Anyone who would like to see the Democratic Party win power now or later should be praying that Roe v. Wade is reversed. Roe has decimated the American political landscape and left all concerned holding the bag for extreme positions on both sides of the abortion debate which have essentially brought our political life to a standstill again and again.
Roe has given the cynical Republicans and the Religious Right an ever refreshed tool with which to beat back opposition to their misrule. I have argued here in the Huffington Post that I consider myself pro-life (though I believe abortion must also be legal) and yet I am an avid supporter of Senator Obama. For that declaration I have received lots of hate mail from people calling themselves pro-life. Many of them are absolutist nut cases. But some are not. So it pains me to realize that the abortion debate may well be what Obama's candidacy--which I regard as the best thing to happen to American politics in the last 100 years--hinges on.
Disclosure: I believe that abortion is an inevitable choice some women will make given the frailty, vagaries and unfairness of the human condition. I also believe it should be legal up to a point. I also believe that it is always a sad choice that horrifies most people regardless of politics. I was once a militant anti-abortion advocate. I changed my mind.
That said, polls published as recently as this week in the New York Times show that the majority of Americans favor some legal abortion but that when those who believe that all abortions are wrong are combined with the huge number of Americans made uneasy by the extreme permissiveness of Roe you get a large middle ground majority who may be summed up as those who are pro-choice but against abortion-on-demand later in pregnancy. That means they are against Roe because Roe opened the door to late term abortion.
The sub currents of the Sarah Palin fiasco point to the fact that just below the surface of any American political debate the abortion war is ready to reignite. Two groups are relatively small but loud in this debate: the absolute pro-choicers and the absolute pro-lifers. The vast majority of Americans don't like either position and the fact that one of the extremes became law through Roe, has left American politics unsettled for more than 30 years.
Evangelicals weren't politicized (at least in the current meaning of the word), until after Roe v. Wade and after my late father Francis Schaeffer, Dr. C Everett Koop and I stirred them up over the issue of abortion in the mid to late 1970s through our books and "Whatever Happened To the Human Race" film series. More than thirty years after helping to launch the evangelical pro-life movement I am filled with bitter regret for the unintended consequences. Mea culpa!
In 2000, we elected W. Bush a president who put oil company's interests ahead of caring for creation. We elected a "born-again" president who said he lived by biblical ethics who played the dirtiest political games possible, for instance in the filthy lies his people spread to derail Senator John McCain's presidential primary bid. We elected a "pro-life" Republican Party that did nothing to actually care for the pregnant women and babies they said they were concerned for, but rather took their evangelical and other pro-life followers for granted, and played them for suckers. These Republican "pro-lifers" took us to war needlessly, tortured prisoners and have dishonored America.
The so-called evangelical leadership--Dobson, Robertson, Falwell and all the rest also played the pro-life community for suckers. That way the evangelical leaders could represent themselves as power-brokers to the politicians willing to kowtow to them.
Democrats who would like a clean shot at governing this country well for a few years and who want to shape a better American future, regarding health care, gay rights, women's rights, rights for people of color, foreign policy, the environment, energy policy, a better educational system and a more humane welfare state; had better look hard and honestly at what is unfolding on the Republican side this year post Rick Warren's intervention at Saddleback and after the Palin nomination.
John McCain should not only be behind in the polls he should more or less be nonexistent after the horrendous eight years of Bush misrule. The fact that he is even close hinges on two points: first, our latent racism, which no matter what individuals tell pollsters is playing a part in keeping Obama's lead down. Second, the Palin news cycle, in other words the issue of abortion which simply will not go away.
Palin is a joke candidate only on the ticket as a sop to pro-lifers. End of story.
Progressives need to take a fresh look at abortion. Few countries are as extreme as America. Progressives look to places like France as examples of generous maternal leave and so on. France is hardly anti-woman. And yet France limits abortion rights more than we do. So does Sweden. Even in Great Britain, which has almost as a permissive an abortion law as our own, there is growing debate in Parliament about rolling back the legal date after which abortions can no longer be performed from 23 weeks to 20 weeks. And this UK debate is not fueled by right wing preachers, but by medical science, and human rights ethics.
