By Dave Andrusko
The beauty of the web is that one thing leads to another to another with often times leading to fascinating results. Such is what happened as I was trolling for information to reply to a friend’s request.
I ran across a 2001 piece that appeared in the New York Times written by the late Robin Toner, under the headline, “The abortion debate, stuck in time. Political realities haven’t kept pace with changes in science, culture and public attitudes.” Bear in mind this was 21 years before Dobbs. The first paragraph (in a story that appeared the day before the anniversary of Roe) was her thesis:
“For most of the 28 years [remember, this is 2001] since the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, the political debate over abortion has remained, essentially, frozen in time. Science has changed, the culture has changed, public attitudes have changed, but the politics of abortion unfolds like a Kabuki play, stylized and familiar, as it did throughout the capital last week.”
In other words, all the changes Toner went on to list made no difference in the “political debate.” Nobody can be faulted for not seeing how an argument plays out (that was then) twelve and a half-years later. But let’s just hold some of her “evidence” up to the light of time.
To be clear Toner is suggesting that some developments tilt the debate in a pro-abortion direction, others in a pro-life direction.
Stem Cell research—embryonic stem cell research, to be more specific. Toner saw that as a huge loser for pro-lifers. She wrote, “[M]any patient advocates are pleading for embryonic stem cell research to go forward, citing its great promise in treating diseases from Parkinson’s to diabetes.”
Pro-lifers objected on ethical and practical grounds. It’s wrong to scavenge tiny human beings; it likely would never work (for a host of reasons) and, to date, it hasn’t. Even in 2001 there was discussion of ethically acceptable alternatives which now flourish.
In the years since, we were proven correct. I wrote this sometime ago:
“To date ESCs [Embryonic Stem Cells] haven’t helped a single human, and haven’t even helped very many lab mice in over 30 years of research. … Adult stem cells (obtained from bone marrow, blood, fat tissue, umbilical cord blood, and other tissues after birth) are already helping over 60,000 people each year around the world. …
“Moreover, great progress is being made in fine-tuning the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells)–an alternative way of producing stem cells that are for all practical purposes identical to Embryonic Stem Cells.”
Okay, what even then was playing to the pro-life advantage? Toner wrote
On the other hand, the abortion rights position is complicated by the increasing ability to see inside the womb. ‘’We think most of the scientific developments are aiding the pro-life cause,” [then-NRLC Legislative Director Douglas] Johnson said. ‘’The new technologies create a window to the womb, which makes people much more cognizant of the humanity of the unborn child.” Americans with sonograms of fetuses on their refrigerators are unlikely to think quite the same way about abortion, Mr. Johnson argues.
The very next sentence was a quote from David J. Garrow, “a historian at Emory University and a scholar of the abortion rights movement” (actually an apologist for “the abortion rights movement”) who admitted, “We are a much more fetally aware society than we were when Roe came down.”
“More fetally aware” in 2001 and a hundred times more today.
Toner had several other examples, concluding with the nothing-ever-changes observation that on the day of the then-28th anniversary of Roe, “On both sides, the signs and slogans will be familiar.” Of course she could not know—and likely would have been shocked to hear—that the Supreme Court finally came to its sense and overturned Roe v. Wade.
But as we have explained countless times in this space, everything has changed, nothing more cataclysmic than the June 24th decision in Dobbs that set the stage for a ferocious, state-by-state battle.
With that in mind, pro-lifers have and will continue to gird up our loins.