And so, we’re descending into yet another angry storm over abortion, an issue that never goes away and has polarized this country in profoundly passionate ways for at least a half-century.
The extraordinary and unfortunate leak this week of a draft Supreme Court opinion that, in its present form, would gut the Roe v. Wade abortion decision of 1973 has unleashed explosive reactions across the country. And this round is only just beginning.
What does it mean?
You tell me.
This issue wore me down long ago when South Dakotans twice rejected even more restrictive abortion measures. They were bitter fights, especially during the first go-round in 2006. But the results ultimately changed nothing in terms of the adversarial tenor of the issue. No minds were swayed; no accords were even discussed. The fight kept staggering on in the Legislature, in the churches, within families and wherever else opinions collided.
My feelings on the issue were reflected in the votes in 2006 (56%-44% against the proposed stricter law) and 2008 (55%-45% against). The majority of voters favored limited abortion under specific circumstances and not a near-total ban. According to various polls, that would also match the general national mood.
But that middle position between the issue’s aggressive polar opposites can be a difficult place. You’re considering the life of an unborn child as well as the needs of victims of rape or incest, or women whose own health is endangered by a pregnancy, among many factors. Medical privacy and public law are also points of fiery contention. There are no easy paths anywhere.
Meanwhile, the idea of me, as a man, even thinking about dictating to women how they should handle their own health care makes this terribly awkward. You tell me how a male, who does not face what women confront in these matters, should reasonably approach it.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is determined to be at the forefront of shutting down abortion in almost every form. Even though an anti-abortion law would kick in automatically here whenever or if ever the Supreme Court strikes down Roe, she has announced she wants to immediately call a special session for further definitions and limitations if the court’s draft becomes reality. But again, voters twice rejected implementing restrictive abortion measures for this state. Judging by what may be coming next out of Pierre, you tell me what South Dakotans voted for and what message they sent. Or if it even matters.
In fact, I wonder if it counts anywhere. When two of the more recent Supreme Court justices were asked about Roe v. Wade in their confirmation hearings, they said they considered the matter to be settled law and/or established precedent. Now, apparently, not so much. You tell me if it even matters what the justices tell Congress or the American people when they are asked about any issue.
What may lie ahead could be a momentous legal sea change, but it may change very little else. Abortion could be outlawed in many states, but it won’t vanish. It just means some women will have to travel long distances (if they can afford it) or resort to less reputable, more dangerous means similar to what was practiced before Roe. Those were dangerous times for women and their health. Abortions won’t go away; they will just return to that darkness. Anti-abortion advocates may feel a sense of moral triumph with the legal victory, but if it doesn’t stop the practice, you tell me what’s really been won.
We have expended so much energy seeing abortion access as the holy grail in this battle that we sometimes won’t allow ourselves to view it as a symptom of other things, such as low income, poor education, rape and more. We get too hung up on fighting the fight and fighting with each other to consider the actual motivations for abortion and to bring all the options — which, in some cases, include adoption, abstinence and contraception — to the table for a genuine attempt to broker a solution. There are those who have been too invested in the fight for too long. You tell me how we find a place of compromise in such a bitterly combative climate.
But that’s the only way this relentless, passionate, unbending war ever ends. You tell me how we get there. At this point, after so many years and witnessing so much anger and resentment, I really can’t see the endgame now or looming anytime soon.
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