Friday, April 22, 2005

The Abortion Problem

In the April 21, 2005 New York Times, columnist David Brooks argues that the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which moved the abortion problem from the legislatures to the courts, could ultimately destroy the U.S. Senate as we know it. That's because in today's highly polarized political climate, abortion has become a decisive albeit unstated factor in the Senate's advise-and-consent role in approving judicial nominations.

While the Bush administration has been resubmitting previously-rejected judicial nominees, the Senate's Republican majority has been considering the so-called "nuclear option" to prevent judicial filibusters. As with a true nuclear exchange, each side is poised to impose unspeakable horrors on the other. As this scenario plays out, the collegial and deliberative nature of the Senate, with its institutional barriers to the majority running roughshod over the minority, is ultimately threatened. The result will be a more polarized, intolerant, vicious, and gridlocked Senate. And these implications extend to the country as a whole.

Brooks suggests that with respect to abortion, politicians are essentially forced into extreme and unyielding positions by powerful political constituencies. He may be right. For my part, I am dismayed that our national institutions could be torn apart by what is at core a religious battle.

I have no compelling allegiance to either side in this debate, but I am decidedly put off by religious conservatives' attempts on this and other issues to make moral proscriptions for everybody. It seems clear to me that adjudicating or legislating morality, where moral consensus does not exist, cannot work. Consensus can only be achieved through persuasion, and certainly not through brute political force. These troubled waters will not be calmed by the mere mustering of a scant political majority.

Absent societal consensus on the abortion question, those who believe that abortion is morally reprehensible have at least this one very viable option: Don't have abortions.

If this advice strikes you as flippant, or if you feel compelled to extend the reach of your personal moral judgments to affect (I was tempted to say "control") the behavior of others, do the following: Adopt an unwanted baby. Put up the cash to fund organizations that facilitate adoption. Or adopt a mother: Help make the prospect of carrying a baby to term less overwhelming to those least able to contemplate it. Pay for prenatal care. Ditto psychological and emotional counseling. Ditto practical assistance in coping with the demands of everyday life during pregnancy. Learn about how economic conditions, particularly as they affect the poor, have an impact on abortion rates. Work, through your support of specific legislation and national policies, to build a society where the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised have hope.

In short, do the hard work of fighting abortion, not the much easier but more destructive work of fighting your political opponents.

Copyright (C) 2005 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved


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