Do We Have To Talk About Abortion? (Yeah, I Guess)

One of the great things about working at Slack Tide is that we have a lean masthead  – I’m it.  Not only does this cut down on HR complaints and tedious editorial meetings, but if I don’t wish to write about a subject that everybody else is writing about, it’s usually as simple as having a heart-to-heart with my assignment editor (myself), who gives me permission to skip it, before we adjourn and go fishing.

Nothing makes me want skip it and go fishing more than the subject of abortion.  I have never done a reader survey here, but I’ll venture a guess that roughly 100 percent of you didn’t subscribe to this site to be subject to my thoughts on abortion policy. And in my experience, there’s no faster way to clear out a roomful of friends, enemies, or paying customers than to bring up the A-word, since everybody is convinced of their own righteousness, whichever way they lean, and has been since God was in short pants.  I have had spirited abortion debates in the past.  I consider myself a semi-convincing person when I get a full head of steam and/or tankard of Jesus Juice in me. Not to mention, when I whip out sonogram pictures (if you’re not into science denial).  And yet, I don’t recall ever changing a single mind, for whatever that’s worth.  Neither will I even attempt to, now.

Cards on the table to readers of all persuasions: I’m pro-life. There, I said it. My libertarian instincts make me wince at the government ever telling anybody what they must or mustn’t do with their bodies.  But of course, when what someone wants to do with their body affects another body, even if it is one that lies in various stages of embryonic development on the dark side of the birth canal, well, that muddies the picture considerably.

I won’t recap the entire overturning Roe v. Wade draft opinion leakage controversy. You can read about it literally everywhere else.  Here’s the Politico piece that kicked it all off. Here’s a contrarian examination of the ins-and-outs of the leakage itself by my old friend Jack Shafer.  (Spoiler: Jack’s an old-school journalist, and so, is always pro-leaking.)  Neither do I feel it necessary to elucidate how I think that wherever you stand on abortion, Roe v. Wade is and always was bad, extra-constitutional legislating from the bench. (Abortion is never mentioned in the Constitution, and I have a lot of pro-choice company in holding that Roe v. Wade is jurisprudential dog-turdery .)

The bottom line, of course, is that if Samuel Alito’s draft opinion and the preliminary justices headcount is a true indication of where the court will land (and as of this writing, there’s no evidence that it isn’t), Roe doesn’t look to be long for this world.  This will not ban abortion outright, but will remand the issue back to the states, where, according to the New York Times, 13 states have existing trigger laws that would ban abortion immediately or quickly, five states have a pre-Roe abortion ban that could be enforced again, and 14 states might restrict abortion to 22 weeks or earlier.  For the abortion-sky-is-falling types, it might be worth noting that the NYT, citing pro-choice researchers, estimates this will only represent around a 13 percent reduction in legal abortion, which hardly represents abortion extinction. Though if you’re committed to abortion rights, and are in the Biden administration, you might want to start whittling those gas prices down now, since plenty of women will be driving a lot further to get one. And if you’re a Chinese developer, hellbent on buying up America’s burgeoning hot properties, you might want to start snatching up our back-alley real estate, stat.

Not to be glib about abortion. It’s pretty serious business –  literally, life and death.  Which is why this new development turned my thoughts to an old profile subject of mine, Randall Terry.  Almost exactly a decade ago, when I was still at The Weekly Standard, I did a lengthy profile of Terry, who was then in the middle of an election caper too complicated to recount here, but who was once known as America’s foremost pro-life agitator, having headed Operation Rescue.  He’d led a movement that saw 70,000 arrests in abortion protests in what were, up until that time, the largest civil disobedience efforts since the civil rights protests of the sixties.

Terry was always a cross between an angry Old Testament prophet and a rodeo clown/court jester.  His enemies – he had them on both sides – accused him of many things, but never of being too subtle. You won’t find Randall referring to abortion services as “reproductive health.” He calls it “child killing.” In protest of what he regards as millions being slaughtered, he might chain himself to an abortion clinic sink, or dump a pile of bloody baby dolls in Nancy Pelosi’s office. As a hobbyist musician, he might perform pro-life songs of his own composition, such as “Crying for You Baby,” sung in the style of his musical hero, Barry Manilow.

Why, just a few weeks ago, after progressive anti-abortion activists (yes, there are some)  were indicted for a former protest, shortly after revealing they’d recently recovered 115 aborted fetuses from a medical-waste company driver  - with several of the babies appearing to be very late-term and viable - there was Randall shepherding them through the media circus.  And just the other night, after the Roe v. Wade news broke, there was Randall in front of the Supreme Court, getting his glasses literally punched off his face by an angry pro-choice activist, while hauling around his ukulele, and singing another of his songs, “We’re Gonna Dance on the Grave of Roe Vs. Wade.” Sample lyric: Baby don’t cry/ You’re not gonna die / Abortion will/ Be a crime.  You can watch Randall get punched here.  (Scroll to the 1:15 mark.)

