A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

May 4, 2007

Pro Life, Pro Choice: Symbol Over Substance

One of the more controversial instances in a rather ho hum “debate”, which was really trying to squeeze talking points between questions that sometimes lacked great meaning, may have been former NYC Mayor and front runner, Rudy Giuliani hedging a pro-choice political position in a very pro-life atmosphere. Did the former mayor handle the matter deftly, the consensus seems to be probably not, but was his answer the wrong answer is another issue entirely.

The GOP has made it a point to put a pro-life face on the party since Ronald Reagan’s stance in 1976. This was used to contrast against GOP apparatus candidate the then unelected, President Ford. Reagan’s bold campaign, which did benefit slightly from the pro-life movement’s involvement in his campaign. By 1980, the pro-life movement was a force in the GOP and played a role in Ronald Reagan, who had governed California with policies which were anything but “pro-life”, but publicly stated the lingo that the movement wanted to hear, and propelled the issue to prominence within the party. Pitted against this, oh Lord forgive me for invoking this with the name of Reagan with this term, flip-flop, George Bush who was not as ardently pro-life, but had never cast a pro-abortion rights vote or signed pro-abortion rights legislation, was seen as “soft” on the issue, simply because he didn’t run it up a flagpole, and inferred there was room for reasonable disagreement.

Now while I don’t doubt that President Reagan may indeed have had a turning moment in his life, and I would argue that Mit Romney deserves the same benefit of the doubt, the actual impact of his support of the pro-life agenda – and that is not inherently a perjurative, since “everyone” has an agenda – was little of substance and a lot on symbol. You have to hand it to President Reagan, he knew how to get mileage on an issue, and nobody expected him to come out of California, home of the most progressive abortion rights laws, many signed by him, and overturn Roe v Wade. Talking the talk was enough, and has remained so for the past 27 years. This is not to say that the sincerity of GOP candidate’s opposition to abortion on demand is disingenuous, it is to say that despite their sincerity and placing it as a bona fides to be a “true Republican”, very little has been accomplished towards ending this practice despite it being a rallying cry for the political party that has held the executive office for nearly 20 of the past 28 years, and has had control of Congress for approximately 12 of those years. Simply put, there appears to be a lack of political will to push the symbol into substance.

One can look to the steps that have been made towards restricting or to at least stemming the tide of abortions taking place, although they still run about one million or more a year. Although the raw numbers are going up, the percentage rates seem to be decreasing, partly because of shifts in public sentiment towards unwed mothers raising children. However, abortion remains a relatively common practice in the nation, and despite gains such as the Hyde Amendment – which is very good legislation from the pro-life vantage point, and the recent SCOTUS affirming of a ban on partial birth abortions, which is the epitome of symbol over substance when one considers the miniscule numbers of abortions performed in this admittedly disturbing manner, and even the wrapping of nine of the GOP candidates firmly in the mantle of symbolicly being pro-life there is little to hope that much substance will be reaped from this act.

Which leads us to Roe v Wade, or the decision that fires the hearts of the pro-life movement much in the same way that the number 666 makes a old fashioned tent revival preacher tone up the occilation in his voice with the mandatory appearance of veins bulging from the neck. The real point is that Roe v Wade is symbol, and not really much in substance. If the decision is overturned, and the best path for the pro-life advocates is via the judiciary making decisions pushed forward by state legislatures which will take away the reach of the law, there is no reason to believe that abortion will be outlawed in the vast majority of states, nor that the number of abortions performed in the nation will go down in a drastic manner. Just as Roe v Wade served as a symbol for the women’s movement, rather than giving much substantive relief, as abortion was readily available in most areas, its overturning will be a symbol without much substance. If this issue were cereal, it would have snap and crackle, but lack pop.

So what is the big deal about having the pro-life mantle and wearing it proudly? What is so heretical about saying, as Rudy Giuliani did last night, that this is a highly personal decision that is ultimately up to the woman? If a woman wants to end a pregnancy, she will do so. Should the state make it easy by funding her desire, well the law says no, however, should the state governments “put obstacles” in the path in the exercise of this decision, would be fully in line with Federalism. However, the role of the Federal government advancing or putting up obstacles remains the area that will likely be debated. Perhaps this is just the instance the the 9th Amendment was framed, let the states fight it out, and keep it out of the pervue of the Feds. Although it is the “dream of dreams” that abortion will be nationally outlawed by the of the pro-life movement, and conversely the “sum of all fears” of the pro-abortion rights crowd, both sides need to face reality, that like it or not, abortion is a reality and an option that whether Federally deemed as woman’s right, or given protection by the states, is likely to remain among us. It would also be the reciprocal of a bad decision that allowed Roe v Wade, and if you understand math reciprocals have the exact qualities of their counterpart. It would likely be just as bad from a Constitutional framework as the 1973 decision.

A reasonable position is that probably both poles don’t have a monopoly on the truth. To assert this position as a human right, although it is the law, is hard to imagine to be the intent of the framers of the Constitution, but rest assured, women were having abortions, lots of them in colonial days. They just didn’t get Federal funds for it, nor have Congress stopping production of whatever plant women used in a “tea” to end an unwanted child, and this disinterest is likely the best position. Funny how the middle of the road, although hated by the poles, is where the vast majority of the public, and in this case,  Constitutional ground.

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