I've thought about the battle over abortion for a long, long time and have been quietly writing about it, revising, writing, revising, and so on. People who've been following my posts here on SAV may already be somewhat familiar with these ideas, but in light of the SCOTUS overturning Roe v Wade today, I've decided to post the core of it, eliminating footnotes and so on.
Because of my particular background, I know the “pro-life” arguments very well. The best arguments that abortion detractors have are really the ones based on their personal experiences: people who have had positive experience of pregnancy, birth, and parenting are keenly aware, and properly so, that life is very precious. If they had started out as married couples wanting a child and finally getting one, and seeing that child grow and develop from infancy, it is entirely right and reasonable that they would also have cherished that child as it was developing in utero.
However, abortion detractors usually cite a handful of Bible verses to support their hard-and-fast positions, which changes the whole debate from a purely political or social one to a theological one—and it must be pointed out that theological positions are very, very hard to change. The clearest, most explicit verses that abortion opponents cite are the following:
Psalm 22:10 (NIV): From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV): For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Jeremiah 1:4-5 (NIV): Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you.”
To these may be added various accounts of Biblical figures raising their children in a proper manner, many verses in the book of Proverbs about raising children, Luke 1:41 (about the future John the Baptist leaping in his mother Elizabeth’s womb), and so on. These do not relate directly to the issue of abortion, but they clearly attach high value to the living children of the faithful. There is also that famous passage about Jesus telling his disciples to let people bring little children to him so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-18). That does not directly relate to abortion, but it does indicate that for Jesus at least, children held a special place.
Now, citing Scripture is excellent if you happen to be someone who ascribes inherent power and authority to Biblical text, but what if you aren’t? Then those words have only as much “power and authority” as something written by any other person. People who believe in Biblical inerrancy in particular can never really understand people who do not share their religious beliefs, but for these “other people,” the imposition of a Bible-influenced law would be just as ludicrous and intolerable as the imposition of, say, a Buddhist-influenced law against eating meat on the grounds that it, too, is equivalent to “murder.” Meanwhile, the people who support women’s rights to abortion will come up with all kinds of arguments from various sociological studies, political and legal analyses, demographic research, and so on, but such things will simply bounce off the anti-abortion crowd and leave them unswayed, because the latter group are dead-set on following the Bible. It would be incorrect to say that pro-choicers are thus automatically put at a disadvantage, because, in fact, each side, in its own way, is severely disadvantaged. Each cites its own authorities, and “never the twain shall meet,” so to speak. Consequently, they shout arguments at each other 24/7, year-in and year-out, and no one makes any progress.
In my opinion, if the people who support women’s abortion rights want to argue with and try to persuade their opponents, they will have to use approaches entirely different from the ones they have been using. As for the medium, I believe that any argumentation on this matter is best done one-to-one, in person, and in a cool, rational voice in order to be most effective. Barring that, a carefully written argument (like this one, I hope) might do the trick. Shouting, protests, on-line flaming, and Facebook won’t work. They never have.
My first solution (I’ll discuss the second in the next section) would be to turn the Bible itself against the pro-life crowd. It’s easier than you might think. Here, simply by going to a Bible website and doing a search on “children,” “infants,” and so on, and using my own memory of the Bible, I have been able to collect a number of passages that provide a very hefty counterbalance to the verses that abortion opponents usually cite. What these passages really illustrate is that the Bible has a much more complex view on the position of children “in God’s universe.” On analysis, the verses and passages usually cited by abortion opponents in their arguments are the ones that relate specifically to the children, born or unborn, of the chosen ones, the children of Israel, i.e., faithful believers, the elect. However, they completely and conveniently ignore all verses relating to the children of non-believers, idolators, and “foreigners” (i.e., non-Israelites, and by extension, non-Christians).
