Can We Solve the Abortion Issue?

A Future for the Pro-Life Movement

Abortion is undoubtedly a complex moral issue, and I sympathize with those who passionately argue for its abolition. But our system is designed to encourage individuals, not the state, to make tough moral decisions. And, like past social movements, this might not be resolvable though legislation. David wrote on the subject last year. His roadmap for a successful pro-life movement built upon persuasion, instead of legislation, is worth restating.

Imagine if we had a pro-life movement that said the following: “We’re not trying to change any laws. But we want you to take a look at these pictures of the child in the womb and decide for yourself that abortion is wrong. We will study why particular women have particular abortions and see if there are things we can collectively do to reduce the pressures that cause women to end their pregnancies in this way. We will measure our success not by what we are able to criminalize, but by reductions in abortion’s frequency. We’re already 1/3 of the way to our goal, as compared to 1980, and with continued effort we hope to achieve continuing reductions in the future.”

Such a statement would involve some considerable changes in the thinking of the pro-life movement. It would mean the end of abortion’s signifier as a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern world. It would sever abortion from the larger debate over sexuality and spirituality–just as alcohol has been separated from debates over ethnicity and spirituality. And it would define success in terms of abortion reduction rather than abortion prohibition.

I wonder if Mr. Schmitz would find such an outcome acceptable. Possibly he would not – even if it brought us to a world in which the abortion rate was reduced from the former 30 per 1000 women of child-bearing age beyond the present 20 to a future of 10 or 8 or 5. He might say: no compromise is possible on this vital moral concern!

That’s exactly what the old anti-saloon-league people said too. But eventually the political system answers: issues on which no compromise is possible are issues that do not belong in politics at all. They must either be resolved by war (as slavery was) or by removal from politics altogether. America won’t fight a war over abortion, and so the most likely future for the abortion issue is that it will be resolved in the same way we resolved the problem, “Which religion shall be chosen as the official religion of the state?” We resolved the problem by ceasing to ask the question.