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60Leading Children Beyond Good and Evilhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/05/leading-children-beyond-good-and-evil
Mon, 01 May 2000 00:00:00 -0400 Perhaps the enduring subtext in the evolution of moral education in America, and its continuing story to the present, has been a quest for inclusiveness. While the need to provide moral instruction to young people has never been questioned, neither has the impulse to accommodate the ever-growing diversity of moral cultures. In the face of potentially contentious and disrupting cultural differences, theorists and practitioners adopted inclusive accommodation as a strategy to neutralize the likelihood of conflict, since when put into practice, cultural inclusion means that no one’s interests are neglected, no one is left out, and, therefore, no one is slighted, snubbed, or offended. William Glasser captured the sum and substance of the quest for our own day as early as 1969 when he stated that “certain moral values can be taught in school
if the teaching is restricted to principles about which there is essentially no disagreement in our society
” (emphasis added).
What Americans Really Think About Abortionhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/1992/06/001-what-americans-really-think-about-abortion
Mon, 01 Jun 1992 00:00:00 -0400At the foundation of any democratic society is the principle that the laws that order our lives together are legitimate only so long as they enjoy popular consent. This is precisely why the series of Supreme Court decisions allowing and protecting a woman’s access to an abortion on demand are so deeply contested. These decisions do not, in the main, reflect the “will of the people.” However, it would be a mistake to imagine that merely fine tuning the law in some way to reflect the arithmetic mean of public opinion in America would make any difference in resolving the controversy.
For, contrary to established opinion, the disagreement over abortion is not, at root, a legal one. Law is neither the fundamental problem nor the final solution. Thus if abortion rights advocates think that their opposition will just get tired some day and go away, they are dreaming-as are anti-abortion advocates if they imagine that all will be well the moment
Roe v. Wade
is overturned. None of the various possible legal outcomes will settle the dispute or even ease the tensions between these two groups, because the abortion controversy is in its nature a cultural controversy. No matter what happens in courts and legislatures the abortion issue will not disappear until we somehow reach a greater consensus with respect to the standards of justice and goodness our communities will abide by. If there is to be an abortion law that is politically sustainable over the long haul, then, the fundamental task must be one of moral suasion.
However, in an age like our own where the money and rhetoric of special interests dominate public debate, the art of persuasion sounds quaintly “Greek,” in that antiquated and proto-democratic sense. If the system today makes it possible for laws to be enacted without convincing the community of their rightness, then clearly “persuasion” will be seen to be a waste of time and money. Yet the recovery of genuine public debate is not simply the stuff of late-night, sherry-drinking nostalgia but is in fact nothing less than the requirement of a truly just democratic order.
In the years since
Roe v. Wade
, serious efforts to listen to and understand one another have gone by the board. If anything, what is nowadays taken to be the main tool for listening to the general public”namely, survey research”has itself become an ideological weapon in the culture war. Survey questions are framed in ways that allow the side doing the surveying”whichever side it happens to be”to claim that it represents the views of the majority of Americans. The simplistic way that questions are typically worded (e.g., “Is abortion murder?” “Should abortion be legal?” etc.) only makes matters worse. Add to this the overt bias of research operations like the Guttmacher Institute, a kind of ministry of scientific propaganda for the abortion rights movement, and one finds very little reliable information on how Americans really view abortion and the abortion controversy. At most, we have a portrait of American public opinion defined by radical polarization on the extremes (roughly 20 percent) and total moral confusion in the middle.
A blithe, if not indeed imperious, ignorance of the public’s real views on abortion characterizes advocacy on both sides of the issue. It was, however, the pro-life movement that was to feel the consequences of this ignorance most keenly, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s
decision in 1989. What irony! Here was the first Supreme Court decision in years that favored the pro-life agenda: by changing the standards of judicial review for abortion law,
laid the groundwork for returning to the states the authority to regulate the practice of abortion. But before the pro-life movement had a chance to celebrate its victory, a pro-choice backlash was unleashed that effectively recaptured the momentum of public sentiment. In the months following the
decision, all of the major abortion rights interest groups reported a substantial increase in new recruits and contributions, celebrities came out of the woodwork on their behalf, and press coverage (largely favorable) on all of their activities was expanded. In other words, the anti-abortion movement had won the legal battle but lost the public relations battle. The political consequences were immediate. By autumn, at least forty-five members of the House of Representatives had modified their anti-abortion positions, resulting in a reversal by the House on both the Dornan anti-abortion funding amendment and the Hyde Amendment. Likewise, in several major congressional and gubernatorial elections, the victory was won by the abortion rights candidate in part because of the waffling of the pro-life candidates.
Out of the post-
panic there surfaced three serious efforts among the pro-life organizations to grasp just what was going on in the hearts and minds of average Americans over this issue. One survey was commissioned by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted by The Wirthlin Group; another was commissioned by the Family Research Council, a division of Focus on the Family, and conducted by Tarrance and Company; and a third was commissioned by Americans United for Life and conducted by the Gallup Organization. All were fielded in the spring and summer of 1990. The longer-range purpose of this research, of course, was to enable the groups sponsoring it to design strategies for influencing public opinion. Still, the surveys were not intended for public use in and of themselves, but represented a real effort to understand exactly how the American public views abortion. The sponsoring groups really set out to listen to those they hoped still to persuade. Now the results are in, and what we learn is fascinating indeed.