Talking to Democrats about Abortion - The Missing Debate

A dog park liberal Democrat friend and I were wondering what could make it possible to debate abortion in a campaign. I e-mailed this to her:

Making meaningful debate possible by reconsidering Roe vs. Wade.

There is no facing abortion without a meaningful national debate. Unfortunately, Roe vs. Wade made debate trivial by removing the option of translating the debate into state or national policy. The Supreme Court, in effect, and in my opinion, created a fictitious right to privacy in order to implement an undebatable right to abortion. It removed the decision from the democratic process. In my opinion, the social disruption and piercing, cultural violation that single act of legalistic hubris created is a festering, malignant wound that will never heal, until the people have regained the right to make a popular, democratic choice about how the country should proceed on abortion.

Overturning Roe vs. Wade will not make abortions illegal; it will, however, make it possible for the people to choose what restrictions, if any, they want to impose on them. In the years preceding January 1973, before Roe vs. Wade was decided, several states had already liberalized abortion laws (California under Ronald Reagan was one of them.) There was a slowly developing movement in the country to use state law to implement a loosening of the stringent prohibitions on abortion that had been implemented in the previous century. There was no need to make abortion a constitutional right. There was a gradual, ongoing, and successful liberalization process in place.

There is, of course, a precedent for the Supreme Court to implement broad social policy, as an interpretation of the constitution. But it has to be careful when it does so. Brown vs Board of Education is an example that comes to mind. But Brown differs from Roe in one important respect; although both rulings resulted in considerable social upheaval, it was possible, indeed inevitable, that a broad consensus concerning the evil of racism would take root in the U.S. That consensus did develop, and Brown succeeded because it was transparently moral and coincided perfectly with the Judeo-Christian values that are embedded in American culture, even in today's much more secular world.

But Roe vs Wade lacks this imprimatur of any conceivable American consensus. Furthermore, it has no root in the fundamental values of the society to which it can reasonably point in justification of its purported objectives. This lack of democratic footing works to erode American society by violating a fundamental sense of national cooperation in deciding fundamental values. We Americans are a conservative people, not happily forced to make sudden, wrenching reversals of deeply held beliefs. Roe vs. Wade forced that wrenching reversal upon us, without the promise of a deeper, transcendent value to which we could look for inspiration, like we could with Brown.

Posted by Timothy M. Beckham at October 27, 2004 9:10 PM