For almost a hundred years prior to the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, the American political landscape was dominated by two parties. There were insurgencies and third parties, but anyone seeking a realistic chance to be a federal officeholder had to associate with one of the two. Ideologically speaking, it wasn’t a big lift. Both were big tents. In LBJ’s time, his Democrats ran the gamut from Hubert Humphrey to Strom Thurmond. The Republican’s somewhat smaller tent included Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater. The Civil Rights bill of 1964 got more Republican votes in the Senate than Democrat votes.
I need to insert some irreverent LBJ stuff here. His nickname, bestowed on him by his community college classmates, was “Bullshit”. He was 50% responsible for Kennedy’s margin over Nixon. He bought the border precincts (which were for sale on a regular basis to the highest bidder) in south Texas. Joe Kennedy bought the cemeteries in Illinois. Nixon sucked it up and didn’t complain (one of a few genuinely patriotic acts in his checkered career). Far and away the best biography I’ve ever read is Robert Caro’s multivolume effort. In his description of Lyndon’s rule of the Senate, he observed that the cliche about power corrupting is inaccurate. Power doesn’t corrupt; it reveals.
After LBJ, things began to change. The parties gradually sorted themselves into mostly consistent ideological camps. As a result, both of them painted themselves into some difficult corners. The most difficult being abortion rights. The Democrats are currently struggling with their pro-choice litmus test, because some of them think it hampers their efforts to recruit attractive candidates for House races in the heartland.
This literary effort will not attempt to take on the morality or psychology of abortion. I am not, and never have been “with child”. At this stage of my life, chances are infinitesimal than I could even contribute to the conception of a child. Therefore, my opinion is mostly irrelevant. Women bear children. Women deliver children. Women nourish children. In almost all cases, women do most of the work involved in rearing children. The moral and psychological discussion should be conducted by women. My sense is that one of the hot buttons of feminism is their disgust about the reality of old men writing laws about the control of a young woman’s reproductive system. It’s a power struggle that women should win.
From a political and legal prospective, it needs to be clearly stated that abortion is the taking of human life. Before you quit reading, try to drain that statement of emotional content. A fetus is certainly alive. The point of the procedure is to end that life. And it is human. Another species is not being incubated. So, we are talking about balancing the rights of one human life (the fetus) against another (the mother).
What is the spectrum of judgment here? Let’s try to summarize with a scale from zero to 100, with zero being pro-life. The zero position is no abortions for any reason, because human life begins at conception. Moving up the scale slightly to perhaps 15, exceptions are made for incest, rape and the life of the mother. The one hundred position is that life begins at birth (maybe a little after), and that full access to abortion for all woman should be available any time at no cost. Backing off to a 90 position means not being too vocal about defending so-called partial birth abortions. Both parties are near the ends of the spectrum–0 to 20 and 80 to 100.
What’s the problem? The problem is that the hard positions of the two parties make it much more difficult to have a productive political dialogue and arrive at compromise on a whole raft of issues. The abortion jihad keeps getting inserted into all kinds of issues. Both sides stoke their respective bases (Evangelical Christians and NARAL) every chance they get, because primary campaigns are won with base voters.
The reason I say that the parties have painted themselves into a corner is that the vast majority of the electorate is not at the ends of the spectrum. Poll after poll shows that most citizens are in the 30 to 70 range. Legal abortion with some restrictions.
What is my proposed solution? We start with the essential function of government–the protection of life. When does a fetus gain that right? When does that right override a woman’s right to run her own reproductive system? There is no legal solution to the argument about the beginning of life, but I’d propose a compromise. The fetus should have the right to life once it can be viable outside the womb. That is a bit of a moving target, but is undeniable in the third trimester. So, we legalize abortion in the first two trimesters and outlaw it (with some severely circumscribed exceptions) in the third trimester. That would line up with the views of a vast majority of Americans and allow us to engage in more productive policy discussions.
I also think, in service of our bedrock belief in religious liberty, that accommodation should be made for those who find abortion morally abhorrent. If religious freedom means anything, it should not be restricted to church attendance on Sunday. It has to mean that, to the extent you are not harming others, you are allowed to follow the tenets of your religion. We need to find a way to pay for abortions that doesn’t involve tax dollars. Since the procedure is not particularly expensive, that is not too high a hill to climb. The obvious argument that pacifists are forced to pay for the military through their taxes is not a proper comparison. Defense of the nation is a common good; abortion is an individual benefit. As a society, we can choose to confer a benefit (like a tax break or welfare), but we should be very careful about doing so if conflicts with religious beliefs.
Is my proposal a pipe dream? No. Numerous other countries have achieved a moderate consensus and thereby taken the issue off the political table. We can do it.