Sunday, March 27, 2011
On Friday we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, a liturgical celebration that, aside from Easter, could be described as the preeminent feast of hope.
Just over two months ago we marked the thirty-eighth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, an occasion of profound sadness, and for some, even despair. I had meant to post this entry at that time, but it fits nicely with Greg Sisk’s recent, hopeful post, The Pro-Life Generation.
Just prior to Roe’s anniversary, Russell Shaw published a sobering and largely accurate commentary here on why the barbaric legal regime created by Roe is still with us notwithstanding the opinion polls indicating that the country would like to be rid of it.
The polling data show that a majority of Americans don’t support the virtually unlimited access to abortion that now exists. Yet people who are opposed to abortion, at least tepidly, regularly vote for pro-choice candidates. The result is this prolife/pro-choice seesaw. Up and down—it’s been that way for 38 years. So let us return to our question: How come?
It appears to me that the only possible explanation for this voting behavior is that, no matter what many people say they believe about abortion, when push comes to shove the issue doesn’t carry all that much weight with quite a few. For them, clearly, it is not the great moral issue of our times that convinced prolifers—and not a few prochoicers as well—consider it to be.
And the fact that it isn’t can only be understood as a reflection of the value such people assign to human life before birth. Not that it’s unimportant exactly, but that in the end it’s less important than something else.
I describe Shaw’s comments as “largely accurate” because some voters may be convinced (and not without some reason) that political action against abortion will be unavailing. Most voters probably don’t think in terms of constitutional law, though Roe’s status as a constitutional decision is an obvious impediment. What they do see is that Roe remains in place despite all efforts to the contrary. Aren’t pro-life efforts on the legal front ultimately doomed to failure? Why “waste” my vote on a futile gesture at the ballot box?
Thus, Roe’s resilience and the perceived lack of pro-life progress can be disheartening. It can engender an abortion fatalism or resignation to the inefficacy of pro-life legal measures that becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Convinced that pro-life politicians can make no difference, voters turn to “something else” (as Shaw says) in making their political calculation at the ballot box.
Contrary to this outlook, a compelling case can be made that the restrictions on abortion enacted over the course of Roe’s reign have had an enormous influence on the frequency of the procedure. I refer here in part to the path-breaking work of political scientist Michael New (see here, here, and here) showing that modest restrictions like parental notification requirements and waiting periods and prohibitions on the use of government funds to pay for abortions have significantly reduced the incidence of the procedure in states that have enacted them.
Other pro-life gains include the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Cynics might protest that these statutes prevent few if any actual abortions, and that, to the extent they have any value at all, their value is entirely symbolic, serving only as rallying points and fund-raising opportunities for both abortion supporters and opponents.
There is some truth in this observation, but the value of these legislative acts goes beyond mere symbolism. The correct way to view these statutes is as a putting in place the legal foundation for building a culture of life (see here). They are necessary first steps to establishing in federal law the principle that the unborn child counts for something – that he or she is not simply a disposable object – and a reminder that the right in Roe, insofar as it exists at all, is a right to be unburdened by pregnancy, not the right to a dead child. See Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, 99-100 (1976) (White, concurring in part and dissenting in par).
Few MOJers will argue with Shaw’s conclusion that the reality of the present situation simply “underlines the magnitude of the task of education and persuasion facing the prolife community after 38 years.” At the same time, Greg’s post reminds us that pro-life education efforts are already bearing fruit. The reason for hope is on the vine.