Pennsylvania House of Representatives Official Portrait of Representative Brian Sims ; Pro-life supporters rally in Washington, D.C., 2018. (Shutterstock/Rena Schild)
There's no middle road. Very soon, either pro-lifers or pro-choicers will suffer a devastating loss.
I've written quite a few pieces for TAC bemoaning the transformation of the public square into an irradiated no-man's-land flanked by a pair of armed camps. Usually, I end with an appeal to shared values and a plea for civil public discourse. But the more the debate surrounding the recent wave of anti-abortion bills heats up, the more convinced I become that, on this issue, compromise is impossible.
Both sides seem to agree on that point.
During his two terms as president, Bill Clinton tried to strike a middle ground by advocating for "safe, legal, and rare" abortion, and the Christian Right didn't go for it. Why would they? If abortion really is killing a baby, then there's no Aristotelian golden mean between killing a lot of babies and killing no babies.
As the now-disgraced Louis C.K. put it in a 2016 stand-up routine, "[Abortion is] either taking a s**t or it's killing a baby. It's only one of those two things. It's no other things. So if you didn't like hearing that it's like taking a s**t, you think it's like killing a baby. That's the only other [opinion] you get to have." For anyone who holds the latter opinion, the idea of compromise is unthinkable.
Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called Georgia's "heartbeat bill," which could ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, a "backdoor ban" because, at that early stage, most women don't even know they're pregnant. She's right. The legislators who voted for that law (and similar initiatives in Ohio, Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi) believe that life begins at conception. Their goal is to ban as many abortions as possible using whatever legislative tactics they think will be effective.
Pro-life activists often criticize pro-choicers for their extremism (such as when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam expressed his approval for killing unwanted babies that had been delivered alive), but the pro-choicers at least had an extreme fringe towards which to move. The pro-life movement, with its uncompromising call to protect all life from the moment of conception, has always been extreme, and justifiably so.
For a while, pro-choicers seemed confident that such "backward" beliefs were destined for the ash heap of history. But with Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, Donald Trump in office, and a slew of Republican-controlled state legislatures setting their sights directly on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, victory no longer seems quite as certain. The pro-choicers are afraid, and it shows.
Last week, a pair of viral videos surfaced showing Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims harassing and attempting to dox an old woman and a trio of teenagers who were peacefully protesting outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia. Sims called the protestors "racist[s]" and "pseudo-Christians," and seemed to take pride in his lack of civility. "They bank on us being quiet. They bank on us caring more about decorum than we do about righteous indignation.... This [harassment] is what they deserve, and this is what they need. Every single time any of us walk by something like this, we're letting them win.... This is disgusting. This isn't Christianity," Sims said.
One journalist on Twitter put it even more succinctly: "I don't care if your anti-abortion friend makes good cookies, always remembers how you take your tea, gets a haircut every 6-8 weeks or really nails the tenor line in choir. They're not a good person."
In response to Georgia's "heartbeat bill," several film production companies announced a boycott of the state, and the ever-#relevant Alyssa Milano called for a #SexStrike (which, I imagine, will only hurt men who are already pro-choice since no pro-life man would ever date or marry the sort of woman who would go along with this nonsense, but never mind).
Feminists, their heads stuffed with images from The Handmaid's Tale, falsely claimed that Georgia's law would make miscarriage a criminal offense and imprison women who sought abortions. Both sides have mostly refrained from violence so far, but otherwise all options seem to be on the table.
The clear intention of the pro-choice movement in the United States today is to demonize pro-lifers and drive them from the public square. And as the threat to Roe v. Wade intensifies, so will the antagonism towards anyone who refuses to endorse unrestricted abortion on demand as a positive good for society.
So the race is on. The pro-lifers are using every trick in the book to overturn Roe v. Wade and achieve their goals through judicial fiat before they're pushed to the fringes of a leftward-moving society. The pro-choicers are scrambling to seize the moral high ground, make opposition to abortion unthinkable, and lay the foundation for a stalwart resistance movement should the legal battle go ill for them. Pro-lifers likely won't get a better opportunity to ban abortion than the one they have right now. If the Supreme Court refuses to consider any of the heartbeat laws or upholds Roe, the Christian Right's entire raison d'être will collapse, and there will be nothing left to do but embrace the Benedict Option and prepare for a long exile. If the Court overturns Roe, there will almost certainly be violence from the Left, and this country will suffer a tear in its national fabric the likes of which we haven't seen since the Civil War.
Over the next four years (possibly the next few months), one side or the other is going to lose very badly. All the years between 1973 and now may well have been leading up to this moment. To quote a small independent film that a few of you might have seen: "We're in the endgame now."
Grayson Quay is a freelance writer and M.A. at Georgetown University.
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