The rejoic­ing and rage that fol­lowed the U.S. Supreme Court’s deci­sion last month to over­turn Roe v. Wade after near­ly 50 years hadn’t been notice­able local­ly until last Friday.

As I was return­ing to the office after lunch, I made my way through a crowd of pro-choice demon­stra­tors on the front steps of the cour­t­house and greet­ed a cou­ple of women I knew.

“We have an extra sign for you,” one said.

I polite­ly declined with­out men­tion­ing that I didn’t share her point of view.

The truth is that my views on abor­tion are com­pli­cat­ed and wouldn’t fit on a sign.

They are also evolving.

As a younger man, I was cer­tain about almost everything.

While work­ing as a news­pa­per reporter in the ear­ly 90s, I briefly dat­ed a doc­tor who shared my lib­er­al ideas about social jus­tice and indi­vid­ual rights. She was involved with a local Planned Parenthood clin­ic and want­ed me to serve on the board, which I con­sid­ered doing before turn­ing it down for rea­sons I can no longer remember.

At the time, I was also involved with a com­mu­ni­ty-and-col­lege chap­ter of Amnesty International and had giv­en speech­es and writ­ten op-eds oppos­ing the death penalty.

It was dur­ing a late-night talk with a leader of the group that my think­ing on abor­tion began to change. He asked: Isn’t the right to life the most basic of all human rights, and doesn’t it extend to unborn babies?

I had no good answers.

It didn’t hap­pen overnight, but that was the begin­ning of my trans­for­ma­tion from think­ing of myself as pro-choice to iden­ti­fy­ing as pro-life. But I was nev­er an abso­lutist. I have always believed there should be excep­tions to ban­ning abor­tion, includ­ing when the mother’s life or health is in seri­ous dan­ger, when the preg­nan­cy results from rape or incest, or when the prospect of fetal via­bil­i­ty is almost nil.

Do we real­ly want to force a woman who has can­cer and is under­go­ing chemother­a­py and radi­a­tion treat­ment to give birth to a baby who prob­a­bly will not live or, if he or she does live, will nev­er have a nor­mal life? That seems cru­el to the par­ents and the child.

As bad as abor­tion is, there may be times when it is not the worst option.

It is not true that almost all late-term abor­tions are the result of some­thing hav­ing gone ter­ri­bly wrong. It is true, though, that only about 1.2 per­cent occur at or after 21 weeks, accord­ing to the Kaiser Foundation. Many of those hap­pen because the woman didn’t have the mon­ey for the pro­ce­dure ear­li­er or didn’t know where to get it done, or had no access to trans­porta­tion. Stringent state laws will now make it even hard­er to get an abor­tion ear­li­er rather than lat­er. However, about 40 per­cent of late abor­tions hap­pen sim­ply because the woman had trou­ble decid­ing what to do.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that was over­turned on June 24 by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, was a com­pro­mise. It decid­ed that dur­ing the first trimester, abor­tion was a con­sti­tu­tion­al right. During the sec­ond and third trimesters, gov­ern­ments could lim­it abortion.

Casey v. Planned Parenthood in 1992 shift­ed the empha­sis to fetal via­bil­i­ty. Dobbs also reversed Casey.

The empha­sis on via­bil­i­ty rais­es ques­tions about when life begins.

From a sci­en­tif­ic per­spec­tive, of course, life begins at con­cep­tion. But when does a life become a per­son with rights? That is a the­o­log­i­cal and legal ques­tion, and it isn’t an easy one.

With respect to Catholics and evan­gel­i­cal Christians who believe zygotes are peo­ple, there is at least one bib­li­cal ref­er­ence to per­son­hood begin­ning before con­cep­tion: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you …” (Jeremiah 1:5) But do we real­ly want to make pre­des­ti­nar­i­an the­ol­o­gy the basis for con­sti­tu­tion­al law? There is no telling where that might lead.

Although activists tend to take one extreme posi­tion or anoth­er — that abor­tion at any stage of preg­nan­cy is “mur­der” or that it should be avail­able “on demand and with­out apol­o­gy” — the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Americans are some­where in the mid­dle. Most want abor­tion to remain legal under cer­tain cir­cum­stances. They also want restric­tions on abortion.

A 2019 Marist Poll found that only 9 per­cent of respon­dents thought abor­tion should nev­er be allowed, and only 18 per­cent thought it should be allowed at any time dur­ing a preg­nan­cy for any rea­son. Sixty-one per­cent said there should be sig­nif­i­cant restric­tions. Eighty-six per­cent, includ­ing 73 per­cent of those who call them­selves “pro-life,” said abor­tion should be avail­able at any stage of preg­nan­cy to pro­tect the life or health of the mother.

Over the years, the num­bers have been some­what con­sis­tent; slight­ly more than half of us want abor­tion to remain legal, but only in some situations.

The abor­tion rate in the U.S. has steadi­ly declined for three decades. According to the Guttmacher Institute, it has dropped from 1.6 mil­lion per year in 1990 to 930,000 in 2019.

Thirty years ago, pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bill Clinton said he want­ed abor­tion to be “safe, legal and rare.” That may no longer be the posi­tion of the Democratic Party, but it is where many Americans are today.

Our laws should reflect that reality.

Instead, recent state laws have ranged from mak­ing abor­tion ille­gal with­out rea­son­able excep­tions to cod­i­fy­ing the right to ter­mi­nate a preg­nan­cy at almost any time.

Drawing bat­tle lines and engag­ing in protests won’t restore Roe v. Wade. Neither will nom­i­nat­ing far-left can­di­dates who haven’t the slight­est chance of win­ning in states like Kentucky or of form­ing a con­gres­sion­al major­i­ty in a cen­ter-right country.

There are, how­ev­er, effec­tive ways to fur­ther reduce the num­ber of abor­tions, pre­serve a lim­it­ed right to abor­tion in cer­tain cir­cum­stances and tamp down the inten­si­ty of the cul­ture wars that are tear­ing our coun­try apart.

First, gov­ern­ments should make adop­tion eas­i­er and not cost-pro­hib­i­tive, and reform fos­ter care.

Instead of defund­ing Planned Parenthood and sim­i­lar groups, states should increase sup­port for fam­i­ly plan­ning, includ­ing coun­sel­ing and contraceptives.

We should sup­port faith-based preg­nan­cy cri­sis cen­ters that pro­vide real help to young women out of love for them and their chil­dren, even if they don’t share our views on choice.

Don’t stig­ma­tize sin­gle moms who did the right thing by giv­ing birth and are now doing the best they can. If you can’t help them, the least you can do is not hurt them. 

Courts should crack down on dead­beat dads who refuse to shoul­der their respon­si­bil­i­ties to the chil­dren they’ve sired. Not pay­ing child sup­port shouldn’t be an option.

Increase fund­ing for Women, Infants, and Children and oth­er pub­lic assis­tance pro­grams to help strug­gling sin­gle moth­ers and pro­vide bet­ter options for afford­able day care and preschool.

Finally, sup­port cen­trist can­di­dates who favor mod­er­ate poli­cies on abor­tion and sup­port for women and chil­dren rather than hard­lin­ers who refuse to com­pro­mise and work for bipar­ti­san solu­tions to problems.

One good thing that may come out of end­ing Roe v. Wade is that it may force us to find com­mon ground.

  • Randy Patrick

    Randy Patrick is a deputy coun­ty clerk for elec­tions and vot­er reg­is­tra­tion and a for­mer reporter and edi­tor of The Winchester Sun.