This afternoon tens of thousands of Americans will march in our nation’s capital to mourn the victims of 32 years of legalized abortion and to urge judicial reconsideration of the infamous verdict of Roe v. Wade. This decision of the Supreme Court, in particular, and the frequent practice of abortion, more generally, remain among the greatest scandals of modern America. One can hardly wonder why.
A large and increasing number of Americans see abortion for what it is—the destruction of human life. They understand the monstrous violence that this practice inflicts, not only on the child, but also the mother who confronts and bears this deed on her conscience. They see, too, how desperate, shallow and pathetic are the circumstances that lead many to submit to this “choice.” Those who march for life are justifiably confounded by and sorrowful for the likes of abortion rights advocate Amy Richards, who recently told The New York Times that she aborted two of her children so as to avoid having “to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise.”
After three decades of trying to craft, sanitize and make coherent a rhetoric in service of the practices of abortion, the ideological justifications for infanticide have not proved compelling either. Abortion, like the scourge of slavery, is simply a denial of the claim “created equal,” supposedly so central to America’s moral constitution and contemporary “human rights” claims.
Nonetheless, it is still remarkable that a practice so convenient to the hell of modern self-domination has increasingly lost ground in its public perception. More than one study has shown that abortion is now opposed, in principle, by more than half of college women. Moreover, groups like “Feminists for Life” have helped to explode the myth that pro-abortion means pro-woman. Thankfully, too, both charitable organizations—most notably churches—and government agencies have increasingly worked to address the material needs that confront unprepared mothers. Precisely because of these salutary changes, however, abortion will become an increasingly radioactive issue in American politics.
This is so because, for the first time in the 32 years since Roe was decided, a political party will have the opportunity and imperative to orchestrate a substantial challenge to this judicial nonsense in the form of (perhaps multiple) Supreme Court appointments. Chief Justice William Rehnquist will undoubtedly resign in the next 30 days, initiating two battles: one for naming a new chief justice, another to replace the vacant seat on the bench. The future of the Republican Party depends on the quality of its resolve to confirm sensible people in these positions. Traditionally, the Republican Party has never been particularly Christian or particularly conservative, but it has been able to draw increasing support from both of these populations by unambiguously shouldering the pro-life cause. In the meantime, the pro-life Democrat has become an endangered species, if not an oxymoron. If the Republicans do not come through with a satisfactory performance they will be crippled in years to come, not by defection but by mutiny.
The pro-life position knows the importance of its issue. That tens of thousands of people have traveled across the country to march in the bitter cold for over three decades is a notable phenomenon. Furthermore, pro-lifers recognize, in light of their own cause, the menace of “judicial imperialism,” by which the courts have bypassed the legislative authority of national and state assemblies. As contributors to the influential journal First Things contemplated in the mid-’90s, the failure of American political institutions to address such a salient concern (literally of life and death) of such a large (and now majority) population could indeed, by calling into dramatic question the democratic legitimacy of American government, catalyze a grave social crisis.
In contrast, a Roe reversal, in addition to being right, would immediately invigorate state politics and, over a longer term, revive a much-needed dynamic of federalism in this country. The pro-abortion lobby, however, has one trump card with the Democrats and that is the threat of filibuster. On the other hand, Republicans could use the “nuclear” option of changing filibuster rules and bypass the Democrats all together. Thus, the abortion battle before us could have the effect of substantially altering the structure of Congressional politics, interestingly enough by making them, in a sense, more “democratic.” This would indeed be dramatic and likely even deleterious over the long term. However, in the larger scheme of things, such an upheaval might be worth it. The last time this country wrestled to address a legal norm as wicked as abortion, it took four years of civil war.
Bill English is a political science graduate student. His column appears every third Monday.
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