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A House Divided

This column originally appeared as part of the Way of Politics series for the Democracy Cell Project, an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) created by former members of Kerry-Edwards 2004 blog team. The Way of Politics attempted to explore the intersection of religion, spirituality, and politics from a contemporary Deistic or secular and spiritual perspective.

On July 01, 2005, a date that marks the 142nd anniversary of the First Day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced that she was retiring from the Supreme Court. O'Connor has long been one of the so-called “swing” Justices on the current Court, and one of four Republican appointees (the others are Souter, Stevens, and Kennedy) who have supported the position that Roe v. Wade should be considered settled law.

In selecting Justice O'Connor's successor, President Bush will have an unique opportunity to demonstrate his ability to lead. At a moment when America is already at war in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and still pursuing the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, will he choose to unite the American people in this hour of great peril? Or, will he instead choose to impose his subjective religious convictions on a spiritually diverse people, through choosing an ideologically extreme conservative nominee, regardless of the consequences? And make no mistake: if President Bush chooses unwisely, the consequences will be dire.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned by a future Supreme Court, abortion will not suddenly disappear. Yes, it will be outlawed in many Red States, but it will remain safe and legal in most, if not all, Blue States. Women who are unable to get an abortion in their home state will inevitably seek abortions elsewhere. States that have outlawed abortion will eventually attempt, as they must if they truly believe that the procedure is tantamount to murder, to restrict the right of pregnant women to travel. Some states may even pass legislation requiring doctors to report all new pregnancies, in an attempt to enforce these kinds of travel restrictions. Individual liberty and privacy will be dramatically curtailed. Church and State will become entangled as never before. Incendiary rhetoric condemning the differing views of pro-choice legislatures and electorates will spread through anti-abortion states like wildfires. Friction among the various States will become greater than at any time since the Civil War.

The abortion issue is an intensely emotional one. Some see abortion as murder, the termination of a child's single opportunity for life. Others see it as the expression of a woman's right to spiritual self-determination – and believe that any soul that God wills to be born will be given another suitable vehicle for birth. These are widely divergent spiritual perspectives – at this moment in our national life, impossible to reconcile. Yet, the vast majority of pro-choice advocates also acknowledge that abortion should be the last resort of a 21st century woman when exercising her right to spiritual self-determination – and strongly support the kind of responsible contraceptive practices that will, in time, make abortion rare but legal. But the Bush Administration and its conservative religious allies resolutely refuse to meet us half way.

Today is July 3rd, the 142nd anniversary of Pickett's Charge, and the Final Day of the Battle of Gettysburg. On this day I urge President Bush to consider his legacy when nominating Justice O'Connor's replacement on the Supreme Court. He has many eminently qualified, sensibly conservative jurists to choose from. This kind of Justice would know better than to attempt to impose their subjective religious convictions on a spiritually diverse nation, in the process creating an historic divide that may never again be joined.

I urge the President to reflect upon the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, who told the people of Illinois on June 16, 1858:

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

President Bush, do not further divide this house, and imperil the Union that braver men than you or me made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve.

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2005. All rights reserved.
Originally published on July 3, 2005, as part of The Way of Politics series.