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Opinion: Digging through the ‘dustbin of history’ — abortion is back on the ballot

Whether you are celebrating or mourning the overturning of Roe v. Wade, you should know what the future will look like

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A rallygoer with a “life” flag is pictured before a March for Life rally in Salt Lake City.

A rallygoer with a “life” flag is pictured before the March for Life rally in Salt Lake City on Jan. 22, 2022.

Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Controversies that once seemed to be in the dustbin of history — inflation, gas prices, superpower friction — have recently reappeared. Abortion is now added to that list. We offer our opinions on this sensitive and volatile issue and its impact on elections and lawmaking.

How will the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court play out in national and local politics?

Pignanelli: “For half a century, Roe kept a lid on this issue politically. You had activist groups on each side. But it wasn’t a central issue in campaigns.” — Jonathan Karl, ABC News

I vividly remember when Roe v. Wade was publicized in January 1973. The seventh and eighth graders of my parochial elementary/middle school in Holladay were ordered by the teachers — Irish Catholic nuns — to kneel by our desks and pray. When we were dismissed, the nuns declared they were joining a collective effort to reverse the decision. I did not comprehend this was the beginning of a large-scale effort to overturn established law. (But I still recall the pain in my knees.)

Recent polls indicate this issue is stirring movement among voters. But whether it overcomes inflation and gas prices for priority at the polls remains an open question. Most politicos expect the GOP to regain control of the House, but with a reduced margin. However, the surveys do reaffirm that a majority of Americans are in the middle. Thus, in the forthcoming heated battles inside Congress and legislatures, perceived overreach by either side (i.e. too restrictive or too expansive) could cause backlash in November. Because this is an unprecedented situation, long-term predictions are difficult.

The upcoming Utah general elections will not be affected. But over time activists from both sides will demand statements of support in local government and legislative deliberations. Litmus tests will be aggressively applied in the 2024 conventions and primaries.

The court decision did reaffirm a fundamental lesson learned by millions of Catholics: never doubt earnest nuns.

Webb: I want to note, at the outset, that because I’m not a woman I hesitate to weigh in on something that is so deeply personal to women. However, I have heard many wise, thoughtful and loving women make points with which I strongly agree. So I feel comfortable following their lead.

I fully support the court’s bold and correct decision and I don’t think it will be a major factor in the 2022 elections.

But first, I hope we can all agree that with abortion prohibited in Utah for most pregnancies, we need to better help women avoid unwanted pregnancies, support them if they do become pregnant, and provide help for the mother and new baby when it arrives. If we support a culture of life, it means more than just outlawing abortion.

Second, there must be thoughtful exceptions to the abortion prohibition. I subscribe to the position of Utah’s largest religious faith: Exceptions could include pregnancy resulting from rape and incest; when life and health of the mother is in serious jeopardy; or the unborn baby has severe defects making it unable to survive beyond birth.

Those guidelines have enough flexibility to accommodate a number of complexities and nuances. Individual circumstances can be difficult and tragic, so abortion laws need enough leeway to accommodate those things.

But I firmly believe society has an obligation to support life, to protect unborn babies from abortion-on-demand, abortion-as-a-convenience. The angry, abortion-rights activists shout loudly about a woman’s right to control her body, but never do they mention the little human growing inside her. No one on that side speaks for the baby.

And science is on the side of life. As we learn more about the development of unborn babies, we understand they are little humans and medical advancements help them become viable earlier and earlier in pregnancies.

Politically, this issue has energized the Democratic base and will perhaps impact some very close races. But it won’t save the Democrats from big losses this year.

The court ruling is likely to affect a variety of business and personal interests, including health insurance, employee relations, boycotts, privacy, etc. Will these factors impact political deliberations?

Pignanelli: In modern America, public policy debates on many issues are conducted through boycotts, investment/disinvestment demands, petitions, social media activities, etc. Expect the same treatment on this issue from both sides. Employer-based health insurance programs, especially among multistate companies, now have a new challenge. Privacy considerations of how the new laws are enforced will ensue. As with other issues, these practical concerns will seep into political discussions and elections.

Webb: Despite loud voices to the contrary, society can accommodate this Supreme Court decision. Remember, the court did not prohibit abortions. It said the proper place to decide these difficult issues is with citizens and who they elect to Congress and state legislatures.

Abortion access will be a battle in the states for the immediate future. Is eventual peace or at least a stalemate possible?

Pignanelli: The legislative deliberations, resulting elections and likely initiative petitions will be emotional contests. Because each side has a legitimate point, no comprehensive solution is on the horizon. But voter fatigue will demand a resolution that is not frequently tested.

Webb: The best possible outcome would be for people of good will with wisdom and integrity, on both sides, to come together, armed with a dose of humility and compassion, and reach compromise positions that protect life, include proper exceptions and support mothers and newborns.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant. Email:lwebb@exoro.com.

Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email: frankp@xmission.com.