Overturning Roe

Roe v. Wade and the Thirteenth Amendment

Overturning Roe
Law books (Photo credit: Woody HibbardCC BY 2.0)

Rest assured: This article will not cover why I think abortion is, or is not, morally acceptable; nor why, or to what extent, I think it should, or should not, be legal. Those are valid topics, but they are outside the scope of this article.

I will be using the terms pro-choice and pro-life, as these are the usual self-chosen labels of the two chief positions and will make the conversation simpler. Both phrases are considered offensive to some; but so are the phrases anti-abortion, pro-abortion, anti-choice, anti-life, etc. All words can be “offensive,” provided only that you are sufficiently narrow-minded.

Long story short: a supermajority of Americans—about 75%, possibly more—are in favour of abortion rights, at least to some extent. This is supported by nearly every poll, irrespective of the political viewpoint of the pollster.

A much smaller proportion, 10%–15%, want abortion to be completely restricted; the remaining 10%–15% want it to be completely unrestricted. While these two factions tend to be quite vociferous, they are politically irrelevant, in the sense that they distract from the practical work needed to build any meaningful legal consensus.

Of those identifying themselves as “pro-life,” some believe abortion should be legal in all cases, and most think it should be legal in some cases. Similarly, most who identify themselves as “pro-choice” believe abortion should be illegal in some cases.

Those are not typos. Some people are “pro-choice” while also being anti-abortion: they may or may not believe abortion is morally wrong, but still a woman’s decision to make regardless. Likewise, while “pro-life” people, by definition, find abortion morally wrong, some nevertheless defend women’s freedom to make this choice for themselves.

In short, the two positions—“pro-life” and “pro-choice”—are not nearly so monolithic as some might have you believe.

While the facts cited above indicate a plurality of Americans are in favour of some form of abortion rights, these views are anything but evenly distributed among the states. In that sense, we are, unfortunately,  in a similar political moment as we were during the years leading up to 1850. At that time, some states were in favour of slavery, and some were not. Those states in favour wanted those which were not to help them enforce their laws. That was, clearly, an untenable position, both morally and legally.

The federal government, in its infinite wisdom, then passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which required, say, Massachusetts, to assist in enforcing Alabama law. It is well known that the passage of this act bolstered the abolitionist movement while simultaneously enraging the South. It was one of the pivotal events leading up to the Civil War. Fortunately, a functional solution—from both a moral and legal perspective—was finally implemented: The Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery in all states.

Roe v. Wade, though it may have seemed, to some, an expedient solution at the time, merely delayed our current political situation by almost fifty years. As a result of Dobbs v. Jackson, there is already talk of dissolving—or stacking—the Supreme Court; and of states potentially planning to assist—or hinder—other states in enforcing their respective abortion laws.

It is my hope that, in this moment, we avoid a repetition of how wrongly the issue of slavery was handled initially before being finally resolved. Getting it right will require people of good faith on all sides of the abortion issue, and of varying political and religious viewpoints, to work together.

I have had a number of fruitful conversations with people with whom I disagree strongly, on such contentious issues as abortion, Biden, Trump, gun rights, systemic racism, climate change, feminism, religion, transgender activism, homeschooling, economic freedom, the death penalty, and various governments’ handling of Covid.

It is critical to find like-minded people in your family, in your community, at work, at your place of worship, etc., and—with discernment to determine whom you can trust—begin to have difficult conversations. While some with more extremist views may not yet be ready to have reasonable discussions, you may be surprised at how many others will. You will likely also lose some friends, and make some new ones, in the process. These are positive repercussions of your growth.

We are living during a politically dangerous time, but also, potentially, a period of growth and awakening. We all have something to share and something to learn. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

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