© 2006 Ross Williams
I just don't get all the ruckus over abortion. What's there to wrangle about? We're a democracy, and the vast majority of Americans want to have legal abortion. You'd think that would settle it, wouldn't you?
It doesn't. For some reason it only inflames the issue. You see, about 15% of Americans want to have no abortions allowed at all. Normally, this would be the statistical noise of Majority Rule, but abortion is not a normal issue. It's special. If the subject were anything else, say, whether to plant a memorial apple tree for John Chapman [Johnny Appleseed] and it was 85% pro to 15% con, it would be a case-closed situation. The 15% would be roundly ignored and any disagreements among the 85% on the variety of apple tree to plant would be settled discreetly and politely. What we would not see is public name-calling and immature rants by the Granny Smith crowd toward the Red Delicious gang and back again.
But again, a memorial apple tree is a normal issue, and abortion is special.
After watching it from the middle for the past generation, I've concluded that abortion is not a normal issue because its major activists – pro and con – are not normal people. They've both been breathing the heady, dank, chemically-laden air around their basement mimeograph machine, on which they've both been churning out opposing polemics since the early seventies. They're loopy; they're stoned. They're off their gourd with fume-induced paranoid delusions of conspiracy against them.
Time to come up for air, folks, and clear your heads. The monsters under your bed will disappear once your tox-levels drop.
Two-thirds of the American people want to have legal abortion, but they don't want all abortions to be legal. This is a sound, valid, normal, typical, have-your-cake-and-eat-it democratic solution to any society's social predicaments. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, both sides covered, the majority’s happy… and in a democracy that’s the important thing. We see it every day in thousands of ways in America. We want to have free speech and press, but most of us don't want to see slander and libel and easily-amused fools shouting "FIRE" in the crowded theater. And we don't seem to have a problem reconciling free speech with reasonable limitations.
When two-thirds of Americans, though, say that legal abortion doesn't need to include, for instance, last-trimester abortions for "choice", the roughly 15% who want no limits on abortion whatsoever start screaming. And it literally is screaming.
The demographic breakdowns are roughly as follows:
One of six want legal abortions with no restrictions;
Four of six want legal abortions with certain restrictions;
One of six want no abortions at all.
Of course, the two-thirds in the middle have somewhat differing notions of what restrictions should be in place; that's always going to be the case no matter the subject. While most of us want free speech without slander, not all of us are going to agree on the same definition of slander. "President Bush is a great big poopy head" would be fine for most, while there is likely to be a sizable contingent who would say "Presi-chimp Bush is a nazi fascist pig" crosses the line.
On the main theme of the issue, though, all parties agree without the name-calling and screaming. Or ... well ... maybe using Bush wasn't a good example, but unless you're trying to play stupid, you get the point.
And I suddenly question whether or not the simile was worthwhile at all, since I've discussed this subject repeatedly with the one-sixth advocates on both sides over the last decade-plus, and they cannot grasp this point. I firmly believe they are the guy in the lab coat we used to see in commercials: "Hi. I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV..."
The issue-advocates I've discussed this with have a very un-subtle subtext running through their screed: "Hi, I'm not stupid, but I play stupid on abortion..."
It's very easy to dismiss the one-sixth of us who do not want to have any abortion at all under any circumstances as yet another incarnation of the dour, pious moralizers who seek to control everything and everyone as a testament to their close proximity with All That Is Holy. They claim abortion is murder. Yet it's the only case of murder where there was no person beforehand.
"Life begins at conception!!" is the top-of-the-lungs rebuttal. Fine; then you'll be able to point me at the law which says so...
"It's god's law!!" is the next high-volume retort. And again, that's fine; but if it's god's law, then we should really let god enforce it. The US is only authorized to enforce US laws, and "life begins at conception" ain't one of them. Nor is it likely to be, what with only about 15% of us wanting it that way.
It's usually at this point that I've been sentenced to hell by various of god's proxy Judge Nots. And if I cared, I'd probably be upset. But I'm of the opinion that if god's thoughts on murder had included abortion in the first place, the Omniscient One would have scribbled that as at least a footnote on the stone tablet – even if Moses didn't understand what it meant. Yet he didn't. But he did have his Only Begotten tell us to not bother about judging others ... so I feel fairly safe insofar as eternity is concerned – to the degree I’m actually concerned – whereas some of the folks I've discussed this with might oughta hit the confessional a bit harder. And more introspectively, as well.
The Only Begotten also advised rendering unto Caesar, which sorta implies leaving legal matters to the legal authorities. I’m open to definitive correction if god is willing to advise me, of course, but I don’t recall it being the duty of the religious to forcibly ensure that all fellow citizens be qualified for entry into heaven; free will and all. We seem to have endured some of that forcible salvation already, with unfavorable results. If some of us are willing to risk hell for abortion, well, no one else is under any obligation to follow suit. So butt out. Practice your religion on yourself. Thanks.
