Politics in our society is a matter of compromise among different forces pulling in each direction, reaching an agreement that everyone can live with (or at least tries to, until the next election cycle).
I view politics as a tug of war. A series of tugs-of-war, really – one for each issue that’s out there, at any level, from National Security to Welfare to Cheese Price Supports. At the center of each debate is a mud pit; a ribbon in the exact center of each rope shows how well each team is doing.
My role in that tug of war is to affect that compromise by pulling to the right like there’s no tomorrow. So I pull like mad, and the ribbon over the mud thus inches a little closer to the right. Others, of course, pull against me, trying to edge the ribbon to the left. I know there’ll be a compromise; I know that the harder I pull to the right, the more people will (if I’m doing my job) be convinced to pull with me, and the farther to the right that ribbon – the “final” results of the compromise – will be.
Abortion is one of those tugs of war. When I was a kid, in 1973, the ribbon got a huge pull to the left with Roe Vs. Wade. In the past 35 years, many – from conservative evangelicals to liberal Catholics – have grabbed onto the rope from the right and pulled with all their might. And for some of us, the hope for a compromise – knowing that a complete ban was not going to happen in our lifetimes – was the hope that just one more tug would pull the ribbon just far enough so that people – maybe a majority – would see that while abortion was legal, that aborting a fetus was an act imbued with much more moral gravity than excising a wart or clipping a toenail.
In other words, the first step to an acceptable a less vile compromise would be for abortion’s supporters to realize that there is a moral dimension to abortion. It’s a realization that abortion’s most sacramentalist zealots resist, because it’d be the first step in gutting the notion that a fetus is nothing but a mass of tissue until you get a diaper on it.
Steve Chapman notes in Sunday’s Strib that there are signs the ribbon, measured by popular culture, may have moved that far (I’ve added some emphases):
Laws often alter attitudes, inducing people to accept things — such as racial integration — they once rejected. But sometimes, attitudes move in the opposite direction, as people see the consequences of the change. That’s the case with abortion.The news that the abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years elicits various explanations, from increased use of contraceptives to lack of access to abortion clinics. But maybe the chief reason is that the great majority of Americans, even many who see themselves as prochoice, are deeply uncomfortable with it.In 1992, a Gallup/Newsweek poll found 34 percent of Americans thought abortion “should be legal under any circumstances,” with 13 percent saying it should always be illegal. Last year, only 26 percent said it should always be allowed, with 18 percent saying it should never be permitted.
Sentiments are even more negative among the group that might place the highest value on being able to escape an unwanted pregnancy: young people. In 2003, Gallup found, one of every three kids from age 13 to 17 said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. More revealing yet is that 72 percent said abortion is “morally wrong.”
By now, prolife groups know that outlawing most abortions is not a plausible aspiration. So they have adopted a two-pronged strategy. The first is to regulate it more closely — with parental-notification laws, informed consent requirements and a ban on partial-birth abortion. The second is to educate Americans with an eye toward changing “hearts and minds.” In both, they have had considerable success.
Even those who insist Americans are solidly in favor of legal abortion implicitly acknowledge the widespread distaste. That’s why the Democratic Party’s 2004 platform omitted any mention of the issue, and why politicians who support abortion rights cloak them in euphemisms like “the right to choose.”
That the Tics are soft-pedalling the issue at the platform level might just be a sign that even they see the ribbon has pulled far enough to the right that they need to change their approach.Like all political geologic shifts, it’s been a slow one. I remember this moment…:
But some abortion-rights supporters admit reservations. It was a landmark moment in 1995 when the prochoice author Naomi Wolf, writing in the New Republic magazine, declared that “the death of a fetus is a real death.” She went on: “By refusing to look at abortion within a moral framework, we lose the millions of Americans who want to support abortion as a legal right but still need to condemn it as a moral iniquity.”
This growing aversion to abortion may be traced to better information. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, most people had little understanding of fetal development. But the proliferation of ultrasound images from the womb, combined with the dissemination of facts by prolife groups, has lifted the veil.
In the comedy movie “Juno,” a pregnant 16-year-old heads for an abortion clinic, only to change her mind after a teenage protester tells her, “Your baby probably has a beating heart, you know. It can feel pain. And it has fingernails.”“Juno” has been faulted as a “fairy tale” that sugarcoats the realities of teen pregnancy.
But if it’s a fairy tale, that tells something about how abortion violates our most heartfelt ideals — and those of our adolescent children. Try to imagine a fairy tale in which the heroine has an abortion and lives happily ever after.
But whatever the larger barometers – pop culture, politics, wherever – the ultimate arbiter is found in the American heart aned mind. And Chapman sees reason for hope in a small turn of emotional phrase:
The prevailing view used to be: Abortion may be evil, but it’s necessary. Increasingly, the sentiment is: Abortion may be necessary, but it’s evil.