The Abortion Debate is Back. Why, exactly?

Women holding protest signs in front of Supreme Court building

No, this isn’t another post about the heated topic of abortion. It’s about the secret plan to make sure that we never resolve the issue.

My body, my choice.
Jesus is Pro-Life!
Against Abortion? Don’t have one!
Everyone who supports abortion has already been born.

The slogans are out again.

The confirmation hearing and upcoming vote of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has once again awakened the barely-slumbering abortion debate in America.

Haven’t we already fought this fight? Haven’t we decided the matter? Isn’t Roe v. Wade “settled law”? The majority of Americans favor access to abortion in certain circumstances. So how do we find ourselves once again on the brink of forcing desperate women into dangerous situations, well into the 21st Century, in the United States of America? We keep going around and around, with the two opposing sides of the “debate” firmly rooted in their respective corners, refusing to move, refusing to talk to each other, refusing to look at the nuances of a very complex situation. But never getting anywhere.

It’s almost as though no one really wants to solve this problem. If it seems that way it’s because they don’t. What they want is for you to continue thinking about it in black and white terms. Making clever signs. Putting bumper stickers on your cars. Praying about it. Fighting about it. Yelling, marching, and protesting about it. But most of all voting about it.

What they don’t want is for you to think critically about it.

To understand what’s going on, first you must understand who the “they” is. Who gains by keeping Americans locked into this dysfunctional dialog? Special interests and political donors do. And not the ones who care about the abortion debate either. Mostly just the ones who want you to vote for one party or the other. And how do they benefit? By ensuring that voters are charged up enough about the issue to make it to the polls on election day.

To accomplish this, the two major parties in this country have divided themselves into two distinct camps: Republicans are “Pro-Life” and Democrats are “Pro-Choice.” There used to be some room for dissenting opinions on this issue, but over the last few decades both parties have become less and less tolerant of candidates and office-holders who stray from their party line. (Currently Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are the only Republican Senators who support abortion rights. On the other side of the aisle Joe Manchin (West Virginia) Joe Donnelly (Indiana) and Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) are the only Democratic Senators who are Pro-Life.) That’s because dissent on this issue thwarts their strategy.

Party leaders and their consultants have divided the abortion issue itself into two distinct narratives even though neither narrative accurately describes the complexity of the situation, and neither approach moves us any closer to what ought to be the ultimate goal: fewer unwanted pregnancies resulting in fewer but safe abortions. Then using inflammatory language and images, allies in church pulpits, outrageous lies and misinformation, and women’s very personal and often traumatic stories, they force voters to sort themselves into the two camps.

Why do they use this issue to drive a wedge between voters? The issue of abortion is tried and true. It brings voters to the polls. That’s because it’s easy to understand. Unlike tariffs, bank deregulation, or the pros and cons of an American Embassy in Jerusalem, most people have at least some understanding of babies. All of us were babies at one time, after all. And many of us have at least seen, if not held, or actually had one. And abortion is an extremely emotional issue: there’s no question that terminating a pregnancy is a huge deal. So is the idea of having to go through a pregnancy and give birth to and potentially raise a child that you don’t want or aren’t ready for. It’s not difficult to see why emotions run so high around this issue. And that makes it a perfect tool with which to manipulate us.

To certain Americans, the issue of abortion is the single issue that brings them to the polls at every election. These single-issue voters are the life-blood of both parties, but especially in this case the Republican Party. This is how so many people who might never have been willing to vote for a thrice-married pussy-grabbing bankrupt New York heathen turned out and voted for Donald Trump. Because the Republican scare mongers promised Pro-Life (particularly Evangelicals and practicing Catholic) voters that he would be the one to save the babies by nominating someone to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade. And that is exactly what he has done.

In truth, Republican party leaders don’t really care that much about preventing abortion per se. (They know that regardless of the state of the law on abortion, they will have access to the procedure if the need arises). What those law-makers really care about is being re-elected to office so that they can pass tax cuts for the rich and deregulation for big business. Because that’s what their big donors want.

The donors pay for the ads that scare voters and get them to the polls. The voters vote for candidates who embrace the Pro-Life label. And the candidates (now elected law-makers) enact laws that benefit their donors. It’s the circle of [Pro] life. The Senate packs the lower courts with Pro-Life judges, and every now and again a Supreme Court Justice dies or retires and amid much fanfare and tumult presidents nominate judges who deliver on their party’s campaign promises. At no point in the process, though, do law-makers spend much time enacting laws that benefit the day-to-day lives of voters.

Abortion isn’t the only issue parties use to motivate voters. There are others: the Second Amendment is another issue that motivates Republican voters. So is immigration. The Democratic Party tends to use so-called identity politics to motivate its base: gay rights and marriage equality, diversity, and so forth. Both parties do it. And they will continue to do it as long as it works. That’s why we need to put a stop to it.

It’s important for you to recognize the way the current political atmosphere uses our emotions to manipulate our political loyalties and our vote. That’s the first step in wresting control of our government from the political consultants and party operatives who are constantly at work trying to find ways to motivate you: not by doing work that benefits you, but by making sure you are incensed or scared enough to vote. Once you see the ways you are being manipulated you can begin to assess candidates beyond their single issue bullet points. And you can examine their record to determine whether they really have your best interests at heart. Will they really be thinking about your job? Your paycheck? Access to health care? A fair tax structure? Clean air and drinking water? Good schools? Or will they just be doing the bidding of those big donors who pay for the ads that get you to the polls.

I’m not saying that the issue of abortion isn’t important. It is. What I am saying is that after 45 years of fighting about it, we’re no closer to solving it or any of the other important issues facing this country. And understanding the way we’re being manipulated is the first step to rebuilding a government that works for us.

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