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In Part 1 of this series I suggested that the Senate Watergate hearings of 1973—which along with the encompassing investigation, led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation—was such an embarrassment to the Republican Party that ever since it has tried to live it down by beating down and demonizing the Democratic Party.
Aiding and abetting the effort, Rush Limbaugh and many like him, took to the air and Internet, ranting about the evils of Liberalism and everyone connected with it. These constant right-wing drum beats helped rally the faithful to one side of the field and outfit them in the jerseys of TeamRed. The goal? Overthrowing America’s (perceived) enemy of all that is good and true: TeamBlue.
A major affront to the Conservative notion of good came on January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the ruling that gave women in all states the right to seek abortion. (Before then, it was already legal in five states.)
Roe v. Wade and Watergate were gigavolt jolts to the Conservative psyche, one right after the other. The festering wounds they caused continue to poison the sociopolitical atmosphere of the United States.
One of the many powers of the president is to appoint justices to the Supreme Court in the case of a vacancy. That’s always a consideration during a presidential race. Voters expect Liberal candidates to appoint liberal judges who would vote favorably on cases that came before them. The same expectation holds for Conservative voters.
Ever since Roe v. Wade became law, Republicans have fought to control who sits on the Supreme Court and, therefore, the opportunity to overturn the ruling.
During his January 11, 2017, press conference, President Trump said:
"But on the Supreme Court, I'll be making that decision, and it will be a decision which I very strongly believe in. I think it's one of the reasons I got elected. I think the people of this country did not want to see what was happening with the Supreme Court, so I think it was a very, very big decision as to why I was elected."
Trump did not have to utter the words “Roe v. Wade.” The whole country knew what he meant. The Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration showed his widely perceived intention.
Why is abortion so divisive? For Conservatives, it’s strictly a moral issue. Abortion, at any stage and under any circumstances, is murder. For liberals, it is not so black-and-white. And it’s less of a moral issue than it is a social and personal one.
In his majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Henry Blackmun wrote:
"The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation."
This runs counter to a Conservative worldview built on the absolute conviction of right-wrong morality governed by strictly moral authority. There is no gray area and no sympathy for those who live within it.
Legal or not, like it or not, abortion has always been part of human activity and with social ramifications. Making it illegal will not make it go away:
- Women with resources and who are intent on abortion will have one.
- Pregnant women who are intent on birth may be forced into abortion by others—with or without the resources for a safe procedure—to make it happen.
- Poor women without resources and who seek abortion will put their lives in jeopardy.
With or without adequate resources, women who feel compelled to give birth to an unwanted child, as suggested by Judge Blackmun, are likely to suffer mental and financial problems they may be unable to manage. And an unwanted child is at a great disadvantage from birth and more likely to be a lifelong drain on society.*
The personal and societal effects of illegal abortion lean toward the negative.
If abortion is strictly a moral issue, then we must talk also of guns and other weapons of war, war itself (which always entails murder of innocents), extreme Capitalism, systemic racism, political corruption, voter suppression, social and political injustice, etc. Aren’t all these immoral? In particular, we must talk of forcing an unwanted child—especially a poor one—into a world where he or she has little chance of wholesome or real survival. Thanks to a sociopolitical mindset that is dead set against programs designed to help them, for many, it’s a life of poverty, crime, and prison. Isn’t this akin to murder?
Roe v. Wade is law. Whether it is upheld by future courts or struck down, the division it has created will endure.
Part 3: The Vietnam War coming soon. For Part 1: Watergate, go here.
*For an in-depth analysis of the relationship between abortion and crime, read Chapter 4 of Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.