Modern weaponry and political rhetoric have a lot in common.
Several years ago, I was shooting sporting clays with a much younger man, an Afghan war veteran. He had been trained on automatic or semi-automatic military weapons. My training (mostly by experience) was shooting one shotgun shell at a time. My aim had to be more exact; he could spray the zone of the target.
Now don’t get me wrong. First, this is not a column about ballistics. Yet, most of us are familiar with stories about rapid fire technology and adrenalin—unfortunately that is where many of us are in politics.
The Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade had nationalized abortion policy and its reversal triggered expected reactions. Indeed, the leak of a draft some weeks before resulted in demonstrations at the homes of Justices of the United States Supreme Court and apparently, a botched attempt to assassinate Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Much of the news after the decision could have been written after a hard fought and won legislative battle. It had a certain “sharks and skins” dynamic. It was about outcomes; constitutional arguments be damned. Justices that voted to overturn Roe were vilified. Justice Clarence Thomas came in for especially harsh treatment.
Interestingly, Justice Sonia Sotomayor who voted in the minority had recently spoke of her relationship with Justice Thomas. She noted that the two share a “common understanding about people and kindness.” She continued: “That’s why I can be friends with him and still continue our daily battle over our differences of opinions in cases, You really can’t begin to understand an adversary unless you step away from looking at their views as motivated in bad faith.”
Perhaps it is easier for someone with a law background to be more detached. I get that. But, for all those who want to shape abortion policies, state capitals are the new venues. Unless there is a dramatic shift in national politics it is unlikely that abortion policy will be nationalized any time soon.
Few public policy issues are more consequential than abortion policy. Yet the least adaptable institution of government took the policy over fifty years ago. In the intervening years a number of state legislatures yelled at the Supreme Court in the form of restrictive legislation. Much of this legislation was more about politics than dealing with life and death issues.
But now challenging the Supreme Court on abortion policy is past. State legislatures are the authority and must inform themselves on the scientific and societal complexities deeply embedded in the right to choose life or death. This is not a light responsibility; it is one that forces human beings to be at their best.
There are fifty states and there will be fifty answers. Many of the answers will be disconcerting to those with insistence principles. Yet we should never forget America’s history and heterogeneity. While many things unite us, we know that our many layered demography assures sharp differences on some issues. We should never forget that we are at our best when we find it possible to disagree agreeably.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.