Bottom line? Randall’s not everyone’s speed. He’s probably not yours, even if you’re pro-life. But I’ve always had grudging respect for him, and not  just because I have a soft spot for eccentric screwballs. (He once filmed a music video featuring a firing squad in Obama masks executing baby dolls with paintball guns to the strains of Alice Cooper’s “Dead Babies.”)  But because Randall puts his money where his mouth is:  another time, he not only talked a prostitute out of having an abortion in front of an abortion clinic, but he later adopted two of her children.  Love him or hate him, but the guy lives his gig.

And because he takes abortion as seriously as the rest of us often only pretend to, he frequently asks hard and uncomfortable questions.  Which brings us to today’s discussion thread.  I should note here that I just conducted  a discussion thread  in my very last piece (on Elon Musk and Twitter), and didn’t mean to repeat another right away. However, this subject is practically begging to be one. The last time, a major high-traffic aggregator generously picked us up, and so a lot of angry strangers who were itching for war came over the wall and entered our comments section, and they wanted nothing more than to turn the dump over. I had to play bouncer for about three days straight, instead of just moderating the thoughtful  commenters that usually peacefully coexist here, even in disagreement.  That won’t happen this time. If anyone gets abusive, even though I’m pro-life, I’ll abort them straightaway. And if many break the rules, I’ll  slap a lock on this piece for paid subscribers only, which usually clears up any problems.  So there’s no need for people with good manners to cower in fear, whichever side of the ball you’re on. Even if you disagree with me, I want you here.

Some conversation starters for my pro-choice readers: If abortion isn’t taking a life, what is it taking? And if it is taking life, doesn’t the right to live enjoy primacy over all other rights, no matter how inconvenient or tragic the story of the person who feels the need to have an abortion? (When women feel the need to abort, they are usually not happy stories, admittedly.)  If it’s just a mass of tissue, and not a child, why did Joe Biden call it the latter?  Why do we have the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which recognizes a fetus or embryo in utero as a legal victim if they are injured or killed during the commission of over 60 federal crimes, but we don’t regard deliberately killing a child in utero as a crime in itself, so long as the parent wishes it to cease to exist?

For readers generally:  What are the ramifications of Roe V. Wade getting overturned?  Does leaking a draft opinion portend the unrepentant politicization of the Supreme Court? Is collegiality over, and will everyone on the court have to watch their backs now?  Is this an overreach by the court, and will conservative politicians overreach even more by trying to legislate abortion out of existence?  Did conservatives just hand liberals a midterm elections gift, since a majority of the country, according to polls, doesn’t want to see Roe V. Wade overturned?

For my  pro-life readers, here,  I’m handing the mic over to Randall Terry, who I asked to jot down some hard questions for those who say they want to make abortion illegal, but who often give short shrift to what it will actually mean for a society in which all those unwanted children might be born.  Randall:

If you are really pro-life, would you be willing to sponsor or raise the money for an unwed pregnant teen; would you take a teen into your home – who then becomes a new teen mom? Would you take in a pregnant mother in distress, and provide her a place to stay before and after she has her baby – with or without government help – to help get and keep her on her feet? Or would that be too much inconvenient work?  If we, in effect, compel pregnant women to carry their babies to term, what are we willing to do to see that the mom and child are not trapped in ignorance and poverty – the horrific twins of Scrooge’s nightmare? How dirty are you willing for your hands to get? How much mercy are you willing to show, and how much sacrifice are you willing to give, to help that mom and child?  What personal sacrifice of time, money, comfort, and above all, reputation, am I willing to give? What am I willing to endure to not only make child-killing illegal, but to help the moms and children in meaningful ways if the full fruit of a political victory is realized?

I readily admit that there is something here to offend everyone. Don’t take it personally. It’s what the country is facing, and as much as I’d like to blow it all off and go fishing, we must, to some degree, face it as well.  Feel free to answer my/Randall’s questions, or ignore them while going off on your own tangents. All that’s required for you to participate is that you be respectful of others, even while being pointed, and don’t hurt anybody. I will be a ruthless enforcer on that front, whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice or undecided. The world’s all stocked up on hatred, and I don’t want any more of that in my sanctuary. So be gracious, no matter what’s being discussed. Graciousness is the only bridge over irreconcilable differences.

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