In a recent episode of TV’s Big Bang Theory, the characters play a game of “counterfactuals”: change one fact, and debate what happens. “In a world where the rhinoceros is a domesticated pet… who wins the Second World War?” Uganda. Clearly.
Hilarious! But to Rick Santorum, absurd and overly simplistic hypotheticals are deadly serious, and a way of life. For example, in a world where abortion is illegal… Social Security remains solvent!
Lunacy, to be sure, but worth addressing because a surprising amount of anti-choice rhetoric focuses on the “if only…” effect. But even the easy what-ifs don’t follow. It’s not safe to assume, for example, that the number of abortions equals anywhere near the number of babies that would otherwise be born. Overruling Roe wouldn’t stop abortion. It would stop legal abortion.
And though it was an odd argument to make, then and now, the Casey majority was right: Roe is by now a deeply-rooted rule of law, one that informs sexual behavior, in addition to governing the result. People make decisions based on its existence. If Roe were overruled tomorrow, would there be less unprotected, or loosely protected sex? Maybe. Or maybe reliance would shift to RU-486, or some new technology. It’s impossible to say; all we can know is that the number of aborted pregnancies is a variable that depends on much, much more than Roe.
Roe is nothing more than one thread in the very complicated tapestry covering reproductive life in the United States. It’s a very big thread, true, but it doesn’t define the pattern, and more importantly, it’s so intertwined with its neighbors that its removal would probably create a wild and unpredictable result. Good legislation in this area — to maximize freedom, and minimize moral unease — requires big-picture thinking, careful analysis, and compassion. But as his willingness to make inflammatory generalizations shows, that’s neither Rick Santorum’s interest, nor the Republican Party’s, generally.