Abortion: Will the Alabama law backfire?
Alabama’s extreme new abortion law “is the most damaging development to the pro-life movement in decades,” said Jonathan Last in TheBulwark.com. Brimming with confidence that the Supreme Court’s new solidly conservative majority is primed to overturn Roe v. Wade, Alabama legislators have passed a bill that bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy—with no exemptions for rape and incest. Doctors who participate in abortions could be sentenced to 99 years in prison. “Planned Parenthood couldn’t have designed a better weapon in their wildest dreams.” Most Americans favor some restrictions on abortion, but only about 20 percent want to see abortion outlawed altogether. The idea of forcing 13-year-olds raped by their fathers to give birth is even more toxic. The Alabama bill will erode the steady ground pro-lifers have gained in recent years in changing public opinion; it will hang like an albatross around the necks of Republicans running for office, while driving pro-choice fundraising and turnout. And for what? The law will be overturned in federal courts and the Supreme Court will decline to reverse them, because supporting such an extreme, nakedly partisan piece of legislation would destroy what’s left of the court’s reputation. In the end, the Alabama bill “will not prevent a single abortion.”
“Alabama Republicans simply took the anti-abortion movement at its word,” said Sarah Jones in NYMag.com. Abortion opponents may be divided on tactics, but they agree on the basic premise: Every abortion, at every stage, “kills a person.” If you really believe that abortion is child murder, it follows that rape survivors should be forced to carry their rapist’s baby to term. The Alabama bill should serve as a wakeup call for the pro-choice movement. For decades, pro-choice women who’ve sounded the alarm about “the steady, merciless, and punitive erosion of reproductive rights” were dismissed as “silly hysterics,” said Rebecca Traister in The Cut.com. Comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale were mocked. Now we see what our Republican adversaries intend: Reversing Roe v. Wade, asserting power over women’s bodies and sex lives, and compelling us to give birth no matter what the circumstances. “It is terrifying,” and the fight for our privacy and self-determination “is going to last the rest of our lives.”
The government has a right and an interest in protecting unborn children, said Georgi Boorman and James Silberman in The Federalist.com. Abortion is an act of murder that must be completely abolished, and for that reason, the Alabama bill doesn’t go far enough. The law punishes doctors with up to 99 years in prison, but with no consequences for mothers who seek out an abortion. This is “misguided, and deeply immoral.” A growing number of women are ordering abortion medications online, and “do it yourself” abortions will become increasingly common if clinics are closed. The only way to reduce self-abortions is to impose homicide charges on any mother or father who participates in one. That kind of extremism only undermines the pro-life cause, said Ramesh Ponnuru in NationalReview.com. I agree that abortion should ultimately be eradicated. “But our moral obligation is to combat it as effectively and intelligently as we know how.” The pro-life movement has made incredible strides over the past few decades by “pursuing modest restrictions while also making the case for full protections for unborn children.” Alienating half the country for the sake of moral purity risks all of that.
We desperately need to have a more honest debate about abortion, said E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post. President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have already distanced themselves from the Alabama bill, saying there should be exceptions for rape and incest. “Can they really think abortion is murder if they believe it’s OK some of the time?” Of course not. At the same time, pro-choicers should respect the belief of right-to-lifers that a fetus is not a mere clump of cells, and that abortion is a “matter of overwhelming moral importance.” A healthier dialogue on abortion would recognize “the ethical commitments of both sides.” Most Americans stand in “the muddled middle,” said the New York Post in an editorial. “They’re repelled by the idea of a woman being sent to prison for a first-trimester abortion,” and by requiring a teenage rape or incest victim to give birth; they also are repelled by abortions in the third trimester, which New York State recently made easier to get. Extreme laws in either direction will bring backlashes. Purists will never stop crusading for total victory, but “compromise, even on so basic a question, is going to carry the day.” ■