The Abortion Issue Going Forward
Getting beyond the battle
If indeed the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade over the next few months, the abortion battle will not be over. In more ways than not it will dramatically ramp up, as the battle moves from the Supreme Court and focus on federal codification to what are sure to be vicious arguments over reproductive rights in state legislatures around the country.
This could hardly have come at a worse moment, when the country is already experiencing a near state of cold Civil War. In Lincoln’s words, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” And God knows we’re divided. People who simply disagreed before are now mad as hell.
Millions of women denied protection of their right to choose - at risk of losing all abortion rights on the state level as well - will not be silent. And what lies in front of us could be traumatizing for the entire country. Some states have already begun to criminalize women’s behavior regarding their reproductive choices, motivating thousands of women already to take to the streets around the country. If violence ensues, no one will be too shocked.
The very fabric of our nationhood is being rent by what’s becoming a permanent state of opposition, and this one issue could put us over the edge. We must not let this get out of hand. In response to what’s happening we should declare a preemptive truce, something that means a whole lot more than a cessation of fighting. It means a willingness to listen to one another in a way we have not listened before.
Many years ago, I was giving a talk to a group of people in Sacramento, California when something very interesting occurred. I had given my talk, the group took a break and then we returned to the auditorium for questions and answers. The first question asked was about abortion.
The feeling of a rip in the energy - a few groans, a break in the previously felt good will among the audience - was palpable. My first thought was, “Let’s get off this topic immediately.” My second thought, of course, was, “Why are we here if not to try to heal?”
So I said this: “Okay, everyone, I know people have very passionate feelings about this. We can all feel it.”
“So let’s do this,” I said. “If we talk about this from the level of emotion that’s already obvious in the room, we’ll get nowhere. So let’s go into silence for two minutes. God doesn’t want our opinions; He wants our openness. Let’s pray and surrender all our thoughts about this. Let’s ask to become empty vessels simply open to wisdom and peace.”
And we did just that. We prayed and then sat silently together for two minutes.
What followed was the most profound professional experience I’ve had in almost forty years of speaking. People began to share about their experiences and feelings about this issue on a level that you don’t normally hear in a conversation about abortion. Women - and men, as well - shared from their hearts. People who landed at an anti-choice position were truly heard that night in a way I’m sure they had never been heard by pro-choice people before, and vice versa. People’s ears, minds, and hearts were open to one another across the otherwise frozen divide. And that is the Answer with a capital A.
The next day a young man remarked to me, “I felt like I had an intimate conversation about abortion last night with two thousand people in my living room .”
Einstein said we wouldn’t solve the problems of the world on the level of thinking we were at when we created them, and this is exactly what that means. The truth here, whether we want to believe it or not, is that many people with opposing political views on this issue have valid points. The problem is that we cannot hear each other. I’ve stated before that I think the unwillingness of many on the Left to even acknowledge that there is a moral issue involved in the abortion question has done great damage to the pro-choice cause. We can be strongly pro-choice and still see this as a moral issue - a private rather than a public moral issue, however, the government therefore having no right to weigh in on an individual’s moral choices.
Some have argued that that’s unacceptable, labeling such a viewpoint as “soft on choice;” yet I would argue that their way has failed spectacularly. We have just lost a great battle, and in the battles going forward I would suggest we change our battle plans.
The United States is hardly the only country embroiled in this argument, and it is illustrative to see how other countries have worked it out. One of the most interesting compromises, to me, is the idea of a mandatory counseling session in which a woman is non-prejudicially informed of her options, with a pre-written script containing no pictures and with no proselytizing allowed, society thus guaranteed that her decision to have an abortion was not made impulsively. In Germany, the counseling center is separate from the abortion clinic as they have decidedly different functions in the process. Some have said that their objection to this lay in the hardship it could put on women in rural communities, etc., having to drive long distances for counseling. But in the days of Zoom calls such objections are assuaged.
Why do I suggest such a thing? If anyone thinks we’re going to protect freedom of choice in states where state legislators are committed to not only denying the right to abort but even criminalizing it, simply by throwing around our blue swords and thinking we’re going to defeat their red ones this time, they’re kidding themselves. Twenty-six states are already planning to ban abortion the moment the Supreme Court announces its decision. The most powerful thing we can do is develop a plan to submit to reasonable legislators and governors who might still yet be swayed.
In the meantime, this situation is one more wake-up call regarding the importance of state politics. One of the main techniques of the extremist conservative juggernaut is to “return the decision to the states.” They try to make it sound all Jeffersonian and all, but in fact it is anything but. It’s a nefarious way of weakening efforts to protect ourselves by making us have to fight for our rights in fifty places instead of just one.
Simply sitting with our anger, or even protesting around the country, will not be enough to stave off the wave of disasters that are heading towards us. Hopefully Congress will still yet find a way to codify. But in the meantime, this moment is calling for a pivot in our attitudes. We must, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, both “think anew and act anew.” A new situation now calls for new strategy. The only way to win this battle is to move it to new ground.