Talking about abortion is hard to do

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump found themselves in the middle of an abortion debate.  Frankly, it's impossible to talk about abortion without both sides unleashing the political equivalent of nuclear weapons, as Camille Paglia wrote this week:

The real issue is that U.S. politics have been entangled and strangled for far too long by the rote histrionics of the abortion wars, which have raged since Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that defined abortion as a woman’s constitutional right under the 14th Amendment. While I am firmly pro-choice and support unrestricted access to abortion, I have been disturbed and repelled for decades by the way reproductive rights have become an ideological tool ruthlessly exploited by my own party, the Democrats, to inflame passions, raise money, and drive voting.

This mercenary process began with the Senate confirmation hearings for three Supreme Court candidates nominated by Republican presidents: Robert Bork in 1987, David Souter in 1990, and Clarence Thomas in 1991. (Bork was rejected, while Souter and Thomas were approved.) Those hearings became freak shows of feminist fanaticism, culminating in the elevation to martyr status of Anita Hill, whose charges of sexual harassment against Thomas still seem to me flimsy and overblown (and effectively neutralized by Hill’s following Thomas to another job). Abortion was the not-so-hidden motivation of the Democratic operatives who pushed a reluctant Hill forward and fanned the flames in the then monochromatically liberal mainstream media. It was that flagrant abuse of the Senate confirmation process that sparked the meteoric rise of conservative talk radio, led by Rush Limbaugh, who provided an alternative voice in what was then (pre-Web) a homogenized media universe.

Miss Paglia is right about the problem.  However, she fails to prescribe the solution – overturning Roe v. Wade so that state legislatures can debate and compromise their way to an abortion answer that most people can live with.  For example, I don't believe in abortion.  At the same time, I'd be a lot more comfortable if a legislature, rather than a judge, would have legalized abortion.

By the way, that's what most countries have done!  They've legalized abortion but put limits on when it can happen – before the first trimester for example.

Roe v. Wade was the worst of all outcomes, as evidenced by the divisions that do not go away.  David Brooks wrote about this during the Alito hearings of 2005:

Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe v. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.

When Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.

Yes, Miss Paglia is right that our politics is ugly, in large part because of Roe v Wade. I'm not suggesting that an abortion debate in a state legislature would have been pretty but the ultimate decision would have had the legitimacy that Roe v Wade never had.  At the very least, the losers would have had the opportunity to organize and fight back in the next election or legislative term.   

Miss Paglia took a step in the right direction.  Now she needs to call for the overturning of Roe v. Wade so that we can find an abortion solution that she and I can be happy with.

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