The man whose work inspires this forum, Sir Peter Ustinov, was a recipient of a medal from the Royal Society Of The Arts. It was called The Benjamin Franklin Medal, given for cultural activity fostering good relationships between the UK and the US. Of course he promoted relations between all peoples and of goodwill between all. I always thoght he should have played Franklin. Physically as well as temperamentally, he would have been terrific.
The US could use a Franklin now! Obviously all nations could benefit from the imput of such figures. But the US seems to have become locked into a kind of automatic binary version of group think. This is the antithesis of what its founding fathers and early settlers founded that great nation for, after settling it. Those individuals such as Franklin, were independently minded and oriented. Rugged individualism, as a phrase, an accurate one, to describe a sort of American spirit of individual adventurousness, good or bad, was not yet at the fore, but lurking, when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Such a phrase can indeed be as offputting for as many as it might be inspiring for some. And there lies the problem today in America. One man or woman's medicine is another's poison! On nearly every issue, America appears polarised. It seems caught between or in, a game of tug of war! On a day that remembers a victory, that was the concluding of a war, surely we can see there must be another way.
But Americans mostly, historically, disliked the extremes. It was evident that when a candidate for President emerged from too far left or right, he lost! When Barry Goldwater was the man who secured the Republican nomination in 1964, he was painted as farther right than ever a candidate had been, more far right even than he actually was! He did indeed go down to the most obvious defeat. But Goldwater was an interesting figure. Throughout much of his career as a politician, he excercised an independent mind. He was more of a Libertarian than, by today's standards, what in effect would be called a Conservative. He, encouraged by his wife, who felt it strongly, was pro legal abortion. And it was the conservatively rightwardly drifting Ronald Reagan, who signed, as Governor of California, the at that time, most pro legal abortion bill into law, in 1960's, 70's America!
There lies the greatest divide on the oddest issue, today, in America. No other country has let abortion rights become so politicised as well as therefore, for its people so polarised. Each side is entrenched. Now polemics have given way to prejudice! A viewpoint which once was often held strongly, argued loudly, has become more than a view. Today, the views have led to policies and these have taken to the farther ends of the political agenda. The latest decision, that by the Supreme Court, to remove abortion rights from constitutional protection, as expressed in the landmark 1973 Roe Vs Wade ruling, is hardly surprising for two reasons.
The first is the politicisation of the Supreme Court. A court ought not be partisan especially with regard to party affiliation. But the great institution that is that Supreme Court, has only nine members. A country the size of America looking to a court of so few, cannot really invest it with such power without it falling into the hands of even fewer. For it is the President that appoints, the Senate that confirms, appointments. Of course the latter does indeed reject the choices of the former. But if of the same party and viewpoint, a majority Senate, in favour of the current President, invariably approves the nomination.
When Presidents were moderates, there was no problem. It meant often the appontment of moderates. As the President has moved to the extremes, so too has the court. Trump appointed three members of the court. As Trump himself had moved to the farther right, to court public opinion on that more extreme end of the political agenda, so too his Justices take a very conservative stand on issues within a Supreme Court that is seen as moving to the extremes in taking a political view.
Thus we have the removal of Roe Vs Wade. But it need never be thus. If American public opinion, on most issues as keen on the middle ground, the mainstream position, the moderate approach, as most people, had let issues remain dealt with in this way, the current debacle would not have happened. A court is not the ideal decision making body for an issue like abortion. Congress ought to have ruled on it by voting in favour of abortion rights decades ago.
But and indeed, secondly, as we have the right moving right, so too we see the left moving left. Most democracies that are in any way progressive, whether definitely or mildly, have legalised abortion. Only Ireland, seemed to be a conservative country on this, even more than others. When that small but very democratically mature country legalised abortion in its referrendum, much worldwide attention was focussed there. Women returning from countries they were working or studying in, to vote in favour, got much coverage. The diminishing of power of the Church, in a country where the anouncements and dealings with, abuse, by the Catholic hierarchy and clergy, were greeted with disgust, was no surprise. And yet, an in-built caution seems to be obvious in that Ireland has settled thus far, on a limit to legal abortion on most grounds, of twelve weeks. This is the law in France. Indeed in much of Europe, eighteen weeks is more or less unheard of. In the UK until recent years it was twenty eight weeks. In the US likewise. In Canada it is virtually unrestricted!
If laws are not moderate, they reflect and entrench views that are extreme. Only when independent thinking prevails, does moderate lawmaking arise. Parties are no place for mandates on abortion. Conscience alone must be decisive. Those of us who share the view of Bill Clinton, who said abortion should be, legal, safe and rare, do not think it wrong to talk of the viability of life as a point of limit. We can feel that it is right when it comes to that point, to talk also of the unborn as posessing human rights.
Once, abortion was illegal in most countries, and most countries witnessing horrors, back street abortions, criminalised doctors, legalised it. But most set limits to the right to abort, but not to the right to debate. The US has lost the sense of liberty that was once present in the court of public opinion. Only when America can get back a spirit of independence of mind, of respect for originality of thought, of compassion for decision-making by women, of concern for human rights for all, of allowing that to mean including the viable unborn, of care for the poor who are pregnant, of understanding another point of view, can the politics of polarisation, be replaced. Then it would mean that independent thinking can reign supreme, rather than a court. And truly independent, we can fly a flag for freedom of thought as much as for a Day to celebrate it!