World According To Opa” everyday since and could not wait to get back on here and read some more!!! All I can say right now is thank you! I’m going to keep on reading.


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