The GOP’s Legacy of Lost Causes

A USA Today poll shows that support for legal abortion has gone up since the Dobbs decision. This is not surprising. The disturbing stories of what nonsense women have had to endure to get medical care have probably surprised a lot of people. The hard-core forced birth crowd is very certain there is never any medically justifiable reason to terminate a pregnancy, of course. But there are a lot of people out there who probably never gave it much thought before.

One of the things I’ve been working on this weekend is a post about the Temperance movement. There’s very little living memory of it left, of course. If we think of it at all, we think of shrewish old ladies breaking up saloons with axes. But for more than a century, from the 1820s to the 1930s, the Temperance movement was a big deal, and it had a big impact on U.S. politics. And, boy howdy, did it succeed! They set out to abolish liquor, and they got a Constitutional amendment passed that did exactly that.

The more I looked up stuff about the Temperance movement, the more parallels I found with abortion criminalization. There was no scientific polling in those days, unfortunately. But particularly from about the 1890s on, a lot of politicians were afraid to speak out in favor of saloons and legal drinking. It’s a bit like where Democrats were for a long time on abortion; it was considered suicidal to come out and say you wanted to keep abortion legal. It was more politically expedient to be “dry” than “wet.” All deference was given to the “anti” side, because their voters were more likely to be single-issue and driven to the point of fanaticism.

And what killed the Temperance movement, of course, was Prohibition. They got what they wanted, and people realized they didn’t like it. It wasn’t just that people missed being able to enjoy a drink now and then. The organized crime wave that came after was pretty nasty. And state tax revenues dropped like a rock. There was not much of an upside, in fact. Maybe people drank a lot less, but the unintended consequences weren’t worth it.

I thought this was interesting: Prohibition began in 1920. In their 1928 party platforms, both the Democrats and the Republicans pledged to support and enforce the Eighteenth Amendment but did not elaborate. Bur in 1932, the Republicans committed considerable verbiage to Prohibition in the platform. In all this verbiage they didn’t clearly come out and say that maybe it was a bad idea and should be repealed, but they did, very gingerly, suggest that maybe the states could be given more say on the matter of liquor sales.

But the Democrats in 1932 just plainly said “We advocate the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.” They hadn’t had the nerve to say that in 1928. Franklin Roosevelt’s landslide election very effectively killed Prohibition.

As with banning liquor, the Dobbs decision is showing people why criminalizing abortion is a really bad idea with a lot of harmful, unintended consequences. And, once again, the Republicans are on the wrong side of public opinion and history and don’t know what to do about it. You can find all kinds of advice on the Right, such as this article in the Federalist that calls for “positive pro-life messaging.” Yeah, they just need better messaging. That’s the ticket. All this horror about women nearly bleeding to death because their doctors don’t want to go to jail just needs to be framed in a better light, right?

What we’re going through now is nasty, but maybe it will kill the forced birth movement once and for all. Let’s hope.

Also, too: Remember when the Taliban dynamited those ancient standing Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan? Now the Taliban is selling ticket to the rubble. They need the money.