Of Passing Laws and Changing Behavior, in 2022

This is an updated version of a post I wrote in 2019.

On Monday, a draft ruling, written by Supreme Court Justice Alito, was leaked to the public. This draft signals an overturn to the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion almost 50 years ago. Since Monday, the American public has been in hot debate about the impact of such a decision.

The reactions can be heard across the nation. One camp is celebrating, believing they’ve won the war. Another is rallying its troops, preparing for the fight of their lives.

And I’m sitting here asking questions.

Do we actually believe overturning Roe will eliminate abortion in our country?

Do laws really have the power to change behavior?

Does the law prohibiting alcohol consumption under the age of 21 stop underage drinking? Did it stop you? Or did it merely force you to find ways to conceal the fact that you were drinking?

I had one of my first drinks around age 15 in a friend’s basement an hour before a school dance. A dozen of us drank too much, piled ourselves into cars driven by those who shouldn’t have been driving, and, by the grace of God, made it to the dance. Things could’ve gone much differently.

Actions pressed into hiding don’t often turn out well.

Prior to Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion up to the age of viability, women got abortions illegally. No official records were kept, obviously, but researchers now estimate that approximately 800,000 illegal abortions were performed annually prior to 1973 (The Guttmacher Institute). Women snuck around corners into dark alleys, paid people who may or may not have had medical expertise, and took risks that often ended their lives or left them permanently unable to bear children. They sought out secret abortions regardless of a law that prohibited them.

Let me stop right here and say that I am not pro-abortion. Actually, I imagine very few people would say that they like abortion — even among the most liberal pro-choice advocates. I am merely questioning whether restrictive legislation will decrease the number of abortions performed in our country. And, even if it does, will it have the greater impact of ‘removing this sin from our land’ as some Evangelicals hope?

Is abortion the greatest sin we’ve got? Or is it human trafficking, or systemic racism, or the prison industrial complex, or drug and alcohol addiction, corporate greed, or sexual assault, or the epidemic of homelessness in this wealthy first world country? Perhaps some of the energy spent on overturning Roe could be diverted to one of the myriad other widespread ills of our land.

But I digress. If we really want to decrease abortions and care for the unborn, is overturning Roe the best way?

Perhaps the answer to decreasing the number of abortions and changing the hearts and behaviors of those who would choose abortion lies instead in changing the culture in which women are pressed into desperate situations — a culture where sexual assault impacts more than 1 in 4 women and where the words of women are often not believed.

What if we could change the culture that was ok with electing a president even after learning that he had bragged about his sexual exploitation of women? a culture that leaves thousands of rape kits in warehouses — untested for years — while perpetrators make more women into victims?

What if we could change a culture that shames women who rely on public assistance into one that provides all women (and men) with resources — for contraceptives, mental health care, medical costs, and child care?

We need to look at such a cultural shift because creating bills and laws that outlaw behavior do not, in and of themselves, eliminate that behavior.

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse Statistics, 11.7% of Americans over the age of 12 use illegal drugs. Ten million Americans misuse opioids at least once over a 12 month period. The number of overdose deaths increases at an annual rate of 4%.

Laws do not eliminate behavior, they merely push it behind closed doors.

Not only that, laws often position us one against another. They put us in camps, as though we are at war with one another. Haven’t we sorted ourselves as either pro-life or pro-choice, as if this complex issue could be boiled down to either/or?

The problems we face are more complicated than that — abortion is but a symptom of a much larger problem — one that is quite complex. In this country, which was founded on the principle that all [men] were created equal, we have not historically extended liberty to people who were not [white] men. Women [and people of color, and most especially, women of color] in our country have long felt unheard, disrespected, and undervalued. They have long been dismissed, abused, underpaid, and neglected.

Women who have found themselves in desperate situations, have sometimes chosen abortion when the alternative has been shame, condemnation, parental or spousal punishment, physical harm, an inability to provide, or having to raise a child born of assault. Deprived of other forms of agency, women have chosen the most desperate of actions.

The solution to the problem is not merely prohibiting abortion. No, if you want to value life, you have to value all life, and that starts with valuing the lives of women. Seeing women, listening to women, paying women equally, promoting women, electing women, and caring for [all] women.

In this country of wealth, education, and privilege, certainly we can handle complex problems such as this. Surely we have the wherewithal to consider a solution that is multi-faceted and takes into account the welfare of all — the unborn and those who are already living.

It sure looks like the Supreme Court is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. And what will be our response?

Will we continue with our division, holing up in our camps slinging grenades at one another? Or are we willing to do something bigger, something better, something we have the capacity for — to craft a new way forward.

What if we tried coming together, listening to one another, hearing each other’s stories, and working together to find unique and complex solutions? Right now, we are staying in our own lanes, each convinced that he is going the right way, refusing to cross paths, take detours, or share the ride. When we refuse to communicate, when we resist difficult dialogue, we lock ourselves in opposition; we prohibit change.

And don’t we want change? Don’t we all want what is best for our country and the people who live within it? Don’t we want all women, men, and children (born and unborn) to be safe and valued? To be cared for, provided for, nurtured, and loved?

Perhaps we can start by asking ourselves a few questions.

If you stand against abortion, do you also stand with and for women and children? Do you befriend them? even if they don’t look like you? Do you encourage them? how? Do you provide for them? In what way?

If you are pro-choice, what actions are you taking to support and sustain the lives around you? to offer a variety of choices that may or may not include abortion? Are you willing to interact with those who say they are pro-life? Are you willing to sit down over a cup of coffee and have a real conversation? Are you willing to listen openly, without formulating rebuttal in your mind?

I recently had the opportunity to share the room with some recovering alcoholics. I listened carefully to their stories and their conversations, and I learned from them. Do you know what got them to stop drinking? Was it a law? Not typically. Sure some addicts dry up when they are arrested or thrown in jail, but more stop drinking and stay sober when they have, in finding the bottom, looked up to see a support system gathering around them — a bunch of fellow wanderers who are stumbling together toward a better life. They aren’t shaking their fists and pointing fingers at each other. No, they are offering a hand or sharing a ride; they are reaching out, listening, and showing up.

Wouldn’t it be great if the mere passage of laws remedied the ills of a society?

It doesn’t work that way.

We’re much more broken than that, my friends. Pointing fingers, passing judgement, heaping on shame, and throwing people in jail do not fix brokenness.

Brokenness can only be healed in community — in partnership — through love.

Rather than passing more punitive laws, I wonder if we might try a different way — a coming together, a collective sharing of lives, a genuine care for the people around us. A gathering, lifting up, supportive kind of sharing that is willing to walk with people through complex situations and even, dare I say, pass laws and create policies that provide alternate paths, financial support, and an entrance ramp to a different way of life.

Are you willing to give it a try? Where do we start?

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.

Psalm 25:4

2 thoughts on “Of Passing Laws and Changing Behavior, in 2022

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