Making good choices, no matter the law

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Thirty five years ago today, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 7-2 to legalize abortion throughout the land. Last week, it was reported that both the rate and total number of abortions in America have dropped significantly, of late.

That despite the fact that the Supreme Court hasn't changed its mind. That despite the increase in women of child-bearing age. That despite the availability of the drug RU-486, which was supposed to make abortion "easier" — or possible without surgery, anyway.

Naturally, instead of just celebrating the good news — the best since 1974, in fact — both sides of the most contentious debate in America sought to claim credit for it, to gain advantage. Pro-lifers saw it as vindication for their efforts to get state legislatures to make it more difficult to end a pregnancy with mandatory waiting periods and parental consent. Pro-choicers said see, this is proof that access to family planning and comprehensive sex education in the schools work.

It may be blasphemy, but perhaps they're both right.

And maybe other factors matter, too. The economy, for instance. Maybe there's less desperation. Maybe more men — remember them in this equation? — are sticking around. Maybe more support services are available after a child is born. Sometimes it's best just to accept good news for what it is, without dissecting it for flaws or declaring winners and losers.

Unfortunately, Americans can't seem to do that, as this debate has been dominated by the shouters and sign carriers, even though most folks occupy the quiet, mind-their-own-business middle.

Indeed, just because you're pro-choice doesn't always make you comfortable with the choices people make. Who stands outside a clinic cheering the end of another unwanted pregnancy? Who relishes ever being confronted with that choice? No one we know.

Conversely, just because you're pro-life doesn't mean you have no appreciation for the challenges others face, or that you only care about this life until it is born, after which it's "see ya later." Who would walk away from a toddler in need? No one we know.

Sometimes the stereotypes just don't fit. In fact there's a lot of room between the King Herod-like barbarians the right wishes to see and the Bible-thumping bigots the left likes to describe. Maybe the majority in between can find, if not common ground, some way to acknowledge that both positions have something going for them.

For example, if it's OK to teach a sexually active teen that condoms can help prevent an unwanted pregnancy, isn't it also OK to show an expectant mother contemplating an abortion a sonogram so that she appreciates that her choice is not just a medical but a moral one? How can ignorance in either situation be acceptable? If those different routes get us to the same place — fewer abortions — isn't that a good thing? Can't we all agree that, even with the reduction in abortions, that outcome in one of every five pregnancies in this country still represents too many?

It's a national election year, and so abortion will be getting more attention than usual. Pro-lifers believe they're one Supreme Court justice away from overturning Roe v. Wade, which makes their pick for president critical, though it won't get them to their promised land. Indeed, it would just shift the focus back to state legislatures. On the other hand, if you want to watch a pro-life politician squirm, ask him if women who have abortions in a post-Roe nation should be imprisoned.

No matter which side of the abortion debate Americans lean toward, maybe they've been looking in the wrong places for answers. Perhaps these declines are evidence that abortion has never been a battle for the nation's courts, constitutions and legislatures, but for the hearts and minds of its citizens, no matter what the law says.