Abortion- the battle inside the Trojan Horse
The mere mention of this issue brings on a host of emotional arguments and passionate responses. No one thinks abortions are good, but people disagree on how to deal with unwanted pregnancies- a bad situation with no easy answers. Even in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother people fail to agree. With Roe v Wade almost certain to fall next year, it's a good time to look more closely at the issues.
One question about the abortion debate has always bothered me. Why do only the nine months of gestation count when considering the sanctity of human life? Why do abortion opponents also generally oppose birth control and contraception? And why do I get the feeling that once babies are born, their lives aren't so sacred anymore if they become weak, vulnerable, or threatening?
People of good faith have been debating the ethics of abortion for centuries, with no clear answer. Many religious faiths have in the past proposed a process known as "quickening" at around four months when the soul enters the fetus, but there's no evidence for this. The current debate ranges from contraception to agonizing late-term abortions where the health of the mother is at stake. Where do you draw the line at humanity?
The Catholic Church only started opposing abortions strongly since the 19th century, but they've been at the heart of the battle ever since. Even though the bible never mentions abortion exactly, Catholics and some other faiths have become increasingly strident in their opposition, diving into the realm of politics and using it as a litmus test for sin. As an ex-Catholic myself, I keep wondering why the single-minded focus on this one issue when so much other pain and suffering goes on in the world?
The central issue here isn't the killing of babies, or the health of the mothers. It's one of the most powerful, primal urges that humanity deals with- the biological imperative to reproduce or die out. We all know how powerful the sex drive can be to control human behavior. That drive has only one purpose- to make more humans. When that primal urge is thwarted through such things as homosexuality, divorce, contraception or abortion, something deep inside our species lashes out and condemns those behaviors as threats to its survival.
Once you see it from that angle, it all starts to make sense. The Catholic Church and other faiths relied on the biological imperative to grow its membership by pushing Catholics to have more babies, especially when times were tough and babies died early. This "be fruitful and multiply" strategy can only work so long, and then people start to drift away and want more control over their lives. When women started to gain equality and power, they began to see their roles as much more than baby bakeries that were needed to juice the economy and staff the armies. They wanted and deserved lives of their own.
The 1971 Roe v Wade decision had a huge impact on this biological imperative, and it's produced an impressive backlash that has transformed the Supreme Court today. When the decision was first handed down, there was little political impact. Republicans and Democrats both had members on both sides of the issue. Liberals could enjoy that women were finally empowered to make choices for their bodies, and conservatives could enjoy that fewer unwanted children would eventually lead to lower crime rates and less social spending.
But the 1978 election changed all that, when the two Minnesota senate seats of liberal icons Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale both ended up in Republican hands due to the hard work of pro-life forces. That year the Republican party discovered the power of the abortion issue, and they used it as a Trojan horse to lead Democratic constituencies to their side, resulting in the first Republican Senate majority in a generation in 1980. Since then, abortion has become a useful political tool and cultural wedge in our polarized nation, and the Supreme Court has been turned into a single-issue institution that rules not only on abortion, but on many other conservative priorities that people don't necessarily support.
There's a legitimate discussion to be had about the need to populate future generations and how to do it. The current abortion debate is getting us nowhere. Without more babies, civilization could collapse, and the demographic bombs that are building in Japan, Russia, and other countries are threatening retirement systems and leaving important jobs unfilled. Financial incentives have been laid out for parenthood, but the facts remain that it's harder and harder for many parents to support children properly on incomes that haven't kept up with needs over the past fifty years. And then there is the issue of hope.
Having children is a bet on the future, and that requires hope that your children will have a chance for a decent future. Many young people today, more than ever, are deciding not to have any children at all. The recently released Harvard Youth Poll tells a devastating tale of young people who fear democracy ending, climate changing, and good jobs disappearing. Over half of the poll respondents reported feeling down, depressed, or hopeless, and one quarter reported thoughts that they would be better off dead!
The ending of Roe v Wade next year will change none of this. All that will happen is that those who can afford it will travel to other states for their abortions, while the poorest and most vulnerable women will be forced to have unwanted children that will have the deck stacked against them.
We all want to see mankind survive into the future, and there are differing visions of what that would look like and how to get there. Let the honest debate begin. But first we need to give our young people hope again for the future. They need to believe that climate change and other existential threats are being dealt with, their voices matter in a democracy, they have some control over their bodies and their lives, and that they have a decent chance at attaining the American Dream and living a productive, happy life.