Thursday, January 26, 2006

This week in history

This week marks the 33rd anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. This landmark decision legalized abortion on demand throughout the United States, though with some limits.

The subsequent 33 years have been filled with debate and frustration on all sides over this contentious issue. The Politics of Virtue, by Elizabeth Mensch and Alan Freeman, a book I read several years ago, contends that the Roe decision polarized the debate over abortion. So, while the Supreme Court supposedly settles matters, in this case, these writers argue, the high court only made matters worse.

That decision made matters worse, they say, but attempting to remove the matter from public debate. Though it seems amazing today, the years pre-Roe actually saw groups on opposite sides of the abortion issue working together to reach common goals.

What could have been the common goals, you ask? Both sides accepted that abortion as simply a matter of choice was not good for society. Both agreed that the number of abortions could be drastically reduced if certain steps were taken by communities. In some places, such steps were being taken.

Roe, though, made a debate out of an issue. As opposing political candidates and parties drew lines and caricatured their opponents, it became increasingly difficult to carry on a civil conversation from opposite side of the issue. Talking degenerated into name calling.

Now, 33 years later, this pattern of behavior has become the very stuff of all politics. It is rare that real, open discussion happens at a meaningful level on any big issues facing our society.

Perhaps it is time to set aside our penchant for villainizing the other side, whomever that may be, and listening long enough to find some common ground.

I will if you will. No, wait; that is the problem. I will, anyway.

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