Cardella: Be Careful What You Wish For

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If the leaked Supreme Court document winds up as the final decision, Roe v. Wade is dead. And while the right wing is rejoicing in victory at the moment, their joy may turn out to be short-lived. What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the end of conservative extremism in this country.

The unspoken truth is that the far right is a minority in America. A noisy politically-motivated minority. Its strength is rooted not in numbers, but in emotional intensity. The impetus of that intensity is the pro-life movement. Poll after poll shows Americans favor restrictions on abortion, but want limited abortion as an option. Seventy percent of all Americans do not want Roe v. Wade to be abolished. A majority in all 50 states want Roe to continue … even in the South. If the Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the Southern states stand ready to eliminate all abortions. No exceptions, perhaps even in the cases of rape or incest. If and when that happens, the motivation — the intense energy — will transfer to the majority of folks who want to keep abortion legal.

The timing couldn’t be worse for conservatives. Here, in Pennsylvania, the primary is next week. I expect Democratic turnout to be buoyed by anger toward the Alito draft. Look for that same dynamic across the country as primaries occur.  And if the Supreme Court does indeed overturn Roe v. Wade, there’ll be a huge turnout of Democrats in the midterms. There is also a fear that outlawing abortion is only the first step on the agenda of the Christian Right. Will a ban on abortion embolden them with the help of a conservative Supreme Court to overturn same-sex marriage? Such a move would perhaps have worse repercussions than prohibiting abortions. Imagine the emotional and legal mischief that could be caused by canceling the marriages of so many gay Americans? Will contraceptives be banned? All of these factors come into play in energizing those who wish to protect a woman’s right to choose.

As it is, a ban on abortions will likely divide us further as Americans. The Northern states and those on the west coast will likely move to codify the right to a legal abortion. While the South, which has already severely restricted legalized abortion, will likely move to ban abortion outright. And whom will it affect?

Maybe we should look at whom such a ban won’t affect. You and I and the rest of us who live in the North probably won’t be affected at all. Neither will most middle- and upper-class families in the South. Women there will likely be able to travel across state lines to have a medically safe abortion. Some employers will step in and help their female employees. For instance, Amazon has reportedly already stated that it will offer up to $4,000 in travel expenses if one of their employees is in need of an abortion. I would expect Disney and other large corporations to follow suit. But not everyone works for a beneficent employer. Not everyone is economically in the middle class or upper class. And so, as with a lot of onerous burdens, the ban will fall on the poor. The poor will need to find a back-alley abortionist to replace safe clinics and professional doctors. Maybe you feel morally righteous about that. I find it morally repugnant.

The right to a legal abortion is not about one side favoring life and one side favoring abortion. The folks that I know who are pro-choice hate abortion as much as the pro-lifers. Abortion is not a method of birth control. I don’t know of anyone who believes that it should be.

The debate is not about a woman’s health. Abortions today are among the safest of medical procedures. It’s not about whether you like babies or don’t like babies. It’s not about late-term abortions that for the most part are only used in dire emergencies to save a woman’s life.

The real debate is about who should have the right to decide whether to have a baby – the pregnant woman or the government. You can’t call yourself a conservative who claims to be for limited government and be in favor of the government making that most personal decision you’ll ever face.

I respect the religious beliefs of other Americans, but I don’t want your beliefs to be made into law. I think you feel the same way about mine. This is a diverse country. Not a Christian country or a Jewish country. Not a Muslim country. We’re a mélange of a whole bunch of religious and non-religious people. The only way this crazy quilt country can survive is without a national religion.

At the root of the pro-life movement is a religious belief that at the moment the egg is fertilized inside the womb of a woman — at that very moment — a soul is present. That is the religious belief of some groups — maybe lots of groups — but it’s not a basis for making secular law. It is not the stuff that a Supreme Court decision should be deciding for all of us. It is not the stuff upon which you should be overturning 50 years of precedent. Or a basis for lying in your confirmation hearings or in personal meetings with members of Congress about whether you would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Let this be a lesson to the laziness on the part of those who would protect a woman’s right to choose. Roe v. Wade was a constitutional stretch in the first place. We’ve known for years that there was a likelihood a conservative court would overturn it and the protections in Roe v. Wade needed to be codified into law by the Congress. Yet we relaxed our guard. Even after Trump appointed three conservative Supreme Court judges, we slept the sleep of the self-satisfied.

And now reality has bitten us. While overturning Roe v. Wade will shift the political advantage to the pro-choice movement, make no mistake about the dark day it also represents for the rights of women. Desperation is at the door. Self-pity is the emotion of the day. Options are limited. Time has all but run out. If it weren’t that we failed our women, I’d be tempted to say we deserve our fate.