Thursday, March 16, 2006

All Abortion, All the Time. But Why?

This is yet another post about the anti-abortion statute recently signed into law by South Dakota’s governor Mike Rounds last week. Actually, it’s a post about all the posts about that anti-abortion statute.

Anita Allen (aka “The Moralist”) suggests in her column “We don’t need to go there again” that the abortion debate has, more or less, been had already. Allen writes:
If news of the anti-abortion machinations in South Dakota brought on that sinking, "here we go again" feeling, you're not alone. Like you, I believe there's little to be gained from another round in America's abortion wars.

I certainly understand where she’s coming from – there was definitely a sinking sensation – and she's right, to a degree. But only to a degree.

From Allen’s perspective we’ve been through this all before. Although the court has changed the fundamental pro-life / pro-choice arguments haven’t changed, and neither has the basic technology and science of abortion. So why bother “putting the country through a bound-to- be-bitter rehash of the law and ethics of abortion"?

There are two answers to this question. The first is that, for those that view Roe v. Wade as a “loss”, a changing Supreme Court and the South Dakota statute (or whatever follows it next in the queue) represent a chance for “victory.” These are the people that keep political scorecards and care primarily about vanquishing their enemies. You say potato, they say potahto. And they won’t stop saying it until the Supreme Court holds that the Constitution permits only “potahto” as the proper pronunciation of the word.

So be it. Those people are never going to be satisfied, they aren’t going to be reasoned with, and all we can do is hope that there aren’t too many of them out there.

But there is second, and more insidious reason, why I think the abortion battle is going to happen again; and why, as Allen suggests, it is "bound-to-be-bitter." Bitter, protracted fights over moral issues are a powerful political tool and, though I can hardly take credit for this idea, I suspect that an ultimate resolution to the abortion debate, even one that resulted in a “victory” for the pro-life lobby, would be a political disaster for a certain segment of society.

Abortion – like gay marriage and latent xenophobia – is a hot-button topic that certain politicians and religious evangelicals use to motivate their constituents; I’m no political strategist but I believe the term is “firing up the base.” And nothing fires up the base better than a knock-down, drag-out, all-the-way-to-the-Supreme-F*$%ing-Court abortion battle.

Allen is right – there is no good reason to have this argument over again, because nothing substantive has changed. But that’s also exactly why we will have the argument all over again, because nothing substantive has changed. As long as abortion remains a hot-button political issue you can bet that the debate will continue to rage, and we’ll all be forced to listen to it.

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