Proving that self-righteousness doesn't belong merely to the pious, or imperiousness to the baldly manipulative, the one-sixth who want no restrictions on abortion at all are waging their own earth scorching war.
Once again, it's not safe to be a centrist; being moderate means being a target. You can't say "well, yeah, let's keep legal abortions, but since most people think an abortion without medical necessity at 8-1/2 months is not a good thing, we can probably do without that one."
Know what happens when you say that? Why, why, why ... you become the American Taliban! You would only say that late-term abortions should be prohibited if you secretly seek to keep women barefoot, pregnant, cooking, cleaning, at your beck and call, and quite possibly wrapped in linen! First deny late term abortion, then goodbye women's suffrage, then hello sex-slaves! Crypto-fascist!! You are denying women their choice!!!
Pah! Hardly. "Choice" isn't open-ended in anything else; why such pregnancy-termination be any different? People who say "legal abortion yes, late-term abortion no" are saying nothing more sinister than “make your choice a little sooner”. C'mon, toots, step on it. The gas is on the right. Move it or lose it. You snooze you lose. You ain't got all pregnancy to make up your mind.
Saying "speed up your choice" is not the same as saying "no choice at all", but the one-sixth ideologues who equivocate the two are not honest enough to acknowledge that.
The ones saying "no choice at all" are the one-sixth equal-n-opposite ideologues. The two-thirds in the middle have no problem agreeing with both – just not necessarily at the same time. And the two-thirds in the middle do not like being told what they believe by the self-righteous all-or-nothing simpletons on both ends.
The next trick both sides play on those in the middle is to deny that the middle exists. Some may have noticed that I haven't footnoted, as I normally might, with polling results showing the approximate breakdowns in the demographics. Those in the middle intuitively know it anyway, while the advocates on both sides are fully aware of the statistics already. Indeed, each time a new survey comes out they usually beat it to the press with their version of "what the survey means".
Both sides do it. Here's how it works.
There's an entire survey, multiple questions, on how an individual feels about abortion. Taken in its entirety, it shows the 1/6 - 2/3 - 1/6 breakdown – classic bell curve. But each side will select out certain questions as being "the most important" and which therefore “typify the results”. The "no abortions at all" side will select out "how do you feel about abortion in the last month without a medical purpose" for example. Most people – sometimes well over 80% – are against such abortions. Because this specific result is in line with the “no abortions at all” position, well! it just proves that 80% of the nation agrees with "no abortions" on everything else!
Um ... no it doesn't.
Then the "all abortions always" side will select out "how do you feel about abortion for an adult woman in the first trimester" – to which usually around 80% are in favor – and they tell everyone that the vast majority of the nation agrees with abortion on demand.
Um ... no it doesn't.
Frighteningly, because each of the one-sixth demagogues rely on public support and donations to survive and print up their ridiculous tracts, they will both play the opposite “non-existent middle” game in all their Give Us Money campaigns. The “no abortions ever” group will use slanted results showing the majority which wants most abortions to be legal to show that the forces of evil are at work on the American electorate, send money now to help get the word out. Likewise, the “all abortions always” cabal will use the dishonest parsing that shows the majority which doesn’t like late-term abortion to indicate that abortion rights are being “imperiled as never before” and send money now to educate the country away from this medieval mentality.
And when someone from the two-thirds middle reminds the one-sixth freaks on either end of all this...? why, the folks in the middle are shouted down. Into submission or silence – the modern American version of the islamofascist's "convert or die" dichotomy.
See, both our one-sixth ideologues have years of practice at shouting about this subject; they've been at it since 1973 and have all the throat lozenges and everything, not to mention ... it's their issue! The ones in the middle have a life apart from slim issue-oriented politics, and they don't have the desire or the energy to go vocal chord to vocal chord with the narrow-minded ideologue.
Which explains why a combined one-third of our nation has been driving the abortion discussion away from the majority for well over a generation. It's obvious that the issue isn't going to be driven anywhere conclusive soon with the current navigators, so let me drive for a while.
Among the limitations seen as reasonable by the two-thirds in the middle are these:
1] No late-term abortion for choice. That's just icky to most people. Those in the middle don't have any problem at all with late-term abortion for medical necessity, which is thankfully a fairly rare occurrence – for everyone involved, for all kinds of reasons. And if we are to believe the "all abortions always" crowd, the instance of late-term abortion for choice is even rarer than that. So the problem with prohibiting them is ...?
2] Parental notification for a minor's abortion. This is just plain common sense to most people. Parental consent would be even better. A 14 year old girl cannot even get her ears pierced without a parent consenting, why should she be able to get invasive surgery without at least notifying her parents?
The "all abortions always" gang has a few pat answers to this question.
