Anyone interested in attentive civic leadership should always keep an eye on The Washington Post’s polling aggregator. You find it by using the Politics drop-down box on the menu bar. You, too, can be Nate Silver or Peter Cook on the topic of your choice!
Today, the topic of my choice is abortion rights. If a majority of the population agrees with this, why are so many Red State legislators and governors having a romp shutting it down? And here I have to say, “Because abortion rights has not yet recognized our “Wayne LaPierre Problem.”
Wayne LaPierre, you recall, is the National Rifle Association who has walked his group back from responsible gun registration and ownership, in the 1990s, to hysterical support for even the most demented American terrorist having rights to even the most heinous automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Not even most NRA members, not all gun owners, agree with him. But since most of his budget comes from gun makers and importers, rather than from membership dues, those people have lost their voice. And since they WANT a voice, they are forming new organizations, with the kind of positions the NRA used to advocate. Their fundamental goal is to separate the moderates from the extremists, thereby protecting not only gun ownership as a right, but as a respectable family decision.
Abortion activists need to wake up and learn from these new groups. Over and over, feminists leaders who look hysterical (yes, I know that means “rationality has been overrun by female hormones”) to even quite a few abortion supporters. And why? Because they continue to insist on “A woman’s right to choose” as the only appropriate slogan. To a lot of folks, this is similar to “We need to defend ourselves against the government” rhetoric from gun nuts. Because most abortions, like most gun purchases, are not individual decisions, but family decisions. These families do not seek out extreme options — semi automatic weapons or late term abortions, but something that seems proportional to what they consider “normal” lives.
How do I know this?
The first one says that most Americans continue to support abortion rights and oppose attempts to impede them with regulations that put service-providers out of business. But that same poll says most of these folks oppose abortion after twenty weeks.
And you know what — that seems reasonable to me. Yes, it’s a right to choose, but it’s also a responsibility. And if you haven’t made that decision over five months — with all the easy home pregnancy tests that start practically as soon as you’ve showered the next day — you have forfeited your right.
But what about medically necessary late term abortions? shout the hysterics. “WOMEN’S LIVES ARE AT STAKE!”
Well, we’re not talking here about a huge and routine medical challenge. With adequate prenatal care for mother and child, very few genuine emergencies arise, for which abortion is the only option. But I agree, arise they do. For that reason, I would give DOCTORS the right to offer and perform a late term abortion for any patient whose life is otherwise at high risk. I would even be open to a requirement that they notify Family Court of their reasons for each decision, I would NOT allow them to provide the name of the patient or date of the surgery, in keeping with patient privacy rights. This would put the focus on medical competence and response in extreme situations.
I would also require the coroners to notify Family Courts of any death that appears to result from refusal to perform a late-term abortion. Needless to say, I do NOT support the election of coroners, subjecting them to public pressure to obfuscate about any such death. This caveat comes from reading the second attached poll, confirming what we all know — that many jurisdictions are avid extremists against any abortions, particularly late term.
Obviously, medical obstetrical and midwife practices would have to state up front whether or not they would consent to perform these abortions. And they would have to make clear that while the patient has the right to refuse them, they, as subscribers to the Hippocratic Oath, have the duty to inform the family of what’s at stake with the decision. This is the “no good options” moment, but it should be directed by the physician, not politicians cowering before a hysterical electorate.
Why are so many anti-abortion activists women, whether mothers or not? A telling statement came from Rabbi Abba Cohen this May, in a conservative panel on religious freedoms, an interfaith fear-fest that could easily be dismissed. But the rabbi — who is also a lawyer — stated baldly that “The law is the teacher.” Here we see the concept of “legal authority” from the other side of the divide. To us liberals, legal authority is something to question. Traditionalists/conservatives — whatever you want to call them, of any faith (and any Unitarian Universalist would have been proud to display so many world religions on one dais) unite around this relationship to authority: it rules, it teaches, it does not permit questioning or challenge. To do so is to call upon oneself and one’s family the most dire of cosmic consequences.
So to write an abortion rights law that a majority will respect means to write it plainly, with respect for what the majority believes. To ask why they believe it, and see if it makes sense. To try to find common ground on which most — but not all — can stand together.
Here is what I believe can work: A woman’s right and responsibility to choose and obtain access, up until 20 weeks. A doctor’s responsibility thereafter to make this sad option available, with suitable pastoral care and legal protection, if the child’s life must be sacrificed to save that of the mother. And only then, the return of the mother’s right to choose.