The Long-Term Struggle for Hearts and Minds

After the voters of Kansas, a conservative state, decisively rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have declared that the Kansas constitution contains no right to abortion, it should be perfectly clear to those of us in the pro-life movement that we will continue to have tough sledding – and where now we most need to work.

The proposed Kansas amendment would not have outlawed all abortion.  In fact, it would not have outlawed any abortion.  The amendment did not contain a ban on abortion, not even a partial ban.  All that the amendment would have done is to declare that the state constitution does not contain a right to abortion.

In this regard, the proposed amendment was much like the recent Dobbs ruling by the Supreme Court, which declared that the U.S. Constitution does not contain, and never has contained, a right to abortion.  In other words, the Dobbs ruling declared that the famous Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973 involved a serious misreading of the U.S. Constitution.

The Dobbs ruling leaves state legislatures free to ban or partially ban abortion; likewise, it leaves state legislatures free to allow abortions for all nine months of pregnancy or for any fraction thereof.  It makes no recommendations regarding the rightness or utility of abortion.  Apart from noting that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution, it has nothing to say either pro or con about abortion.

If you step back and look at the wider context, it’s as if the Court had declared that there is nothing in the Constitution about bungee jumping – while at the same time making no recommendations as to the wisdom or folly of bungee jumping.

Be that as it may, all the same, it’s clear that many Americans, probably a majority, fear that if they give pro-lifers an inch, they will take a yard; and if they give them a yard, they will take a mile.  They fear, in other words, that if America allows pro-lifers to chip away at an unlimited right to abortion (an all-nine-month right), they will soon demand – whatever the result of democratic procedures – a total ban on abortion.

An unfair charge, pro-lifers will reply.  Look at our track record:

  • For nearly fifty years we have struggled against the regime of unlimited abortion, but we have done so in non-extreme ways, that is, in a moderate, lawful, and democratic manner.
  • Except for a handful of freaks among us (the inevitable “lunatic fringe” that attaches to any social movement), we have not resorted to violence.
  • Instead, we have demanded that abortion clinics be sanitary.
  • That the corpses of murdered unborn babies be disposed of with at least a modest degree of decency.
  • That parents be notified when underage daughters are planning an abortion.
  • That Planned Parenthood clinics report incidents of rape to the police.
  • That we be allowed to exercise our First Amendment right to speak freely against abortion near the doors of abortion clinics, and so on.

Above all, we asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the preposterous Roe v Wade ruling of 1973 – much as the NAACP in the 1950s asked the Court to reverse the Plessy v Ferguson ruling of 1896.

And we have pursued this last goal patiently and democratically.  Except for the abolition movement of the 19thcentury and the anti-segregation movement of the 20th, has any American reform movement ever been so patient as our movement has been in the face of an enormous injustice?

By traditional democratic means – by ringing doorbells, by addressing and licking envelopes, by making phone calls, by raising campaign funds – we have helped elect pro-life men and women to the U.S. Senate and a man to the White House who supported our cause.  (We know you hate this man, but beggars can’t be choosers.)

We have never denied that our ultimate hope is that abortion will disappear, or at least virtually disappear, from the United States, either because of a great American change of heart, or because it will be banned by law or public opinion.

We realize that this is a long-term project.  We know that the United States will not become what it once was, a solidly pro-life society, for years – if ever. So why do you accuse us of extremism?  Why do you pretend to believe that we are on the verge of banning abortion completely?

To which the pro-abortion movement replies: The logic of your belief dictates that you will ban abortion completely as soon as you get the power to do so.  You will not wait years.  If you can get away with it, you won’t wait five minutes.

For you believe that abortion is nothing less than murder, the quite intentional and deliberate killing of an innocent human being.  And what is the correct response to murder?  Ban it.  And enforce the ban.  Stamp out the horrid thing.  Given your belief, you have no choice but to outlaw abortion as soon as you can.

If Americans today are given a choice between two things: (a) unlimited abortion and (b) the possibility (repeat: possibility) of a total ban on abortion – most, I think, will choose (a), as did the voters of Kansas.  As long as this is the case, a great and tremendously influential section of the American people will be reluctant to place power in the hands of pro-lifers and their political allies, almost all of them Republicans.

Am I offering a counsel of despair?  Not in the least.  I am simply reminding my fellow pro-lifers of something we already know: our fight against abortion will be a long, long fight – and not just a political fight but, even more, a struggle for the hearts and minds of Americans.

Post-Dobbs, the field of battle has shifted, and we must clearly understand where we must now direct our greatest efforts.

 

You may also enjoy:

Carl E. Olsson’s The Sacramental Vision and the Fullness of Faith

Anthony Esolen’s A False Rebkue from Dubuque

David Carlin is a retired professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island, and the author of The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America and, most recently, Three Sexual Revolutions: Catholic, Protestant, Atheist.

RECENT COLUMNS

Archives