Last week, the South Dakota legislature swung for the fences by passing a bill that would again criminalize abortion except to save a woman's life. There are no other exceptions, including rape and incest. Republican Governor Michael Rounds has indicated his inclination to sign the bill.
The problem with swinging for the fences is that one usually strikes out more often than the singles hitter who tries to advance the runner. The debate in the pro-life community is whether trying to hit a legislative and judicial home run is the wisest course of action. Some pro-lifers think that because the legal protection for the unborn was gradually taken away, a gradual restoration of the right to life might be more effective.
Should Rounds sign the measure and the Supreme Court take the case (which is never certain) but declare the law unconstitutional, pro-lifers could find themselves in a worse position than if they had adopted a gradualism strategy. They suffered a previous setback in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). By a 5-4 decision, the court upheld Roe. Many pro-lifers believe that with the departure of the "swing vote," Sandra Day O'Connor, and the addition of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, abortion rulings may now be decided in their favor.
Since the 1973 Roe decision, surveys have shown that people remain divided over abortion. Depending on the way questions are asked, people reflect varying opinions on whether abortion should remain legal and if restrictions should be placed on the procedure. Polls have shown that while a majority believes abortion takes a human life and that it is an immoral act, there are some circumstances under which a majority would not restrict abortion and other circumstances under which it would.
That there is a gap between people's perception about the morality of abortion and their willingness to allow it under some circumstances reflects something far deeper than polls reveal: a disconnection between the concept of objective and eternal truth and the narcissistic, me-first age in which we live.
While I wish the fence-swingers well and hope they hit a home run, my guess is they will not succeed; not now. Perhaps a better strategy would be to attempt to get on base with a simpler plan that is even now causing abortion-minded women to choose to have their babies.
That plan involves increasingly sophisticated sonograms. These Hubble Telescopes of the womb show clear color pictures of developing babies and confront a pregnant woman with what it is she is thinking of killing. The New York Times carried a story last year about the growing popularity of sonograms in the pro-life movement. It quoted Carol Everett, a former abortion provider who is now associated with the Heidi Group, a Christian evangelical nonprofit organization that advises pregnancy help centers. Everett says that when a woman seeking an abortion is shown a picture of her own baby, in 90 percent of the cases she changes her mind and decides to carry it to term.
Since the objective of pro-lifers is to substantially reduce the number of abortions in America, a more rapid attainment of that goal may come by lobbying legislatures to pass laws to more fully inform pregnant women about the contents of their wombs. We do that with bottles, packages and cans at the supermarket, with stickers on automobiles and "truth in lending" paperwork at the bank. Isn't the future of a woman and her unborn child more important than these inanimate items?
This is a winning issue for pro-lifers. Should the pro-choice side oppose it, pro-lifers could label them censors. The "choice" would remain, for now, but it would be fully informed. Since Roe, I have spoken to hundreds of women who have had abortions. They said they would have made a different choice had they known what they now know.
The sonogram strategy will produce more immediate results than swinging for the fences. It also has the strategic advantage of capturing the moral high ground.