Issues of social behavior can be evaluated in three ways: morally, legally and politically. The moral question: is this behavior ethical or unethical? The legal question: is this behavior legal or illegal? The political question: how can I manipulate perceptions of this behavior to gain more power?
Many political philosophers, including J.S. Mill, have argued that if the morality of a certain behavior is ambiguous, and if the behavior in question carries primarily personal consequences with little to no larger societal ones, it is not the right of the government to outlaw it. his would be an unnecessary infringement on an individuals liberty.
A corollary to this principle is that, rather than concern itself with questions of personal morality, a government should focus on the larger well-being of the state through sound economic policies, environmental controls, security measures, and legislation on issues that will affect the whole society, rather than a small percentage of individuals.
Obviously, the line between what is of personal consequence and what is of societal consequence is blurry, but one argument cannot be made: that all issues of personal morality (such as abortion, drug or gun use) are necessarily issues of societal consequence. If this was true, the government would have a legitimate interest in controlling all personal behavior for the welfare of the state a view inconsistent with our nations interest in the liberty of the individual.
To return to the issue of abortion, it is not my interest to offer an opinion on the morality of the behavior in question. But I will say that, contrary to the claims of anti-abortionists, the issue is most definitely morally ambiguous. Any moral question on which an entire nation is evenly divided is not black and white.
For the very reason that abortion is an unanswerable moral question, it should be left outside the political arena. As a political issue, abortion is like a malignant cancer, corrupting the body politic by spreading tentacles of influence grossly disproportionate to the small place it should rightfully have in our cultural and political discourses.
For many I have spoken to, abortion is motivation for political participation, and they vote the straight Republican ticket, regardless of other issues that should reasonably concern them more.
I must admit a hint of admiration for the Republican leadership. By bringing abortion to the level of political prominence it now has, they can get away with a remarkable amount of negligence regarding more important issues. Republicans asked the political question about abortion: how can I manipulate perceptions of this behavior to gain more power?
The Democrats may do well to let the partial birth abortion ban stand. If this law takes away some of the shock value of abortion (with which the Republican party wins votes), perhaps the Democrats can pull the attention of the populace back to issues of far more national consequence, such as the economy, the environment, the Iraq fiasco, and our standing in the international realm.