Decades from now, what will the historians say about the morality crusade? How will the movement, led by religiously hysterical conservatives be recorded? The movement of a minority, intending to pass laws impacting the majority population, certainly will be evaluated for its intended and unintended consequences. I’m arguing that the scribes of cultural movements will note, no doubt with regret, that the oppressive laws stimulated the growth of illegal activities. And in the footnotes, some historians will wryly add that many of those who championed the draconian laws were privately against them. I’m not talking about abortion (yet). I am talking about the campaign that was the essence of the mostly failed alcohol prohibition here in the United States. But the similarities between prohibition and the current morality movement against abortion are disconcertingly similar. While there are many to consider, here are just a few.
Prohibition was fueled by the grim reality that people were dying from extreme forms of alcoholism. The move from drinking beer and wine to guzzling distilled spirits created a nation of drunkards. Those who called for temperance believed it would reduce illness, absenteeism at work, accidents in cities and on farms and, generally, improve the moral character of our nation.
Abortions were available prior to Roe for women of means. For other women, abortions were illegal, unsafe and often deadly. Curiously, there was little to no concern about abortion until Roe. Once it passed, anti abortion sentiment was fueled by images of fetal remains that scavengers collected out of garbage bins and out of clinic freezers. This sentiment was furthered with the misnamed partial birth abortion frenzy debated by hysterical and uninformed legislators. Current anti abortion turmoil has extended to legislation impacting clinic facilities. It’s really a bit of irony to think how similar this is to what finally nailed the coffin on alcohol. Rather than anti drinking campaigns, the anti saloon league worked better by closing all the saloons. It’s conceivable that current legislation might be headed in the same direction to not make abortion inconvenient but to make access impossible by closing clinics.
And when the cultural history of celebrities in the United States is written, the books will note the prohibition stars like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, and the abortion celebrities like Abby Johnson and Troy Newman. They will be featured as single-issue stars who rose to fame then burned out.
Women were central figures in public protests against drinking alcohol. While the initial movement urged a form of moderation that came from a sincere desire within, rather than a forced decision, the women’s temperance groups eventually urged absolute abstinence.
Women continue to be central figures in public praying and protests outside abortion clinics. Being faithful heterosexuals, they also urge abstinence from sex until marriage.
Prohibition lobbying attracted single-issue voters like abortion attracts single-issue voters. Like Prohibition, the movement toward the repeal of Roe v Wade was started by Republicans and joined, later, by a few conservative Democrats.
Prohibition was energized by religious fervor, especially Protestants. Abortion is both a Protestant and Catholic issue in general. In the minority, Evangelicals and Fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics have been vocal opponents of Roe.
Prohibition gave our nation new terms like bootlegger, scofflaw, teetotaler, the drys and the wets, and rum running. Legal abortion has provided new vocabulary terms like anti, choice, prolife, and partial birth.
The above are just a few of the similarities between prohibition and abortion. The people who believed in prohibition thought that government could make life better. It’s no different than those who believe the government should overturn Roe to make our nation a more moral nation. But, like those who thought the government had no right to interfere with alcohol consumption, there are those, a majority, who believe that government has no place in legislating morality, including abortion. Prohibition was a failed social experiment that ignited organized crime, killed thousands of innocent citizens in the name of morality and law, and during the period leading to WWI, linked booze with anti-German war propaganda.
It stands to reason that if abortion is outlawed, there will be similar unintended consequences, some quite deadly.