Today’s abortion bans are similar to the alcohol ban of the 1920s and are doomed to failure for many of the same reasons. it made…
Public drunkenness, drug addiction, crime – the ill effects of alcoholism were both endemic and visible in British and American cities throughout the 19and century. Thus, groups of citizens who considered excessive alcohol consumption to be a major social problem decided to act. From the pulpit to the pamphlets, they preached the message of temperance – moderation and self-control in all things, especially the consumption of alcohol.
This is how the temperance movement began. But the movement itself did not remain subdued for long. Among its founders and activists were Evangelical Christians with a Puritan bent. For them, alcoholism, which we now know is a disease, was not the problem – the alcohol itself was. Alcohol was an elixir from Satan sent to induce us to sin, and anyone who produced or consumed it was, by definition, a sinner destined to go to hell and likely to drag others there with him.
Over time, these religious fanatics took over the temperance movement and turned it into an abstinence movement that pushed hard to make the making, storing, selling, possessing and consuming of strictly illegal alcoholic beverages. Their efforts resulted in the passage in 1919 of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, called the “Prohibition Amendment”, banning alcohol in the United States. (They called it the “noble experience.”)
What happened next was predictable for history students. Each time a group of authoritarian fanatics impose their conception of morality on an unwilling public, they create resistance. In the case of a traditionally free country like the United States, this resistance subverts both the effect and intent of the imposed legislation, and almost invariably defeats it – think of the Fugitive Slave Act, Prohibition, the war on drugs and the recent abortion. limitations.
Soon the Roaring Twenties, where underground drinking became rampant, were underway. Speakeasy’s, which served hearty booze with sides of illicit sex and gambling, popped up everywhere. Unregulated whiskey stills produced as much alcohol as could be consumed, as well as a lot of toxic “wood alcohol” responsible for thousands of deaths. Organized crime, based on the smuggling of alcohol, has taken hold in America. Tax revenue from legally produced alcohol was lost, and prohibition proved prohibitively expensive and ultimately unenforceable.
The net result? In 1933, only 14 years after its ratification, the 18and The amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment. The teetotalers had only managed to do much of the damage to the country before being legally defeated while losing any moral superiority or popularity they might have claimed had they remained moderate in their demands. A 2014 national poll found that only 18% of Americans “believe drinking should be illegal.”
About 50 years ago, dogmatic evangelical groups opposed to abortion for their own “religious” reasons decided that trying to persuade women to avoid abortion was not enough. They must Obligate women, all women, to do what they believed that God told them was right. They began to work, with the dedication of fanatics, to achieve their goal through relentless proselytizing to a largely indifferent public, up-and-coming legal maneuvering and intimidation of abortion providers, until murder. And now they have pretty much what they wanted, as Roe vs. Wade will undoubtedly be knocked down this summer.
…those who find this current manifestation of evangelical and right-wing fanaticism threatening and immoral can rejoice in the disappearance of the original ban.
While the similarities between Prohibition and the current (soon to be national?) abortion bans are legion, those who find this current manifestation of evangelical and right-wing bigotry threatening and immoral can rejoice in the demise of the original Prohibition. They must know that prohibitions will never fully succeed and, after a struggle, will most likely crumble – taking with them their false justifications for patriarchal domination of women. For many of the same factors that ended prohibition will inevitably end abortion bans.
The pro-choice struggle will take place on several levels: philosophical (moral), legal, political and, of course, that of the good old ban sabotage. And here, just as those who fought Prohibition, or simply ignored it and did what they wanted, had at their disposal the irresistible flow of illegal alcohol, called “moonshine”, the pro-choice movement has a new weapon: the ubiquitous availability of homemade abortion pills.
These pills have proven to be a safe and effective way to induce an abortion in the privacy of a woman’s home – or even in a teenager’s bedroom if her parents disapprove. They are available by prescription in most of the United States and over the counter in many countries, where networks can be formed to source and ship them to the United States.
How can these pills end up in the hands of women who need them, even in states where they are illegal? Let me name a few of the ways.
First, they can, and frequently already are, delivered by interstate and international mail in unmarked packages from addresses designed to mislead authorities trying to find them. Stopping this practice is much easier said than done. Federal mail is protected by the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, and local authorities would likely require a warrant from a federal judge to intercept what they deemed to be suspicious packages. Such mandates are long to obtain and costly to enforce. Meanwhile, volunteers can send false flag packages filled with candy to individuals and groups who don’t actually need abortion services, but are simply helping to undermine regulations. Try to prove that someone who gets some candy is breaking the law.
The pills can be hand-delivered by visiting friends and relatives who have obtained prescriptions from cooperating doctors and nurses in safe states. (Or, safe countries like Mexico and Canada if it comes to that.) Or handed over by friends and relatives returning from visits to safe states. A whole underground network can and will soon be set up to give underage and poor women access to pills, and the internet can help them and their supporters to distinguish between real drugs and duds. black market or poison.
And so on. Those in need, and those who care about those in need, will find a million clever ways to circumvent abortion bans, frustrate their enforcers, cripple state enforcement budgets and, above all, prevent unwanted births. Do-it-yourself chemical abortions are virtually unstoppable. Already, women are buying the pills in anticipation of possible future needs, and verified links to legit online vendors are available
We can’t be flippant, of course. Things can and will go wrong. People will be caught smuggling abortion pills and subjected to ridiculous and draconian penalties. The pills don’t always work, and because their effect mimics that of a miscarriage, some women may end up in the emergency room where they are questioned by officials or, worse, avoid going to the emergency room for fear of getting hurt. interview when they need medical services for their induced condition. There will be injury and death, but there will be nowhere near the suffering and injury that would occur if the prohibitions were obeyed and unwanted pregnancies came to term. For most people needing an abortion, the rewards will far outweigh the risks; and for many women who join the fight out of conviction or necessity, it will be worth any associated risk or sacrifice. The movement will have its heroes.
Ultimately, of course, the pro-choice battle is moral and political, and will only come to its proper conclusion when abortion is legalized, through federal law and constitutional amendment, nationwide. This battle will be fought on many fronts. Aided by the Internet, a large-scale propaganda campaign can touch the heart with horror stories about illegal abortion (alas, there will be too many) and change mindsets by explaining the link between the confidentiality guarantees of Constitution and the right of 50% of the population who happen to be women to control their bodies.
But one front in this war will be the battle to actually obtain a necessary abortion while simultaneously overturning the immoral prohibitions against it.
For the inevitable victory on this front, we have to thank the ally of modern medicine.