Bill Murchison
What's the central issue in 21st century American politics? Terrorism? Not a chance. The-economy-stupid? Not even warm. What, then? "Choice" in abortion -- as we are reminded in the scuttling of the bankruptcy bill, a piece of legislation devoutly favored by creditors but, in its projected form, unsatisfactory to ... guess who. The pro-choice organizations that hold the title deeds to the Democratic Party. So ... The bankruptcy bill, intended to tighten the federal standards for taking bankruptcy and thereby escaping legally incurred debts, would be law but for the insistence of pro-choice Democrats on a provision directed at a tiny, inactive fragment of the pro-life movement. Some years ago, this fragment made civil disobedience -- a la the civil rights era -- a keystone of its strategy. A follow-on notion was that demonstrators arrested for attempts to shut down abortion clinics should take bankruptcy and thus sidestep fines and financial penalties. Came the bankruptcy reform era somewhat later. Pro-choice organizations instructed the Democrats, no way can we have reform without closing down this putative avenue of escape. Result: legislative gridlock. Bankruptcy reform died during the lame duck session's waning days. The death kindled memories of battles earlier this year over President Bush's nominees to the federal bench. What was the quickest way to discredit an exceptionally qualified nominee such as Justice Priscilla Owen of the Texas Supreme Court? Portray said nominee as an enemy, or at any rate critic, of "choice." Supposedly, we couldn't have such a one on the federal bench. It would imperil the Right to Choose. The right to choose what? By now, we all know the answer: One choice reliably resonates with self-styled progressives. That is the choice to abort an unborn child under the sanction conferred 30 years ago next January by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade. In 2002, this is what it's all about. The Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Normandy Beach -- it all comes down to abortion. Nothing else is close. As for those who would lay rude hands on this sacred right, the righteous will rise up indignantly. Il ne passeront pas -- "They shall not pass" -- in Marshal Petain's stirring words. There are some distinctly odd and jarring things to consider in this context. That abortion should ever have become a national political issue is the first thing. This condition is owing to the U.S. Supreme Court's intervention. The court, in Roe, slapped down all those state officials who had supposed Texans (for instance) could make rules for Texans. Abortion, previously illegal, became not only legal but also approved as national policy. No longer could local people bring to bear their own insights on the question. It was the high court's way or the highway. A second oddity is the servility of Democrats to organizations like the National Organization for Women and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. The whip that the pro-choice lobby cracks is a loud one. Its crackle makes Democrats whimper at the feet of the pro-choice lobby. Bankruptcy reform may be, generally speaking, a good idea, but in any chamber controlled by Democrats, the only way to do it is the NOW-NARAL way. The abortion debate -- which splits the country down the middle, philosophically speaking -- distorts our politics in ways that no one, least of all perhaps the justices who decided Roe vs. Wade, could have foreseen in 1973. The beneficiaries of Roe like things just as they are. If you happen not to like them that way, you can practice biting your tongue in half. One of these days, the feminist firebrands who shove around Democrats like Tom Daschle and the once-pro-life Dick Gephardt will necessarily begin devoting more time to bingo and hip replacement. For now, a national Democrat unwilling to check his conscience with NARAL is essentially a dead Democrat. And the "right to choose" lives on -- not, shall we say, gloriously.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
 
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