The Washington Time National Weekly Edition
27 Feb-05 Mar, 1995 page 29
COMMENTARY - TRAPPED IN A MORAL DILEMMA
By Suzanne Fields
It's now arguable that welfare for unmarried teen-age girls has made it easier for them to get pregnant.
Abortion also makes it easier for young women to engage in casual sexual relations, for young men to abandon them to abortion.
Abortion has become one of the most divisive words in the nation's vocabulary. It was not always so.
Before Roe vs. Wade, abortion was spoken of mostly in whispers, usually introducing the fear of both God and government. Visual images of an abortion were absent. Abortion was too rare, too remote for most of us to consider or confront. Legalization changed all that, creating repetitious pictures of what we'd rather not look at. Soaring rates of abortion cheapen the fundamental issues of life and birth. The moral inhibition which disallowed abortion except for certain mental and physical exceptions, was reduced to commonplace surgery which makes the moral the exception. Abortions late in a pregnancy, legal or not, contribute to sadness, horror and outrage.
In the 1950s, women who had abortions were afraid of the moral stigma, what it said about them both as sexual and moral beings. The memories of it recalled both physical and emotional pain. Women also worried about how an abortion would affect a future pregnancy. Once a discussion of abortion got started, there was always a story about a woman, usually married, often a distant cousin or emotionally troubled aunt who died from one because the abortion was the work of a butcher. In those days in Washington, where I grew up, it was inconceivable, as it were, that if abortion were ever legal that in a single year there would be more abortions than live births. But it's happened.
Numbers do change perspectives, despite the Clinton administration's defense of Dr. Henry W. Foster, the Nashville Tenn., obstetrician nominated to be surgeon general. The White House initially was satisfied when it was thought that Dr. Foster had performed only one abortion. The White House was even prepared to defend a dozen. But even defenders of legal abortions become squeamish when talking about 39 or 700.
Such numbers neuter the vocabulary. Instead of talking about right and wrong, politicians on both sides of the issue begin to discuss the nomination of Dr. Foster as "appropriate" or "inappropriate" — at worst, "politically stupid," at best, "politically naive." Even those who want to fight for the doctor emphasize that while they like him, they also "abhor abortion."
The social conservatives, it seems to me, benefit from this controversy because it makes the case for how awful abortion really is, strengthening the moral, if not necessarily the legal arguments against it. Discrimination and discernment are added to the polling statistics that 75 percent of us support abortion. Conservatives get an opportunity to express "tolerance" for debate.
Republicans shouldn't want to show the intolerance the Democrats exhibited toward Robert Casey, then-governor of Pennsylvania, at their 1992 convention when he was not allowed to speak because he, opposing abortion, wouldn't say the approved thing. Since Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land, debate and argument might refine the moral and the legal for everyone.
That's why conservatives are winning on this issue. Abortion is legal, but the states are more or less free to place restrictions on it. The will of the people can work closer to home where distinctions can be more closely drawn.
Harder to "refine" is the message we send to the young. It's now arguable that welfare for unmarried teen-age girls has made it easier for them to get pregnant. A corollary is that abortion also makes it easier for young women to engage in casual sexual relations, for young men to abandon them to abortion.
Thus the painful—and unnecessary—contradiction of the appointment to surgeon general of an abortionist who preaches abstinence. For all the undoubted good he has done, he cannot be the man for the position this has become.
What he could do in Tennessee, with a small program pushing abstinence, is impossible when magnified on the larger national screen. His message is easily lost in the moral blur of abhorrence become acceptance.
That makes him a dismally ineffective candidate.
Suzanne Fields, a columnist for The Washington Times, is nationally syndicated.