Talking Points

The next Prohibition

It was the culmination of a decades-long movement fueled by religious fervor. In 1919, an America with a fondness for drink nonetheless adopted a constitutional amendment banning the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." Prohibition immediately divided the country, and gave rise to sophisticated bootleg operations, smuggling, speakeasies, and the growth of organized crime. With public support waning after 13 tumultuous years, Congress abandoned the great dry experiment in 1933. It was not the first, nor the last, time governments have failed to prohibit a substance or behavior for which there is great public demand. When there is a want, there is always a way.

Banning abortion will be even more difficult than booze. Abortion will remain legal in roughly half the states, and state borders are permeable. Medications that induce safe abortions at home are easily obtained through the mail. And instead of whiskey, drugs, or guns, states will be trying to police women's uteruses, which are inconveniently located inside their bodies. As history shows, women with unwanted pregnancies will do whatever is necessary to end them, even at the risk of their lives. So to dramatically reduce abortion, this Prohibition must stop women from having unwanted pregnancies — which means stopping them from having sex. That is indeed the goal of many evangelicals and Catholics in the right-to-life movement, who believe that the only legitimate sexual expression is between a married heterosexual couple not using birth control. All else is sin. In National Review, pro-life campaigner Alexandra Desanctis helpfully explains that in the view of the movement (and that of five Supreme Court justices), no woman will be "forced to give birth." That's because there is no "fundamental right" to have "sex without consequences," Desanctis says. Once a (bad) woman has sex, she has surrendered her choice. The past is the future.

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.