If one collects and analyzes the two sets together, a completely different picture emerges. Basically, in the Bible, we see a very consistent pattern in which the children, born and unborn, of believers are to be protected and cherished. (There is an exception: in II Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21, God kills 70,000 Israelites through plague because ... David took a census. The dead would certainly have included parents and children, born and unborn.) These are always the passages that abortion foes cite in their arguments. As for non-believers and assorted idolators, since they become the targets of God’s wrath, the parents of children are likely to suffer gruesome deaths, together with their unborn children. At least, that’s the way it is in the earlier books of the Old Testament. The later books of the Old Testament, however, reflect a more nuanced and carefully thought-out perspective: it is actually more preferable for the children be born first and doted on by their parents, before the punishment is meted out. This way, as the parents see their children being killed off, their own suffering is made all the more acute. In other words, the children of non-believers are to be kept alive just long enough so that when they are killed, they serve more effectively to heighten their parents’ suffering. My conclusion is that the Bible-waving crowd are correct when they say that abortion goes against the Bible, but if they were to follow through exactly with what the Bible prescribes, they would also kill off the children of non-believers as soon as they reach an age of viability, i.e., those who survive the perilous period of infancy, in order to punish the parents for their unbelief.
Does this surprise you? Let’s take a walk through the Old Testament, and use the following passages to pose a set of questions for religious opponents of abortion:
1. In the tenth plague to strike Egypt, God sends the angel of death to kill every firstborn son in Egypt (Exodus 12:29-30). Presumably this is a kind of revenging response to the Pharaoh’s earlier decision to kill the firstborn sons of the Israelites. The angel of death, then, would undoubtedly attack both adult men and boys, down to infants. If you think that the lives of children are precious to God, then why was it okay for God to kill all these people, including baby boys who had played no part at all in the Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites leave Egypt?
2. In Numbers 31, the Israelites destroy the Midianites—God wanted vengeance on them for some reason, not clearly specified, so, acting on God’s command, they kill every man, take the women and children hostage, and seize whatever livestock and goods they can find as plunder. Back at camp, Moses tells them, “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Numbers 31:17-18). Do you think this is proper? No? But if you believe that the Bible is God’s Word, then you must accept this as being completely proper and justifiable—after all, they were all following Moses, who was constantly in communication with God. The boys—any boy, down to baby boys—would get the sword, and so would all the pregnant women. How does this express God’s love for the unborn, or for children already born? By the way, later on, in Numbers 31:32-35, we are provided these nifty statistics: “The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys, and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.” What is the lesson here? That men who obey God can grab all the virgin pussy they want?
3. In Deuteronomy 2:34, why is it right and proper that God has Moses kill every man, woman, and child in Heshbon? The justification given in the Bible is that the king of Heshbon didn’t let the Israelites pass through on their way to Israel, and apparently the Israelites never thought about just going around the place (even though they were supposed to wander around in the desert for forty years). That was enough to justify child-slaughter, not to mention adult-slaughter—and who cares that the children and perhaps 99.5% of their parents had nothing at all to do with the Heshbon king’s decision?
4. Why is it that God directs the Israelites also to slaughter every man, woman, and child under King Og of Bashan? No justification is given, other than that God directs it (Deuteronomy 3:4). By the way, we may assume that among the women, a number of them would have been pregnant—but God, through the Israelites, killed their unborn children, too.
5. When God describes the curses that will befall those who disobey Him, one of them consists of having enemies lay siege to their cities: “Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating” (Deuteronomy 28:53-55). Now, if you think children are precious in God’s sight, then how do you reconcile that idea with the notion of having God force you to cannibalize your own children should you disobey him? Is this your notion of a kind and loving God?
6. In I Samuel 15:3, God tells Samuel, a prophet, last of the judges and anointer of King Saul, to tell Saul to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” The justification: God wanted to punish the Amelekites for having waylaid the Israelites when they came out of Egypt (never mind that it had happened several generations earlier). Note that “children and infants” were to be included in the massacre, as well as women and presumably any fetuses they may have been carrying. Do you think this is a reflection of God’s love for babies, born or unborn? Saul does not follow through on all of the instructions, though—he and his men keep the livestock and spare the Amelekite king, Agag. For this, we are told, God turns his back on Saul, no longer supporting Saul’s continued reign as king, and Samuel—wonderful man—puts the prisoner who “came to him in chains” to death himself. We are not told how, but a simple sword thrust would do the trick, after which Agag would undoubtedly have had a few moments to contemplate his miserable fate while he gasped out his last.
