Ever gotten into a debate over which of our practices will cause people to conclude, 100 years from now, that we were absolute savages? The question plagues me lately, piqued by listening to the audiobook "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and seeing the movies "Lincoln" and "Django Unchained."
There were people when slavery was legal who knew how sinful and repulsive the practice was, and tried tirelessly to explain that to others. Imagine the frustration that must have come from failing to convince.
Compared to slavery, most of our current societal ills pale.
Some vegetarians argue that, in 100 years, the way we now treat and eat animals will be looked on with horror. That's possible, but I don't think most people will put Big Agriculture's treatment of pigs and cows on par with what was done to slaves.
Some gay rights and women's rights activists say depriving homosexuals and women of equality will be seen as a travesty. It will, but getting less pay than a man or being unable to marry as you wish, while wrong, isn't the same as being enslaved by people allowed to sell you or rape or kill you.
If I had to guess what the history textbooks of 2113 will describe as the murderous tragedy of our age, I'd bet on abortions performed after the fetus is recognizably human.
As prenatal science develops, it's getting harder for even the most adamant abortion rights advocates to deny that fetuses, perhaps as they approach 15 weeks and certainly at 20 or 24, are feeling humans, and ending their lives is more than just a procedure.
Polls show most people have less-than-concrete feelings about terminating pregnancies. A few approve of later-term abortions. A few believe abortions should be outlawed in every instance. In between lies the majority, with a wide variance of opinions on how, when and where it's OK. But the tiny minorities holding the extreme beliefs are driving the debate.
I don't advocate outlawing abortion. We had abortion prohibition, and it worked as well as most prohibitions: Rich people got whatever they wanted and poor people got hurt.
I advocate making abortion obsolete, and thus truly rare.
Right now, Republican state legislatures are working to restrict abortions and activists are fighting to thwart them. What's needed is a whole new way of approaching it:
Abortion is not the problem. Unwanted pregnancy is the problem. The 1.3 million abortions in America each year are, instead, a deeply flawed solution to the problem.
We wouldn't need to argue much about the legality of abortions if both sides focused on making the need for them rare.
We eliminated polio in this nation. In 25 years we took AIDS from a death sentence to a treatable malady.
If we came together in the view that unwanted pregnancy is the crucial health crisis of our time, and attacked it like polio or AIDS, we'd conquer it.
Imagine the safety and effectiveness of birth control methods such a push would lead to. Consider the behavioral changes it could bring. In a world as advanced as ours, pregnancy should be a purposeful decision, not a mistake.
Developing safe, high-quality, long-term birth control for every man and woman not currently attempting to procreate is the answer. It's one most people across the abortion-opinion spectrum could get behind. And it would properly isolate those who won't.
Because 100 years from now, the ones regarded as savages will be those who didn't support eliminating unwanted pregnancies via omnipresent and omnipotent birth control because they were actually terrified of rampant sex.
I do believe we can come together as a society to pretty much eliminate abortions. If it's rampant sex you're fighting, that goal is a tougher sell.