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The Big Pay-Off

July 10, 2018 (1,037 words)

For the last forty-five years religious conservatives distraught over the legalization of abortion have employed a three-step approach to national politics. Elect a pro-life Republican as President. Hope he or she will appoint like-minded Supreme Court justices when the opportunity presents itself. Then hope a critical mass of such jurists will eventually overturn the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 that has been a scourge upon our land.

This strategy has proven to be less than flawless, as not all of those past Republican appointees have panned out as planned. Certainly one would have to include the just-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy in that group of disappointments.

Yet here we are, a mere sixteen months into the most unlikely and unconventional of Republican administrations, on the verge of a second straight seemingly iron-clad nomination that might make the long-awaited reversal possible, and secure a solid conservative majority on the high court for a generation to come.

The expectation that now exists in certain quarters is palpable. This suddenly-within-reach outcome would make the awkward, impolite presidential posturing generated to this point by our learning-on-the-job, narcissist-in-chief worth all the aggravation and embarrassment, wouldn’t it? One can be sure every religious conservative worth his or her salt will no doubt answer that question in the affirmative, without hesitating for a moment.

And to be clear I, too, long for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned, and hope it might be happening on the morrow. But I no longer see this single, earth-shattering legal maneuver as the decisive end game I once thought it to be. Or as many pro-life warriors apparently still consider it to be. To my mind things have gotten muddy, from a philosophical point of view. All the wires are crossed.


… all our wires have gotten crossed.


Certainly the first job of a responsible government is to “legislate morality,” contrary to what liberal critics say. But in a pluralist democracy the government can only legislate a morality the majority willingly agrees to. This is the essence of pluralism.

We all get to weigh in on what constitutes right and wrong, on what laws we will allow ourselves to be ruled by. Our current socially-acceptable notion of “reproductive choice,” while appalling to some of us, is merely an extreme version of the bedrock concept known as individual emancipation our great nation was founded on.

What complicates this particular matter even further is the way so many of us, schooled as we are in the logic of personal freedom, can’t bring ourselves – especially after forty-five years of legal access – to demand abortion be outlawed, even if we would never consider such a grisly procedure for ourselves.

“A woman’s right to choose” is a powerful argument, given our unique heritage of rugged individualism. Of course this appeal to individualism is most often deployed by conservatives when calling for limited government. Yet it’s the liberals who are referencing the need for limited government in this instance, specifically wanting to “keep government out of the bedroom.”


… conservative arguments, now being employed by liberals.


Religious conservatives especially decry the “lifestyle” abortion. That is, when the decision is made to terminate a pregnancy so as not to interfere with educational or career goals. But again, these types of abortions are the product of an “enlightened self-interest” that seeks “the pursuit of happiness” above all else. These are principles cherished by conservatives who worship the founders who first articulated them.

We need to unravel these unacknowledged contradictions if we ever intend to get at the heart of the abortion debate. And if our new-and-improved Supreme Court does find a way to reverse Roe, we should all be prepared to launch into our best, most compassionate converting-hearts-and-minds mode, to avert the civil war that is sure to ensue.

America has become fertile ground for abortion. One reason why is the way the aforementioned emancipation of the individual now means we each get to define for ourselves the very meaning of life. Justice Kennedy eloquently elaborated on this theme in a famous 1992 decision in which he sided with the liberals to create a majority.

This squishy, hippy-dippy worldview happens to dovetail nicely with an embrace of the still-with-us sexual revolution, and with the promotion of that revolution among our young people. Our liberal opinion-makers have confidently told us this about-face in how we should conduct ourselves will lead to a happier and more psychologically-mature existence for all concerned. Who needs modesty, when you can let it all hang out and have fun.

But more than any intellectual claim abortion may make on our minds, it is the gut-check that is one’s economic reality that drives the majority of women who seek an untimely end to a pregnancy.


… economic anxiety drives the majority of abortions.


Many such women are “unattached.” They worry about their own lack of economic stability, the lack of economic stability on the part of their significant other, or of the casual acquaintance responsible for leaving this calling card behind.

Many women in sound marriages and stable relationships also suffer from severe economic anxiety. In their minds (and the minds of their husbands), given their present family circumstances, they simply cannot afford a child – or another child – at this time.

This is the major disconnect in the conservative opposition to abortion. While convinced they occupy the moral high ground, these erstwhile believers fail to account for a simple fact. The laissez-faire economic agenda that promotes “every man for himself” has exacerbated economic injustice exponentially over the last forty-five years. It favors the clever go-getters, while leaving the slow-but-steady in the dust.

Liberals may rightly be assigned blame for the loosening of social mores that has led to promiscuity, resulting in unintended and unwanted pregnancy. But it is so-called conservatives who are to blame for the economic anxiety that fuels the majority of abortions performed in this or any other country.

By all means we should seek high court decisions and other legislation that limits access to abortion. But let’s not kid ourselves that such fancy footwork will solve the larger problem.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
July 10, 2018

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