Don’t look now, but another
anti-abortion myth was put to bed in this election.
The defeat of state anti-abortion
ballot measures marks the buckling of an underlying girder of the anti-abortion
movement. For years, anti-abortion adherents have insisted that
the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly took the matter of abortion out of the
hands of the voters in 1973 with the decision in Roe v. Wade
and, willy-nilly, imposed the right to choose on an unwilling public.
Frederica Mathewes-Green, a
former vice-president of Feminists for Life and a well-known anti-abortion
writer and speaker, lays out this view in the 2007 documentary, Beyond the Politics
of Life & Choice: A New Conversation About Abortion.
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The problem with
Roe v. Wade was that the people had no chance to vote. Nine
men in black robes decided what the law of the land was going to be.
Americans had no opportunity to speak on this and to say how they felt
about abortion, what they thought the laws ought to be. We’ve
never had a chance to say what our convictions are.
In 2008, the people did have
an opportunity to speak, and their convictions aren’t with Mathewes-Green.
The conviction of the voters is the that abortion should be available
and legal. They said that in Colorado, where a state ballot measure
could have resulted in banning all abortion, and in South Dakota, where
a ballot measure would have criminalized most abortions.
South Dakota rejected an abortion
ban this November by a double-digit spread with 55 percent against it
to 44 percent in favor. This is a state that tossed its electoral
college votes to Republican John McCain. In 2006, the South Dakota
voters spoke their convictions in almost exactly the same way and with
the same voting margin when confronted with a more restrictive ban.
Adding limited exceptions in 2008 did nothing to change their views.
In fact, the 2008 ballot measure would have made abortion about as available
in South Dakota as it was in Texas when its law was challenged in
Roe, and the voters in South Dakota still said no.
In Colorado, where I traveled
in the fall with performances of the play Words of Choice, voters
could hear Kristi Burton, spokeswoman for the antiabortion "personhood"
amendment, argue her case on a video opinion-editorial. Burton said, enthusiastically,
that the ballot amendment "lets us tell our elected officials and
judges who we think a person is … We want to have a voice on it and
it’s time to give the people of Colorado a voice."
The voice of the people of
Colorado came though loud and clear. By a margin of three to one,
they shouted: they don’t agree with Burton and they don’t want to
turn back the clock. The vote — 73 percent against the measure
to 27 percent for it — is not so different from the percentages of
men in black robes on the Supreme Court who tossed out the Texas law
by a vote of 7 to 2 in Roe.
But don’t count on anti-abortion
activists to admit the crash of their long-parroted sentiment.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg found the perfect term for this type of
linguistic and intellectual bob-and-weave in 2007. She described another prolife myth — that women
who have abortions come to regret them — as "an antiabortion
shibboleth" for which there is "no reliable evidence."
In fact, the word "shibboleth," rooted in Hebrew, means a saying used by "adherents" that
is "empty of real meaning."
A "shibbolet watch" might
be in order to keep the "Roe usurped the will of the people"
argument from rearing again. Some anti-abortion forces seem intent
on ignoring the "real meaning" of the election. Colorado anti-abortion
adherents declared immediately that they will continue to push their
amendment in other states.
They will do so, they said, "regardless of polls or winning or losing
elections." So much for the "voice" of the voters.