I have not previously commented on social issues like abortion because they are so divisive in a world where national unity is a key element of strategic strength. Personally, I am a practicing Roman Catholic and am pro-life on the issue. However, as an attorney, it has been heartbreaking to see the division over this issue corrupt the judicial nominating process. The branch of the federal government once called “the least dangerous” now mirrors our divisions instead of healing them.
The Supreme Court’s Dobbs opinion feeds this polarization by punting a fundamental human rights issue to the vagaries of federal, state and local politics. It overrules Roe v. Wade on the theory that the right to an abortion and indeed, the question of when life begins, is not deeply rooted in the concept of American due process and human rights and thus protected by the 14th Amendment. The majority opinion rules it is thus “time to heed the Constitution” and return these issues to the states.
Herein lies the one concept on which pro-life and pro-choice activists can both oppose; namely, that the question of when human life is entitled to protection should be allowed to differ from state to state. This is a fundamental national value enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the due process clause of the Constitution. Instead, the definition of this right will now be subject to the whims of state legislatures, which can change the definition after each election. At the same time, pro-choice advocates are pushing a federal stature legalizing abortion nationwide even though it also could be repealed by a subsequent Congress. Many states will continue to offer liberal abortion services and structures are now being developed to allow women from anti-abortion states to travel to those states to obtain one. In the end, the rate of abortions may change little because of this opinion.
The Constitution provides a nationalist solution to this dangerous political chaos – a constitutional amendment creating a national standard. If the pro-life movement had put its energy since Roe into evangelizing for such an amendment instead of trying to reshape the courts, we might now have one that bans abortion nationwide. Conversely, the pro-choice movement also could propose a constitutional amendment overruling Dobbs and legalizing abortion nationwide. The adoption of either amendment would require supermajorities at both the federal and state levels. Thus, the eventual solution would have to be supported by a broad consensus achieved through an open democratic process rather than judicial fiat. Each would clearly involve a period of intense debate, but the eventual solution would have more legitimacy in the eyes of the American people.
As Theodore Roosevelt says above, the Constitution was designed to insure that, in the end, the American people always had the last word. The constitutional amendment process is an integral part of the checks-and-balances system designed to insure it reflects the fundamental values of the American people. It has been used several times in the past to overrule Supreme Court rulings. If the issue of abortion must be addressed through the democratic process as suggested by the Supreme Court’s opinion, the two sides should concentrate on building the support necessary to propose and adopt an amendment that reflects their position. This is the best way to achieve a resolution of the issue in a way that also preserves our unity in the long run.
Joe Biden arrived in Washington promising a plethora of conflicting foreign policy goals. Much was made of a new “foreign policy for the middle class”, which appeared to be a rejection of the old liberal hegemonic model of his predecessors Bush and Obama. Yet Biden also claimed “America is back” to being an international leader throughout the world. Climate change also was supposedly a driver, as well as the old Obama Administration “pivot toward Asia”. These priorities have now been eclipsed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Administration’s stated goal of weakening Russia. If Ukraine and Europe remain the top priority, this new priority will prevent any real progress on any other foreign policy goals.
The administration’s focus on defeating Russia in Ukraine conflicts with the rest of the world’s more pressing priority of ending the war as soon as possible. For developing nations, the war is causing a hunger crisis that threatens their people’s lives and national stability. Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of the world’s wheat exports, 29% of barley and 15% of maize. They are also leading exporters of potash and fertilizer, which allows other nations to grow their own food. Ukraine itself provides the calories necessary to feed 400 million people (see the recent leader in The Economist magazine “The Coming Food Catastrophe”). In response, India and other nations are embargoing the export of domestically grown wheat and other foodstuffs in a move reminiscent of protectionist measures taken during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moreover, the call to uphold the international rule of order rings hollow with nations that experienced invasion and conquest by western nations in the past. Whether it is China, India or other countries, they remember their colonial past and do not believe that they should sacrifice trade and other relations with Russia for a far-away conflict. As I mentioned in this previous post, their past has made them the ultimate realists dedicated to preserving and building their own sovereignty against more direct threats.
President Biden’s Russia-Ukraine myopia also weakens the effort to respond to more direct challenges. Japan, India, Indonesia and Southeast Asia nations are more concerned about the threat from China than Russia. They are undoubtedly wondering if the vaunted pivot to Asia has now turned 180 degrees towards Europe. Latin America also needs our attention and is equally unconcerned about Ukraine. Indeed, Russia has threatened another Cuban missile crisis by proposing to station military assets with fellow anti-American authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. A policy centered on Ukraine may thus result in a direct strategic threat to the American homeland.
Washington’s obsession about Ukraine thus endangers its ability to achieve other critical foreign policy objectives. It makes it more difficult to recruit developing countries to fight climate change and protect America from real national security threats. Something will have to give. At this point, the climate change agenda is most at risk. The only other way to accomplish all of these objectives is to paper them over with billions of American budgetary dollars. Russia’s invasion highlights the need for increased domestic commitment on the American home front, but a spending spree of that scale currently lacks any real American public support and could endanger our own economic goals. If the Administration wants to take that road, it must prepare the American people to make significant sacrifices in taxes, spending and domestic policy. The choices this may entail will be the subject of the next article in this series.