By Don Mohler
Over the years I’ve made it a point to try to avoid discussions regarding abortion. It is far too personal. Individual beliefs on this issue are often rooted deeply in religious convictions, and I’ve never seen anyone change his or her mind at the end of a debate. Recent legislation in Texas makes it difficult to continue to follow that practice. The Supreme Court’s reluctance to intervene makes it impossible to do so.
Texas oh Texas. Why is it always Texas? On January 22,1973 in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the United States Constitution protected a woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion “without excessive government restriction.” The court cited the 14th amendment as providing a right to privacy that protected a woman’s right to make such a decision. But what is often overlooked in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision (a Texas case by the way) is that it was not absolute. The court also stated that the government does have an obligation to protect a woman’s health and to protect “prenatal life.”
The court actually provided guidelines for this balancing act: It prohibited any government intervention during the first trimester of pregnancy. (Keep that in mind while considering the recent Texas legislation.) It stated that health regulations could be imposed during the second trimester. As for the third trimester, the court ruled that abortions could be prohibited if the prohibition included exceptions for the health and safety of the mother. Those guidelines have been in place for five decades, are accepted law, and seen as reasonable by an overwhelming number of Americans.
While public opinion is fluid on many of the challenges facing our nation, the feelings toward abortion remain fairly static: According to the Pew Research Center, “though abortion is a divisive issue, more than half of U.S. adults take a non-absolutist position, saying that in most – but not all – cases, abortion should be legal (34%) or illegal (26%). Fewer take the position that in all cases abortion should be either legal (25%) or illegal (13%).”
More than 77% of evangelical Protestants believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Conversely, more than 80% of those with no religious affiliation believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That position is also shared by 64% of Black Protestants, 63% of non-evangelical White Protestants, and 55% of Catholics.
So what does it all mean? It is clear that a very small percentage of Americans – 13%- support banning abortion in its entirety. Also, the moderate nature of the nation is on display. Half of the country believes that circumstances matter- clearly defined by the court- and that one size might not fit all. That belief is increasing and is likely a reflection of the breakthroughs in medical science. Numerous studies have shown an increase in quality of life and survival for babies born as early as twenty-four weeks. We all know someone who has held an infant in their hands in the NICU. But while that is true, the public understands the nuances of Roe and do not want it replaced with a dystopian Texas approach to a woman’s reproductive rights.
As for Governor Abbot, the Texas legislature, and the 13% who want abortion totally banned, I will take them at their word that they believe that life begins at conception and that any form of abortion is murder. If that is what is in their heart, it would only make sense for them to make abortions illegal. And that is why the rest of us have to be so vigilant. That group likes to say that those of us with a different point of view mock their religious beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t mock them at all. I just don’t think that their beliefs should be imposed on millions of Americans who choose another path. I do wish that their “right to life” mantra would extend to other issues like capital punishment, caring for children at the border, and a commitment to reducing the gun violence epidemic in the nation.
As we’ve seen in Texas, it does not take a majority of the people to move communities toward a very dark place. There is no support in our country to overturn Roe or to impose harsh new restrictions on women making the most difficult decision of their lives. But move in that direction Texas did, with others lining up to follow. This is not a drill. This is real, and it is time for a national wake-up call that must transcend our current tribal divides. The health and safety, and yes, the soul, of our nation is at stake.
Don Mohler is the former Baltimore County Executive and President and CEO of Mohler Communication Strategies. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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