Will abortion ever end?

Though often later rather than sooner, Americans united by a just cause and trusting in God’s guidance always persevere.

In the wake of new polling data finding that 50% of Americans call themselves pro-life and that 59% would ban abortion in most or all circumstances, many are struggling to discern what the numbers mean for the future. Slate’s Will Saletan and the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn ask why abortion support remains stagnant at the same time as the nation grows more receptive to the liberal position on other social issues.

Refreshingly, Saletan acknowledges that “sooner or later,” pro-choicers will have to admit that the discrepancy “punctures our dismissal of pro-life sentiment as a vestige of right-wing sexism.” But it’s Zorn’s next musing that deserves further exploration:

I continue to believe that abortion is a legally and culturally irreconcilable issue with such deep emotional roots that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be debating it.  It really isn’t like gay rights or contraception where one can at least see a way toward compromise or reconciliation positions and the sort of gradual inching one way or the other of public opinion that leads to the mothballing of a once-fierce controversy.

As long as young women continue conceiving when they don’t want to and as long as couples are confronted with test results showing fetal abnormalities, their desires are going to collide with the desires of those who feel it’s imperative to compel them to continue their pregnancies. And most of the public will remain in the middle, uncomfortable with both the procedure and the staunch positions on either side of the debate.

Is he right? Can the abortion wars be ended, or is the fighting destined to continue forever? Nearly four decades after Roe v. Wade, it’s easy to get pessimistic about our chances. But we have plenty of reasons for optimism, too.

For starters, Zorn is right that two of abortion’s motivators, unintended pregnancy and fetal abnormality, will always be with us. Human nature being what it is, no attempt to erase these phenomena through behavioral adjustment or technological advancement will be 100% effective in 100% of cases.

But that’s not to say the incentives will remain as strong as they currently are, or that abortion will remain the most appealing option. Our generation’s (or the next’s) battle of ideas could spark a cultural awakening that infuses our descendants with a greater moral and practical appreciation for sexual responsibility. Improvements in medical technology could yield better prenatal treatment of defects, more effective birth control methods, or even artificial wombs to end pregnancies early without bloodshed.

Of course, changing incentives can get us only so far; the issue will ultimately be decided in the American conscience, when the nation finally settles on a firm understanding that the unborn are just as alive and as human as we are and that they should be treated as such. We’ve seen impressive progress on that front thanks to increasingly sophisticated ultrasounds, but they’re no longer a game-changer; the technology is already as good as it’s gonna get as far as conveying the relevant information.

The real trick now will be more widespread dissemination of the truth – politicians who will give more than lip service to educating the public and strategies to get an accurate understanding of embryology in the classroom, the press, and popular culture. (And, of course, there’s also the small matter of dismantling the “right to choose’s” judicial insulation.)

It’s a daunting challenge, to be sure. There’s no way to know how long it’ll take. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that persistence pays off. Consider that it took over eighty years after we declared independence to end the enslavement of our fellow man on the basis of race, and even then, genuine political and social equality took another full century. Many living today remember what it was like to be second-class citizens. But eventually equality was won, and today institutional racism is dead in America.

In short, don’t let the wishful thinking of the left or the pessimism of the right crush your spirits. We’ve righted abortion-scale wrongs before, and we can do it again. Though often later rather than sooner, Americans united by a just cause and trusting in God’s guidance always persevere.

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