Now let’s pause here a minute. In three of the previous five passages, we read only that the Israelites were told to “put to death” the children and infants. We are not told how they did this, but if we reflect on the kinds of weapons in use in ancient times, they would certainly have used swords of various kinds, and various other weapons available to them—variants of hammers, spears, clubs, axes, and so on. In other words, when these children and babies (and women, and so on) were being killed off, it was being done at close range—not from a gun fired at some distance or a bomb dropped from high in the sky. It was up-close and personal. In every case involving weapons, it would have been a gruesome, bloody death for these children, involving cutting, slicing, or bludgeoning, but there would have been other weaponless techniques: bashing their brains out on rocks, throwing them off cliffs, drowning them in wells, or starving them. We may surmise that the Israelite soldiers developed special sports and games in the process, as Japanese soldiers reportedly did with Chinese babies in World War II—in which one soldier would throw a baby in the air, and the other would “catch” it on his bayonet. They might even toss it back and forth to each other on the blade tips. We don’t know exactly what the Israelites did, but the level of violence would have been astonishing, and all of this was done on God’s instructions. See? He really loves children! Now, let’s continue—like the Carpenters, “We’ve only just begun”:
7. In II Kings 2:23-24, we read the following anecdote about the prophet Elisha: “Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.” Do you believe that God really loves children if He punishes them in this manner for poking fun at some guy’s bald spot?
8. In II Kings 9:1-10, Elisha the prophet, on God’s explicit instructions, anoints Jehu king of Israel and tells him to “destroy the house of Ahab your master.” In II Kings 10, Jehu arranges for that, and before long he is presented with the heads of 70 princes in baskets. Since Ahab’s reign dates to around 871–852 BCE, and Jehu’s reign began around 841 BCE, the princes presumably would have included both young adults and children (i.e., Ahab’s children and grandchildren). Children are clearly implied in verse 6: “Now the royal princes, seventy of them, were with the leading men of the city, who were rearing them.” Again, we must ask, is it justifiable for people, including children, to be executed for what their ancestor did? In commanding that Ahab’s descendants be killed, doesn’t God break his own law: “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin”? (Deuteronomy 24:16).
9. Would you agree with Job 27:13-14? “Here is the fate God allots to the wicked, the heritage a ruthless man receives from the Almighty: However many his children, their fate is the sword; his offspring will never have enough to eat.” Think about what that means. Here, someone is deemed “wicked,” and although we are not told the criteria, apart from ruthlessness or disobedience, his children are fated to perish at the tips of swords, or starve—which means that God is failing again to measure up to the standards of his own Deuteronomy 24:16 law. Do you think this is the kind of god that deserves to be honored?
10. Psalm 17:14 is part of a prayer. David (the presumed author) wants the children of the wicked to suffer: “May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones.” We already quite clearly understand what God has “stored up for the wicked,” but David prays that their children too should suffer the same. Shall we not congratulate David on his charitableness? Does this psalm serve as a suitable model for Christians today? Why wouldn’t it, if this is God’s Word?
11. Psalm 137:9 is basically part of a curse on Babylon for the destruction of Israel: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” By now it seems that God created rocks for the specific purpose of bashing babies’ heads in. Isn’t this all a part of His plan?
