The phrase “let the courts decide” appears nowhere in the Constitution of the United States of America.
The people out this weekend howling about abortion rights are too cowardly to have the issue decided in the legislature by the people’s representatives, where the fight belongs. And most legislators are too cowardly to tell their constituents how they would vote on it, or what they even think, with nuance or not, about the abortion issue and the laws that regulate it.
Numbers about the percentage of people for or against a woman’s right to choose are tossed about as if they explain how most people would entice their legislators to vote on abortion rights, but these numbers do absolutely nothing to illustrate the complex feelings most have about abortion.
Like most Americans, conversations about abortion make me very uncomfortable. Years ago, in the midst of the end of a relationship, my soon to be ex-partner and I found out that she was pregnant. Together we decided that it would be best to terminate the pregnancy. We were very young. Her decision rested on her experience as a child raised in a very difficult situation by a single mother. She didn’t want to bring a child into the same situation. Mine was based on the fact that I was a selfish young man who wanted to be unencumbered as he started over in his new single life.
We were both Catholic, so this decision had repercussions that reached far beyond our present situation. It was full of introspection, guilt, pleas for forgiveness, and a gnawing haunting that we did something wrong that day that stays with me even now. I wrote in a memoir, “what we did was something between stepping on an insect and shooting your infant child in the head. But we killed something that day.” There was enough of a relationship left that I stayed with her through the procedure and the period of recovery so full of complex emotions. Then we parted. And never spoke again.
I don’t think this experience is unusual. Yes, when pressed, most people want to preserve a woman’s right to choose. But almost no one is in favor of unrestricted abortion on demand at any time and for any reason. That’s where this unfair and unconstitutional reliance on the Supreme Court comes in.
The activists in this battle — on both sides — faced with the complicated, tenuous reasoning and opinions that the average American holds concerning abortion, know they have no chance of getting what they want if this battle is fought in state legislatures. Yet we are a representative democracy, and that is exactly where this fight belongs. Not in the courts. Not in threats of violence in the streets. In the legislature.
This so upsetting to these activists because they know that there will be compromise between sides, Abortion, while likely to remain legal in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, will do so with severe restrictions.
That may be unacceptable to the more strident supporters in the fight for and against abortion. But given our system of government, that’s the way it’s going to be. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. To defer this battle to the courts is to violate the very framework of the republic that establishes, guarantees, and protects our rights.
To want it any other way is to act like the children that pro-life and pro-choice advocates either want to be born or not.
My ex-partner went on to marry and have two children. I now have a wonderful wife and a beautiful, promising young daughter. I still believe I sinned. In my Catholic faith, I know I can be forgiven. Still, I have not found it possible to completely forgive myself.
The complexity of my feelings does not extend to a belief that I should impose my will on others. Especially with others who will struggle with — and live with —the decision of whether or not to have an abortion. Still, our states’ stances on abortion, and any restrictions concerning abortion, must be decided.
But the Supreme Court does not represent us. It’s not supposed to. It is established by the Constitution to review laws and rule on the constitutionality of those laws.
Elect people who represent you and vote the way you direct them to vote. But realize you may not get what you want, especially not all you want, and live with it. Or at least respect the law. The law that is to be crafted by the people’s representatives in the legislature. Not by a court to be appealed to and constantly tested by people who do not have the courage or the conviction to resolve this or any issue through the messy work of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The people. Not you alone.
George Hofmann is the author of Practicing Mental Illness – Meditation, Movement and Meaningful Work to Manage Challenging Moods. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, their daughter, and two poorly behaved dogs.