Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Why Abortion Doesn't Matter Anymore

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Once the hot button issue of the 1970's, abortion no longer brings liberals to the polls.

Democrats are up in arms again, and promise yet more futile protests, spending millions of dollars to accomplish nothing.  Rather than trying to get out the vote and win at the polls, they are spending and wasting their efforts at getting out the protests and winning only public opinion polls.  The latter doesn't get anyone elected or change policy.

The latest outrage is that President Trump is going to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice - a big surprise to many, apparently.   But what did people expect from a Republican, albeit an odd one?   It seems that so much of the protesting going on these days is to protest that Republicans are doing what they promised to do, which is to slash taxes for their friends and eliminate regulations for big business.   Act shocked.  This is what they have promised to do since Reagan was elected.

And overturning Roe v. Wade is next on the agenda.  And the Democrats want to use this to galvanize support for the mid-term elections and the 2020 Presidential election, so they can elect a "Democratic Socialist" as President.

Problem is, it ain't gonna happen.   The abortion "issue" isn't as compelling today as it was in 1973 - for a number of reasons.   In terms of "getting out the vote" it just isn't going to work this time around.  And the reasons are varied, but cumulatively, they amount to a "who gives a shit anyway?" on the part of the vast majority of voters - even Democrats:

1.  Society has changed:   Back in the 1950's and 1960's, there was a shame associated with out-of-wedlock pregnancies.   If a young woman got pregnant, she was damaged goods and could not hope to marry a "nice" man and settle down - which was about her only career choice back then.   Women were trapped in a dual-standard society.  They were expected to have sex before marriage as part of this "sexual revolution" but at the same time, were held to the chaste standards of the previous generation.

Back then, a back-alley abortion was a real possibility.  And back then, many young women were scarred for life or even died from such operations.   I recall an episode of Dragnet that addressed this issue.   A young woman hemorrhages to death from a botched abortion, and Joe and Bill shake their heads as if she somehow had it coming.

Today, however, more than half of all births in America are out-of-wedlock. The concepts of "bastard" children or "loose" women have fallen by the wayside.   The impetus to have an abortion - to avoid societal shame - has lessened or has been eliminated entirely.  Today, having a child out of wedlock is more a matter of convenience.   Having a baby in high school or college and trying to raise it as a single Mom is going to set back your career options, but it won't mark you as a "wanton woman" for life.

And there are other options - adoption being one.  My brother adopted a child from a young Mother who didn't want to have yet another baby by her abusive husband.   It worked out for everyone involved.   For the most part, there are more adoptive parents than children to be adopted, at least judging from the want-ads in the back of the paper, and today, online.  Another friend of mine went all the way to China to adopt a baby, because it was nearly impossible to adopt in the United States.

So yes, there are other options than abortion.   And "shame" no longer drives anyone to a back-alley abortion today, nor would it drive them to one if Roe was overturned.

Yes, there are reports in the press regularly about some young teen mother, usually the daughter of fundamentalist Christians, who stuffs her newborn baby in a trash bin during prom night.   These are tragedies, to be sure, but it is unclear to me how legalized abortion would have prevented them - changing the societal and social values of the parents might be a better alternative.   (Not surprisingly, children of fundamentalist parents have the highest teen birth rate of any social group).

2.  Yes, Abortion is used as birth control:   When I was an intern at Planned Parenthood, we had a policy that we would not recommend abortion services for the same client more than twice (like most offices, we did not perform abortion services but referred clients to doctors that did).   The thinking was, once was a mistake, twice maybe an error, but three times was using abortion as birth control, and that wasn't what we were all about.

Not only that, it isn't healthy to have repeated abortions.   It would be irresponsible to recommend that to someone.

But others have fewer qualms.  When Mark worked at Sheets 'n Things (before they went bust when they couldn't service all that leveraged buyout debt), he met a lot of young women working there who had two or three kids by different fathers.   They explained to him how the system worked, and how you had to have at least three kids to make enough money from government assistance in order to get by.  Of course, some of these programs had a work requirement, which is why these young ladies were working part-time at the store.

They also told Mark that they had had three or more abortions along the way - not for medical reasons, but matter of convenience.   They had enough kids and didn't want more, and didn't want to use birth control.   So, if they got pregnant, they got an abortion, and it was possible to afford this, as there were programs that would subsidize the cost of the abortion.

The pro-choice lobby likes to argue that abortion is not used as birth control, but I am not sure this is entirely true.  And I am not sure that the practices of Mark's co-workers is some sort of anomaly.

And sadly, this problem isn't limited to the lower classes.  When I was an intern at Planned Parenthood, I would leave the building for the day and see young men hunched down in the seats of their hopped-up economy cars, waiting for their girlfriends to emerge, either with a prescription for birth control, or a referral for an abortion.   Today, I am sure not much has changed, other than the makes and models of the hopped-up economy cars favored by teens and 20-somethings.