12. Isaiah 13 contains a prophecy against Babylon and describes the coming “day of the Lord” when God takes his vengeance against it. That vengeance includes the following choice morsels (verses 15 and 16): “Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated.” It would seem now that God’s particular love for infants lies in their usefulness for punishing their parents—forcing their parents to watch as they get brained against some rocks. Here we have babies being executed for the sins of their parents, in violation of a law that God had set himself, but—hey, God is great and powerful, and he made the laws himself, so he can get away with it, right? I also like the bit about the wives, who become useful rape-objects just for the purpose of punishing their husbands more harshly. Nifty touch, that! Later, the prophecy specifies that the Medes will be doing the dirty work: “Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children” (Isaiah 13:18).
13. Isaiah 14:21: “Prepare a place to slaughter his children for the sins of their ancestors; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities.” This is part of a “taunt” against Babylon, continuing the idea of the previous chapter. It echoes many of the other passages we have seen, emphasizing that it is entirely right and proper for kids to be executed for what their great-grandpappies did. Hey, perhaps people today should use this verse to justify slaughtering the descendants of anyone who ever voiced support for communism back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It wasn’t too long ago that evangelicals (I think of Hal Lindsay) viewed the communist countries, especially the Soviet Union, in apocalyptic terms as “the Babylon.” Maybe they should revisit those ideas and use this to justify delivering a final punishment to their former bogeymen by killing their descendants? What, they aren’t going to Russia to kill everyone on sight? How strange! Whatever happened to their faith?
14. Jeremiah 18:21: “So give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword. Let their wives be made childless and widows; let their men be put to death, their young men slain by the sword in battle.” Why? Jeremiah was complaining that no one in Israel wanted to listen to his prophecies. Oh, boo-hoo!
15. In Ezekiel 5:10, the prophet, speaking in God’s voice, describes the Israelites’ future punishment for idolatry: “Therefore in your midst parents will eat their children, and children will eat their parents. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.” Here, besides the sword, we have famine and cannibalism as suitable punishments for the descendants of idolators. It’s all God’s will, apparently. Does this make you wonder whether the starving parents salivate while they barbecue their kids on the slowly rotating spit?
16. In Ezekiel 9, the prophet describes a vision of God commanding a group of six angels, one carrying a writing kit, to kill everyone in Jerusalem except for those who lament the fact that other gods were being worshipped in His temple: these would get a mark on the forehead by the angel with the brush. As for the others: “Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary” (9:6). Again, this is considered appropriate punishment for idolators. The other angels are described as each carrying a weapon, so we can assume that this slaughter takes the “up-close and personal” form. Do you think it was proper to have children slaughtered, regardless of whether they are old enough to understand, reflect on, and make decisions regarding who or what was being worshipped in the temple?
17. Everyone who has ever gone to church, Sunday School, or a private Christian school as a child will know the famous story in Daniel 6 about Daniel in the lion’s den. I remember doing many crayon drawings of this story in elementary school. But one detail near the end of this story is usually glossed over. After Daniel emerges from the lion’s den unharmed, the king (Darius) throws Daniel’s accusers into the den: “At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones” (6:24). This is presented as being the fair and just thing to do. Now, what did the wives and children of Daniel’s accusers have to do with Daniel’s case? Suppose that the children of Daniel’s accusers were six or seven years old, the same age as children in Christian schools today are when they make their crayon drawings. They would have had their bones crushed, too. Do you think getting mauled by lions is an appropriate punishment for children whose parents do something wrong? Have any first- and second-graders been asked to draw pictures of their ancient counterparts getting mauled and having their bones crushed? No? But this is God’s Word, isn’t it? Why doesn’t this verse deserve equal representation in graphic art?
18. Hosea 9:16 is the clincher. It has a choice tidbit about what will happen to idolators in Ephraim: “Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring.” The addition of the word “cherished” here is the salient detail, since the loss of an unwanted child wouldn’t cause grief. God wants to hurt the idolators and make them grieve. If we somehow transpose this situation to modern times, the equivalent of what God proposes to do would not be to abort their unwanted fetuses or execute children who are already born but unwanted, but to execute children who are already born and cherished by their parents. Ask yourself, which is worse? Aborting unwanted fetuses, or executing already-born children because of the thought-crimes of their parents?
