PARTING SHOT

ABORTION: THE NEVER-ENDING STRUGGLE

Arecent article in The National Interest has Washington pundits up in arms overII something called “The End of History.”With glasnost apparently bringing athaw to the Cold War, the author argues, we may be seeing the end of the great moral struggles with the Soviets that have shaped our history since World War II. That may leave us with a safer but duller world in which there is little left to fight about, a world drained of much of its drama.

Well, maybe not. I think I just heard the bell for round two.

Whether or not Governor Bill Clements adds abortion to the agenda of the November special session, it’s almost inevitable that Texas, along with many other states, will be an abortion battleground in the spring primaries and next fall’s general election. You know something’s up when political pros can be heard predicting the destruction of both political parties over abortion.

Now don’t start celebrating yet. Destruction may be too strong a word. But serious damage? Very likely. Consider how these voting groups may alter the post-Webster political landscape:

Affluent moderate Republicans, those attracted to the party not by the hard-right “social agenda” (abortion, prayer in schools, etc.) but by GOP economic policies. A Libertarian friend of mine, a man so ideologically pure that he seldom deigns to vote, is smacking his lips, predicting massive defections of these voters if the Republican Party is forced to give more than lip service to its platform rhetoric: “The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life that cannot be infringed.”

He could be right. For a decade Reagan and then Bush held the GOP together with an elaborate balancing act: they promised the anti-abortion right everything, and gave them very little once in office. This placated the fundamentalists, who after all were not about to vote for Mondale or Dukakis and so had nowhere else to go. Wooing them, GOP candidates could cluck sympathetically or bluster over abortion, but Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, (Gee, folks, I’d just love to get up there and bash those godless abortionists, but my hands are tied by the Supreme Court.) Young, well-educatedRepublicans, who don’t cotton to government interference in matters of morality, were kept on the reservation by GOP economic gains. As long as abortion rights were safeguarded by Roe, they could lie down in relative peace with the Bible-thumpers.

Now, with the Webster decision, all that has come unglued. In my friend’s scenario, the Sunbelt suburbanites who have swelled the Republican ranks in the South will now have to decide what they value most: congenial economic policies, or increasing state restrictions on what millions see as a basic right. Can moderate Republicans in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow, thinking of errant daughters who have opted for abortion, pull the lever for a (gulp) pro-choice Democrat? If not, they may stay home, or vote for an anti-abortion Republican and tell themselves it can’t happen here. But it can, especially with help from:

Overconfident, out-organized prochoicers. Don’t be surprised if the first round, in Texas at least, goes to the anti-abortion camp. They’ve been in the fight for years, they’ve got phone banks and mailing lists galore, and they have the most powerful weapon of all: an apocalyptic fervor that secular voters will find hard to match. The issue may play out much like gun control. In races where guns are an issue, both sides fume and snort, exchanging broadsides of statistics and opinion polls. Come election day, the pro-gunners, whipped into a frenzy by the NRA, turn out their people. On the other side, lots of people say, yeah, we sure do need some kind of gun control, but I’ve got to get that garage cleaned and take Rover to the vet.

Believe it: on election day this spring and fall, the anti-choice people will be there to back their candidates for state representative, state senator, and governor. And they can win, especially with help from:

Apathetic blacks and Hispanic Catholics. The recent pathetic turnouts of black voters in Texas, and especially in Dallas, do not suggest that blacks will be galvanized by abortion or any other single issue unless black politicians do a convincing job of tying abortion rights to civil rights. As for the Hispanics, who are by and large Catholics, they have long been queasy over the abortion issue; many will be listening to their priests come election day. Those who sketch the other doomsday scenario, the “death of the Democrats,” always predict the widespread defection of Hispanics. Abortion could be the sword that finally divides them from the party.

So there’s still something to fight about. And that may not be so bad. While the judiciary must always be the guardian of individual liberties, the courts have been used to carry out too much of the progressive agenda, resulting in “judge-made” law that lacks legitimacy for large masses of the American people. Few today openly denounce the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation-though it could be argued that millions have voted with their moving vans against it. But myriad other court rulings expanding the rights of minorities would fall if put to the vote in many states. If freedom of choice is to be the law of this state (as I believe it should be), pro-choicers must not be lulled to sleep by their margins in the opinion polls. Those running for office must declare their stands, pro-choice or anti-choice, then debate the issue and face the voters. The winners will go to Austin and do the will of the majority.

This is a complex and agonizing issue. The opinion polls show the voters are confused, with majorities supporting choice in most cases while at the same time believing that abortion is murder. But murder, by definition. is not a private matter; it is exactly the sort of thing states exist to prevent.

So. Is abortion murder? When does lifebegin? Can a state accept a religiously inspired notion of life’s beginnings withoutviolating the constitutional separation ofchurch and state? These are the thorny questions that Ann Richards, Jim Mattox, JackRains, Kent Hance, and others must answer.We’re waiting.

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