Can the MSM handle abortion compromise?

Mushroom10 1As we prepare to get into our bunkers before the next nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, I urge you to jump back into last week’s waves of coverage and read a fine Los Angeles Times piece by David G. Savage about the roots of all this controversy, which is, of course, about abortion, abortion and abortion.

The Savage piece was titled “Roe Ruling: More Than Its Author Intended.” The big idea of this story is that, as a new justice on the court, Harry A. Blackmun’s goal was to produce a ruling that would allow compromise on the subject of abortion.

Note — his goal was to allow compromise, through what he claimed would be a reform of laws affecting this issue. But this was not what he would produce. Thus, Roe v. Wade would turn into a story with a completely different ending. Here is Savage:

It is the story of a rookie justice, unsure of himself and his abilities, who set out to write a narrow ruling that would reform abortion laws, not repeal them. It is also the story of a sometimes rudderless court led by Chief Justice Warren Burger. On the day the ruling was announced, Burger said, “Plainly, the court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand.”

Blackmun proposed to issue a news release to accompany the decision, issued Jan. 22, 1973. “I fear what the headlines may be,” he wrote in a memo. His statement, never issued, emphasized that the court was not giving women “an absolute right to abortion,” nor was it saying that the “Constitution compels abortion on demand.”

In reality, the court did just that.

Instead, Roe became a legal earthquake that, in addition to warping both major political parties, effectively vetoed any attempts by any legislature anywhere to produce any political compromise that would forbid any abortions. Today, the small percentage of Americans who want abortion on demand claim that even a ban on late third-trimester abortions would be a complete loss of the rights protected by Roe.

So this raises a question, one that I have raised before here at GetReligion. Will Roe have to fall in order for a bipartisan coalition to produce compromise legislation on abortion that would actually represent the viewpoints of most Americans? Let me repeat what I have written before, because the MSM will determine how this is debated:

If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives), then what is the stance of liberals and progressives on this complex issue?

I ask this because it is very hard to find political compromises on this kind of hot-button issue when the principalities and powers of public discourse — that would be the MSM — have already decided that the middle ground is occupied.

Savage’s piece is a rare example of mainstream journalism that actually gets the facts right on this.

Roe made compromise impossible. What the majority of Americans want is compromise. Thus, Roe must fall in order for compromise to take place. Roe must fall for the moderate center to get its muddled and inconsistent way. That’s America.

Will the left be happy about that? Will the right be happy about that? Savage has the numbers straight.

Today, as in the early 1970s, the American public appears to have decidedly mixed views on abortion. In a Gallup poll in May, for instance, only 23% of those surveyed said abortion should be “legal under any circumstances,” the rule set by Roe vs. Wade. Only 22% said abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances,” the rule that could take effect in many states if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The largest group — 53% — said abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances.”

Think about those numbers as the nuclear explosions begin (let a thousand fundraising letters bloom) next week inside the Beltway.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Beacon

    The 22 senators (including some Catholics In Name Only) who voted against Roberts are abortion absolutists, closely matching the 23% of the population favoring pre-birth infanticide.

  • Michael

    Actually, America isn’t always about compromise. Civil rights are often decided by the courts, even when the country isn’t ready. Access to contraception, desegregating schools, banning sodomy laws are all things that weren’t a compromise but instead the courts leading the way.

    Because abortion represented the beginning of social conservatives losing the culture way, social conservatives have been unable to allow the Roe compromise (and it was a compromise) and therefore the battle of abortion has raged on. So people use terms like “abortion on demand” to tilt the debate and the battle rages on.

    Gutting an important–if flawed–Supreme Court ruling isn’t the answer and the MSM should be careful not to fall for it.

  • Beacon

    Unlimited abortion up to six months (!) is a ‘compromise’?! Compared to what – Singer-style infanticide? Gimme a break.

  • http://JAVA ECJ

    “Gutting an important–if flawed–Supreme Court ruling isn’t the answer and the MSM should be careful not to fall for it.”

    Did someone on the Left just admit they want the MSM to take sides in the culture war? I thought the MSM was supposed to be objective and impartial and professional and stuff.

    On the other hand, it is refreshing to see some honesty for a change.


  • Michael

    I am saying that the MSM shouldn’t be sucked into the anti-judiciary line that’s being peddled by the right.

  • http://JAVA ECJ

    “I am saying that the MSM shouldn’t be sucked into the anti-judiciary line that’s being peddled by the right.”

    Which of course presumes the ‘anti-judiciary line’ is wrong in the first place. You were quite correct in your assertion that the Courts have led the way. The entire left-wing social agenda has been driven by the courts for the last 30 years – for the very practical reason that it could never have been implemented through legislation.

    But the culture war revolves around whether what the courts have done is in fact a good thing. To say the MSM should not get ‘sucked in to the anti-judicary line’ presumes the answer to that very question.

    Everyone already knows the MSM agrees with you. I just appreciate your candor, and wish they would be as forth-coming.


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