Column: Precedent shows prohibition is poor policy

  • Will Lange. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

Published: 5/19/2022 1:15:32 PM
Modified: 5/19/2022 1:13:46 PM

About a month ago, I opined in this space about the most likely cause of the disintegration of our democracy; to wit, stupidity. I received no comments, positive or negative; but this week, to my delight, my opinion was supported by none other than Jonathan Haidt, most notably the author of The Righteous Mind. His new essay, appearing in the May issue of The Atlantic, is titled “After Babel: How Social Media Dissolved the Mortar of Society and Made America Stupid.”

His observations, and a set of ominous illustrations, evoke an earlier period of history, when the collapse of central authority, the rising power of the church and the fragmentation of society created what we refer to with condescension as The Dark Ages. It’s difficult to read Haidt without thinking of the issue most famously facing the current session of the United States Supreme Court.

Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to repeat it. I’ve never met anyone inclined to disagree with that assertion. And yet, only 89 years after the end of Prohibition in the United States — a brief (13-year) triumph of pietistic Protestantism — we’re apparently about to embark upon another attempt to prohibit an age-old and generally accepted medical procedure.

The arguments attacking and defending the practice of abortion are as fervid and unyielding as it’s possible to be. They also fail to address or understand each other; they introduce the anathema of private religious conviction to the legislative process; and in the end they are irrelevant. I have never met anyone who could be labeled “pro-abortion.” And I’ve never talked with — as far as I know — a self-styled “pro-lifer” who wasn’t adamantly opposed to the practice.

Here’s where the stupid comes in. Wouldn’t you think, given our relatively recent failure with the prohibition of alcohol (with which, coincidentally, other nations experimented unhappily during roughly the same time period), we’d know better than to impose bans and penalties for terminating a pregnancy — including in mitigating circumstances? Is the discussion too far gone to suggest the introduction of logic and proven alternatives?

If the goal of both parties to the discussion truly is to make abortion as rare as possible — the notion of eliminating it is fantastical — then they should look to jurisdictions in which that goal has most nearly been accomplished: the Netherlands and the state of Colorado. The prohibitions that have been proposed and enacted here, however, focus strangely upon only one half of the equation required to produce a pregnancy, which, in these days of advancing DNA capability, is absurd. The absence of male accountability in the proposals suggests a different, and unsavory, intention. The suggestion, in the now-famous leaked Justice Alito memo, that rights not mentioned in the Constitution — gay marriage, for example — aren’t immune to challenge is even more creepy.

Prohibition, that pious fist shaken in the face of reality, gave us Al Capone, organized crime, murder and mayhem on our borders, and bootleg whiskey, yet accomplished nothing beneficial. So let’s do it again. It’ll rally the minions of righteousness behind retrograde politicians, drive poor women to desperate, often deadly resorts, and create an enforcement and judicial impossibility.

There can be no just government mandate concerning the prohibition of abortion without equivalent government provisions for prenatal care, child care, medical and educational assistance, and requirements that fathers bear equal responsibility for their progeny. Likewise, there is no way the majority of women in this burgeoning Me Too/equal rights era will stand for a religiously justified insistence on a return to anonymity, sepsis and makeshift surgical instruments.

It’s impossible at this writing to determine what the mill of the Supreme Court will grind out. The late Justice Ginsburg was probably right that the decision in Roe v. Wade was ahead of its time. But it isn’t anymore. I challenge those legislators who claim to desire the extirpation of the right Roe guaranteed to take another step perhaps too far forward. It involves a slight, reversible and far less dangerous alteration to the male anatomy. I have a feeling, however, that this idea won’t fly very high over the state Houses of Mississippi and Texas.

Willem Lange can be reached at willem.lange@

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