Roe leaves the door open to very late term abortions. Enter Senator Obama and this year's presidential race. Obama voted once in a state legislature to keep those sorts of late term abortions legal. He had his reasons and the Religious Right has been unfair to him over their branding him as favoring infanticide. But there it is: Obama is being saddled with the abortion albatross instead of being allowed to move on. Here we go again!
And all this is needless. If the abortion laws reflected the will of the people abortion would be legal but limited more than now. That is a fact that every poll shows. Indeed more young people are against abortion than their parents. This won't fade.
Do Democrats really perpetually want to lose elections to keep a small minority of Americans--the pro-choice fundamentalists--happy by keeping abortion legal up to the moment of birth? Is there any good reason, other than the life of the mother, for abortion to be legal after the 12th week of pregnancy? Or has Roe become an article of secular religious faith? If so then the extreme pro-choice position is the mirror image of Dobson and company.
It is time to admit the fact that even if Roe were overturned abortion would still be available and in most states, legal, up to a point. With the abortion pill, the morning-after pill, modern suction abortion methods (which can be carried out by any doctor early in pregnancy) and the fact that most states in our country would ratify abortion laws or liberalize old laws, abortion would still be safe and available. Progressives have to face the fact that whatever their views and their politics on abortion the reality is that the conscience of United States is uneasy about our present abortion law that allows abortion up to the end of pregnancy for virtually any reason.
Yell, scream, bury your head, berate the Huffington Post for "allowing" me to say this but: Roe is not just a problem for Obama. It is a roadblock to the Progressive Movement for the foreseeable future. We don't have the young people with us on this. We don't have the country. Blaming it all on the Religious Right is just a cop out.
Roe v. Wade has given us more than thirty years of culture war. But what if absolute consistency on any issue from the left or the right, religious or secular, is an indication of mediocre intelligence, and a lack of intellectual honesty? What if the world is a complex place? What if leadership requires flexibility? What if ideology is a bad substitute for common sense? What if ideological consistency, let alone "purity," is a sign of small-mindedness, maybe even stupidity?
Shouldn't Obama be able to express the more nuanced position on abortion (that I happen to know is his) than the one favored by the ideologues at Planned Parenthood and NARAL? Shouldn't McCain be able to express an more nuanced position (that I happen to know is his) than the one dictated by Dr. Dobson and his ilk?
To most Americans--including me--it is gut-check self-evident that a fertilized egg is not a person, because personhood is a lot more than a collection of chromosomes in a Petri dish or in the womb. To most Americans--including me--it is also gut-check self-evident that an unborn baby is mighty like one of us, and that a lot of fast talking about reproductive rights and choice or a woman's mental well being, doesn't answer the horror of a three-pound child with her head deliberately caved in lying in a medical waste receptacle.
Perception is reality in politics, maybe in ethics too. And to many Americans the Democrats, at least in perception, adopted an absolutist pro-choice platform, guaranteed to alienate many reasonable and compassionate people who would otherwise allow some abortions and be on the Democrat's side on almost all the other issues of the day from gay rights to stopping the Iraq war.
It seems to me that there will always be a need for some abortions to terminate pregnancies gone wrong. But this is no small thing. Compassion has to cut both ways. Sometimes compassion for the innocent means saying no to a couple that wants to abort their child because their 20 week unborn daughter is going to need surgery to correct a hair lip and they want a "perfect" designer baby. Sometimes compassion means saying yes to a thirteen-year-old who has been molested or raped. Whatever her fundamentalist parents want she must have the right to an abortion.
What I don't want to live in is a culture that makes sweeping and dismissive secular or religious "theological" one-size-fits-all decisions like Roe that oversimplify complex scientific, moral and political issues. And I am-as polls show-in the majority. It is this majority that the Democratic Party is once again flouting this year, a year that should, and would, otherwise be a romp.
If Obama loses, it will be a tragic continuation of the abortion debate by other means. Reverse Roe and most abortions will still be legal. Keep it and risk watching Progressives marginalized for generations to come, even if Obama wins.
Frank Schaeffer is the author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.