First, they claim that the girl is "often afraid" of her parents' reaction, yet no quantification of such fear is provided apart from 1950's anecdotal secrecy and shame and running the girls off to 'their aunt' for a year. Which means that current policy against parental notification laws is being irrationally guided by a social reality two or more generations out of date. From this we are supposed to conclude that their position is reasonable? the policy that admits to not being able to use a calendar? the argument stuck at least fifty years in the past?
Second, they claim "choice" and "bodily autonomy" that cannot be denied simply because of age. Yet we deny choice over bodily autonomy because of age all over the place. Apart from the pierced ear deal, a 14 year old cannot get cosmetic surgery without parental consent. But isn't it still the 14 year old's body, the 14 year old's choice? Uh ... yes it is. The 14 year old cannot get a tattoo without a parent's consent. The 14 year old cannot quit school even with parental consent. Nor can the 14 year old go to work full time. The 14 year old is considered – with good reason – to not be mature enough to make these decisions. What is so special about abortion that it should be granted the lone exemption from reality?
Third, they claim "privacy"; we should grant the minor girl the respect she deserves to make this difficult choice herself in "privacy". But ... um ... why is the choice so difficult it it’s “just a mass of cells” as we are so often told? It's not because the choice is to kill a living being is it? because that would be painfully similar to the piety of the dingbats on the other side of the issue. The Manchurian Abortion. Besides, isn't the 14 year-old's cosmetic surgery a privacy issue as well? the tattoo? quitting school? getting a job? These are all difficult decisions; shouldn't they also be granted to the 14 year old with the privacy to make unilaterally?
Or will the "all abortions always" mob continue to talk out of whichever side of their mouth gets them what they want and democratic philosophy be damned?
The reason this comes up now is because my state – Illinois – seems to have passed a law eleven years ago that was never enforced. It was preemptively "estopped", or something, by a federal court. Completely flew by me which makes sense, because this is not my issue. The law mandated that minor girls who want an abortion notify their parents. Not get their parents' consent mind you, simply notify them.
"Mom, Dad, I've got a honkin' beak, so I'm going to get a nose job..." Nope, sorry, need permission; notification doesn't cut it.
"Mom, Dad, I'm not as phat as the other kids, so I'm going to get a tattoo on my ass..." Sorry, still need permission.
"Mom, Dad, I'm pregnant, so I'm going to get an abortion..." This is fine, because abortion is not a normal issue. It is special.
But even this degree of specialness isn't special enough for the ideological freaks. The law was stopped before it started, because somebody might – boo hoo – be unfairly impacted by it. Somebody other than parents privately trying to raise their children themselves, that is. Parents apparently don't count, and their rights to privacy from state intrusion into their business is not a protectable concern. However, some 14 year old girl might feel uncomfortable telling her parents, and so the federal judge told Illinois, "You can't enforce this law without certain rules in place first."
...which brings up a question. Isn't the job of the courts to rule on issues arising after enforcement? and not what might occur in future enforcement? How did this ever get into a courtroom in the first place without the judge saying "Come back when someone's actually affected"?
So for eleven years, the state of Illinois did nothing about it – which again completely escaped my attention, since this isn't my issue. Illinois did nothing about it until just a few weeks ago when the Illinois Supreme Court undertook to finally write the enforcement rules for the law. Two days ago the Illinois Supreme Court announced that the rules would be coming out fairly soon, and yesterday the Illinois Supreme Court issued those rules.
...which brings up another question. Whatever happened to "separation of powers"? Isn't the legislature supposed to be writing the rules? the legislature we elect to write the rules we want to have? What is the state court system doing amending the enforceable wording of the legislature’s law? besides altering legislative intent?
Of course, the one-sixth "all abortions always" ideologues are now claiming – screaming – that the Illinois Supreme Court has just written the enforcement rules for the parental notification law for political reasons. Uh huh; and Illinois sat on it for eleven years doing nothing about it at all for political reasons as well. Chances are real good, close to 100% in fact, that when one ideologue accuses another of playing politics it's because his own political gamesmanship has just been discovered. So the "you only did this for political reasons" whine is irrelevant noise.
Here’s the thing. Both of you one-sixth ideologues listen up: We. Are. A. Democracy. The majority gets to have their political will enacted on social issues like these. Our form of government is built around that concept. We are not your ideological fiefdom in which the minority gets to set the rules for all and to hell with what they think.
Parental notification does not mean “no choice” and saying it does means you’re lying.
Having personal moral qualms does not imbue those personal feelings with supernatural or spiritual importance that overrides our laws and majority rule.
You’ve wasted enough of our nation’s time and energy on this subject. You’ve dominated the discussion, you’ve domineered everyone around with your self-righteous piety – both religious and secular, and you’ve had your say and everyone else’s too … and then some. It’s time for you to sit down and shut up. Let democracy work.