The battle of the polls goes on and on: Pro-life up, pro-life down, pro-choice down, pro-choice up. Some of us have been following the survey research on attitudes toward abortion for decades. The striking thing is how steady the data are. A small minority thinks abortion should be legal for any reason throughout pregnancy, and up through the baby’s being born. That, in fact, is the present legal reality under the regime of Roe v Wade , but most Americans don’t know it. The intense public focus on partial birth abortion, however, did educate many to the reality. Some pollsters persistently skew the question by asking if people support Roe and then adding that Roe permits abortion in the first trimester. That description of Roe is flatly false. Earlier this year, when asked whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice, a slight majority of both men and women answered pro-life. The latest polls suggest that a slight majority is now answering that they are pro-choice. What is going on here? One answer is that, whenever the subject turns to overturning Roe v Wade , as it does when Supreme Court nominations are in the news, even people who may on other scores be pro-life trend toward supporting that 1973 decision. That has everything to do with the above-mentioned misconstrual of the state of the law under Roe . When, however, people are asked about when abortion should be legal, it turns out that a great majority favors extending the protection of the unborn. Abortion should be legal, they say, in the first trimester or only in instances of rape, incest, and direct threat to the life of the mother. Strong majorities favor waiting periods and parental notification in the case of minors seeking to abort their children. As one decidedly pro-abortion newspaper put it editorially some years ago, supporters of Roe must face the fact that 75 percent of Americans think that abortion should not be legal for the reasons that 95 percent of abortions are obtained. The truth is that we will not know how all this will sort itself out until Roe v Wade is somehow made nugatory and people have a chance to express their will through elections, referenda, and the legislative acts of their representatives. It is not true, as Justice Ginsburg and others claim, that Roe only speeded up the pro-abortion trend in the society (see Russell Hittinger, "Abortion Before Roe ," October 1994 ). Almost all the members of the Supreme Court are critical of the legal and medical reasoning behind the Roe decision but a majority still supports its conclusion. A change of two votes could consign Roe to the judicial dustbin. Meanwhile, the continuing task is to educate people on the existing state of the law under the regime of Roe v Wade .
Palmer Theological Seminary outside Philadelphia (formerly Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) has just increased its income by two or three million dollars. That’s what Sotheby’s expects to get for a working manuscript score for a piano version of Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge.” The manuscript, with page upon page of Beethoven’s scratchings and emendations, is said to provide rare insights into his mind and working methods in the last years of his life. The treasure was discovered in the seminary’s library by librarian Heather Carbo as she was going through the dreary task of moving boxes containing what was thought to be accumulated junk. The score was purchased by a 19th century Cincinnati industrialist, William Howard Doane, who wrote hymns on the side. I am told, but cannot document, that he was the son of hymn-writer (“Thou art the Way; to Thee alone,” and “Beloved, ‘It is well.”) George Washington Doane, the Episcopal bishop of New Jersey who died in 1859. In any event, I expect that even as you read this there are around the country librarians (and financial officers) who have decided that all that accumulated junk in the basement is suddenly in need of urgent attention.
Yes, we know it is “controversial.” The article by Avery Cardinal Dulles on the covenant and the Jews in the November issue of FIRST THINGS was originally given at a Jewish-Christian conference in Washington where it caused quite a stir. The fact is that some Jews and Christians active in “the dialogue” are inclined to subordinate theological truth to inter-group good feelings. That is not the way of Cardinal Dulles. With keen awareness of the sensibilities engaged, he sets forth the truth claims that Christians have no right to compromise. I expect the article will be a continuing point of reference among those who agree with the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that “interfaith dialogue begins with faith.”