3. The Abortion Lobby was too successful:   Like the NRA, the pro-choice movement has had a good run, until recent years.  Despite the setbacks in red states and in the courts, the abortion movement has had a lot of success in the past.   And often such success is met with an equal and opposite force - something the NRA should consider before pushing the next part of its extremist agenda (Silencers?  I mean, really!).

Federal funding for abortions for the poor has issues as I noted above.  Forcing employers to provide funding for free abortions is another issue.   Allowing teenagers to have abortions without parental consent was also a bit too much.   A 14-year-old girl could not have a tooth extracted without parental consent, but until recently, was allowed to have an abortion in some States without telling her parents.

Even Democrats might have a problem with that, particularly if they have a 14-year-old daughter.  At the very least, even the most liberal parent would want to know about this and have a sit-down to talk with their daughter about where this is going.

Now, a lot of these things have since been walked back, of course.  But again, I think it was an example of reaching too far, and again, the NRA should take note.   When there is a parade, get out in front and lead it, rather than be the curmudgeon on the sidewalk cursing all the noise.

4.  Roe v. Wade is bad law:  I went to a "liberal" law school, and even there, my constitutional law professors admitted that Roe v. Wade had serious constitutional issues.   The Supreme Court is suppose to decide whether a law is constitutional or not.   In Roe, they went beyond this and wrote new law, defining by trimester when an abortion is permissible or not.  This was made out of whole cloth - doing the job that Congress refused to do.

Congressmen want to get re-elected, so they wouldn't touch the abortion issue with a ten-foot pole.  Actually, they tend to avoid doing anything, whenever possible, and it becomes a matter of gridlock.   Should the courts intervene and do what Congress refuses to do?   That is the constitutional question, of course, and those on the Left say "yes" and those on the Right say "no" - unless of course, the "legislating from the bench" favors a right-wing view point.  Then, it is not legislating from the bench, but merely good jurisprudence.

Regardless, Roe has some structural issues, and the Court could find some legal leverage to highly restrict it, if not outright overturn it.   If the Left wanted to enshrine the right to an abortion, they should have done so by legislation, not by court decree.

5.  There have been abuses:   No one on the Left likes to talk about this, but some doctors who perform abortions have less than stellar records.  Some have ended up in jail as a result of botched operations or by performing abortions in the last trimester.

Now, granted, you could argue that there are more botox doctors out there who have botched operations and killed patients.   The problem is, these abuses, even if rare, provide gristly grist for the gristmill of the anti-abortion lobby.  When it comes right down to it, the whole process of an abortion, even when done properly and legally, has an "ick" factor to it.  And the Right has been quick to use this to their advantage.

6.  The sexual revolution:   Sex has changed a lot since the 1960's.   Not only are attitudes about sex changing, but sex itself has changed.  No longer do people feel the need to go "all the way" to satisfy their sexual urges.  Without going into gross detail, there are a number of sexual activities that people can perform without any risk of pregnancy or even disease.

Perhaps the HIV epidemic is partly the cause of this.  But it is clear that there are other alternatives to vaginal intercourse which can result in pregnancy.  We are no longer teenagers trying to score a "home run" in the back seat of Dad's Oldsmobile on prom night.

7.  Demographics:  Here is the big problem for Democrats.   If we assume that roughly half the country is to the Left and half to the Right, that means the abortion issue (in terms of preserving Roe) really only resonates with half of the population.  Of this half, maybe 1/3 are not strongly committed to it.  Of the remaining 2/3rds, well, only half of them are women.

Yes, men are less likely to be concerned about reproductive rights than women, by dint of the fact they don't risk getting pregnant.  So as a result, as an issue to galvanize support, it may generate a "who cares?" attitude among a pretty big segment of even the Left.   In short, it may not be a winning issue for Democrats.

And of course, the point is moot:  The Republicans have the votes to confirm their nominee, and now have the votes in the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.   All the protests in the world won't change that, but will make the Democrats look silly and powerless.  In a way, it is like the Clarence Thomas hearings - much sound and fury, but nothing accomplished in any real form.

* * * 

So what is the answer for the Democratic party?  Just being against Trump is not enough.  Traditional hot-button issues don't seem to resonate anymore.  And the further the party lurches to the Left, the fewer and fewer supporters they will have.   I for one, am not quite ready to cut a check to a "Democratic Socialist" anytime in the near future.    People like Bernie Sanders are the reason we lost the last election and not the salvation of the party.

Until things get really, really bad, most moderate Democrats will not embrace this new leftism.  And sadly, many on the far left secretly hope things get really, really bad, so they can look like a rational alternative.

But has history has shown, this strategy often doesn't work.  By the time things get that bad, you are locked up in the gulag or on a train to an internment camp. 

\Maybe what we need is less extremism and more moderation.   Crazy idea, I know.