The above list does not include the countless other massacres of various towns or groups of people described in the Bible—these are only the ones where killing children and infants is explicitly mentioned or at least clearly implied. It also does not include Herod’s “massacre of the innocents” in Matthew 2:13-18, since that is presented as an injustice visited upon righteous people by a wicked king. The victims usually are parents or groups of people who, for one reason or another (usually idolatry), have offended God, but occasionally, as we see in the story about David and the census, they are killed simply to make a point, never mind about their individual guilt or innocence.
Many Christians, if confronted with these passages, will protest that they are all part of the Old Testament, and that in the new dispensation after Christ, the harsh laws of Moses and the saving grace of Jesus have rendered such bloodthirstiness moot. However, that first of all contradicts their own stand that all of the Bible is God’s Word and should be honored. In actual practice and usage, Christians at various times will always arbitrarily give greater weight to one part of the Bible relative to another part, depending on their accustomed lifestyles, denominational affiliation, and so on. This is illustrated clearly by the way the anti-abortion crowd will always cite Jeremiah 1:4-5 (“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you”), but they conveniently forget and never quote Jeremiah 18:12 (“So give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword.”). Secondly, it ignores their own belief that non-believers and their children will all eventually be consigned to the fires of hell. Whether the babies are aborted now or get toasted later on in hell ultimately will not matter very much, will it?
Thirdly, and more importantly, the idea that the new dispensation of grace has eliminated the bloodthirsty bits contradicts the historical record: many, if not most, persons of European descent in the United States will have at least one near or distant ancestor who had once cited one or more of the 18 passages I have just listed as justification for killing off native Americans (including children), enslaving heathens (including children), or going off on bloody crusades. These verses were cited for centuries, and they are still very clearly and vividly present, ready to be used whenever the “need” arises, whether that need be “land” or reducing the numbers of “foreigners” or “threats at the border” or “Muslims.” In fact, they are still being used as justification today by Brazilians who are expanding into the Amazon region and killing whatever native Amazonians they encounter. The mere continued presence of these verses should be enough to cancel effectively whatever “authority” the Bible claims… but I digress.
A native American website points out the following:
The Dutch governor of Manhattan, Willem Kieft, offers the first bounty in North America for Indian scalps in 1641, just 21 years after the Puritans land at Plymouth Rock. The Massachusetts Bay Colony offers a bounty of $60 per Indian scalp and money for every Native prisoner sold into slavery. The governors of the colonies institute scalping as a method for one Indian tribe to eliminate another tribe, and to have colonists eliminate as many Indians as possible. Colonial men are allowed to rape and enslave any Native woman or child. Moreover, colonial law gives permission to “kill savage Indians on sight at will” (Oxendine, 2019). In an article for “The American Historical Review” in 2015, Benjamin Madley writes, “Policymakers offered bounties for Native American heads or scalps in at least twenty-three states of their colonial, territorial, or Mexican antecedents” (“Scalping in America,” 2007). (From (https://nativephilanthropy.candid.org/events/laws-support-scalping-and-raping-and-enslaving-native-women/#:~:text=The%20Massachusetts%20Bay%20Colony%20offers,as%20many%20Indians%20as%20possible).
Are these practices not similar to what the Bible described so approvingly? Although the technique (scalping) differed from what was generally used in the Old Testament, the up-close-and-personal aspect remains. The Puritan authorities of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who knew their Bibles very well, were following its authority and the precedents established in the Old Testament as they formulated those laws. For these Christian men, it was their default approach. Furthermore, they monetized the practice. Between 1675 and 1760, the period of the six Anglo-Abenaki wars in the New England region and Nova Scotia, at least 79 official bounty notices were issued for the killing, scalping, or capture of Native American men, women, and children. The colonial governments could reward scalpers handsomely. When Spencer Phips, the lieutenant-governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, issued a month-long license to kill Indians in 1755, the reward for a man’s scalp was equivalent to $12,000 in today’s money, half that for a woman’s scalp, and a little less than that for a child’s.
Around the same time, as Isabel Wilkerson has pointed out (Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, 41-42), the initial justification for the enslavement of Africans was not race, because the modern notion of race did not exist yet in the early 1600s—it was rather religion. Africans were first considered heathens, and so their enslavement, rape, and murder were justified, as such actions had been in the Old Testament.
Therefore, if the people who object to a woman’s right to an abortion do so on scriptural grounds, those who argue against them should be ready to quote the above passages back at them, and ask, as general questions:
(1) If babies are so precious in God’s sight, and if the Bible is God’s Word, then why do at least 18 Bible passages explicitly describe Him either having children violently slain, or killing them himself through plagues or curses of various kinds?
(2) If we review the Old Testament record especially, wouldn’t the overall conclusion be that God would rather prefer that the children of non-believers be killed after reaching an age of viability instead of being aborted, in order to maximize the suffering of the parents as they are punished for their unbelief?
In a way, the right-wing, anti-abortion crowd is already practicing the Old Testament teachings when they strive to reduce welfare benefits for single women with children. They also practice this when they force their own pregnant teenage daughters to quit school and either marry or give up their children for adoption. The girls have “sinned” and are “fallen,” so they are forced out of school and into early marriage and poverty, which guarantees that the girl, the child, and even the father, if possible, suffer through long-term poverty. In our capitalist economic system, where a person’s worth is measured by assets, these forced pregnancies and denied abortions are intended to ruin the future economic prospects of both the woman and her child, and if possible, the father as well. They are not slain outright, but their financial futures certainly are.
The argumentation strategy outlined in the previous section pits one firmly held conservative religious belief (Biblical inerrancy) against another (God cherishes all children). The next one pits a conservative political stance (anti-abortion) against another one, commonly known as the “great replacement theory.”
For this second argument defending a woman’s right to an abortion, one has to assume the role of “devil’s advocate,” and its success would hinge on the fact that conservatives on this issue are usually conservative on other things, too, particularly race issues. A ban on abortion would ultimately be a futile gesture sowing the seeds of its eventual repeal, for the following reasons.
It is quite commonly observed that such a ban would hit poor, minority, and undereducated women the hardest, and in fact, in the South especially, the ban would be targeted specifically at them out of the kind of spite described in the previous section. They will bear the brunt of the enforcement. Upper- and middle-class white women would still be getting abortions by the simple expedient of travel (in my neck o’ the woods, Canada is only a 40-minute drive away) or by some abortifacient drug like RU-486. Anyone with a computer can find various "recipes." However, with abortion bans in place, I estimate that around fifteen years in the future, Southern white Republican legislators and evangelical preachers will look around and suddenly realize that, even if Trump’s border wall is still in place and legal immigration is well-nigh impossible, the next generation of Americans will be anything but majority white in large part as a result of the abortion ban.
Therefore, if you find yourself dealing with a rabid abortion foe, remind him or her of the fact that, because the abortion ban would affect poor, minority, and undereducated women the most, those will precisely be the ones having the most children. Already the demographic trends are such that non-Hispanic whites will be a minority in the United States by 2045. They’ll become a minority—and a small one—a heck of a lot faster with an abortion ban in place. At that point, they will be able to maintain political dominance only by going to ever-greater lengths to suppress an ever-increasing majority vote.
I imagine that when all those white, right-wing legislators realize this, they’ll switch to support an abortion free-for-all faster than they can say “Jesus loves me.” Suddenly they will find abortion acceptable, even desirable, and I’m sure that the conservative evangelical preachers will just as suddenly start finding justification for it from the Bible. You can reinterpret the Bible and make it say anything you want, baby—you can even make it quack like a duck!
Given the backward attitudes toward race in the conservative camp, I suspect this simple argument would be the best one, the one that would stop a lot of the abortion foes dead in their tracks.
Now that Roe v Wade has been overturned, I believe that the abortion bans are doomed to failure for the same reason that Prohibition and the War on Drugs failed. Temperance was the greatest cause among church-goers in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and in 1919, they even managed to get a spanking new Constitutional amendment to back up their golden goal of complete Prohibition. We know what happened next. The new law turned out to be God’s gift to organized crime, and the difficulty of enforcing Prohibition grew until the government more or less had to throw in the towel and pass another amendment to repeal Prohibition. And how many billions of dollars have the federal and state governments spent on the War on Drugs and other drug-related enforcement? Has it worked? Certainly not as well their proponents anticipated!
The Prohibition crusaders of a century ago and even the anti-drug campaigners of the 1960s to 1990s would have great difficulty recognizing today’s American landscape. Every little town has its bar, liquor gets sold in mainstream grocery stores, people freely buy and consume on Sunday, and brew-pubs and marijuana dispensaries outnumber gas stations. In some states, nearly half of the billboards along the Interstate highways tout the local leaf, often with cutesy names like “Cookies,” obviously designed to entice younger users, and many of the rest advertise one or another kind of beer, wine, spirit, brew-pub, bar, or tavern, not to mention the various local “Oriental health spas” offering massages and, presumably, other things. A person in the right (or wrong) neighborhood can still easily pick up $5 hits of meth or heroin. When I lived in New York City in the 1990s, with the War on Drugs still in full swing, I’d go to work every morning carefully stepping over discarded needles, while more confidently crunching the crack vials underfoot.
The same will happen with abortion if it is made illegal, because once it becomes illegal, the demand for it will skyrocket—not necessarily in terms of absolute numbers, but in terms of intensity and desperation. And wherever a demand exists, the emergence of people willing to meet that demand is a virtual certainty, according to one of economics’ strongest laws. In fact, I would not be surprised if, among those who clamor most loudly for the strictest bans on abortion, there are a few who are already quietly hatching abortion business plans (by a similar logic, the same network that produces Fox News is the same network that produces some of the most titillating TV programs), because the potential profit margins will be significant: all that abortion-related income will be “under the table” and untaxed. It happened in the pre-Roe days: running underground abortion clinics was one of the money-making sidelines for the Mafia, comprised of people who would present themselves in the public sphere as Catholics. Meanwhile, there will also be the non-profit organizations (like the “Janes”) willing to supply the service.
Many other businesses and individuals will seek to profit the other way, through the enforcement of an abortion ban, especially through the sale of tech tracers, video cameras, automated license plate readers, and so on. Already, if you want the license plate numbers of cars that appear in the neighborhood of a Planned Parenthood clinic over a two-week period, there is a company you can buy them from.
The ultimate outcome of an abortion ban, as with the drug and alcohol bans, will depend on how the abortion/anti-abortion economy evolves: will the enforcement organizations provide the most efficient services, or will it be the abortion-providing organizations, whether profit-based or non-profit? The permanence of the ban will depend not on which camp shouts the loudest, hits the hardest, or makes the judicial decisions, but rather on impersonal economic and technological forces.
From this perspective, things don’t look good for the enforcers. Their efforts are doomed to become like a giant game of whack-a-mole. Unlike the pre-Roe days, it is far easier for people (especially those with money) to travel, abortion can be done with a few pills, and the logistics industry has made giant strides in ensuring that any desired product can be quickly delivered to your door. In the pre-Roe days, all we had was snail-mail and land lines; today, in addition to those, we have email, cell-phones, the dark web, and countless other communication “channels.” How will they all be monitored? How will the simple task of crossing a state border be controlled? How will every package be searched? People haven’t even figured out how effectively to stop the distribution of fentanyl in pills—how will they stop the distribution of pills with mifepristone and misoprostol?
This is how I see the abortion battle will be decided in the end. The anti-abortion forces will form their own state-funded "industry" of enforcement and punishment, while their opponents will form a separate "industry," one that meets a real economic demand in the market. We can already anticipate which side will win.