Guns, abortion and COVID in America: Life, death and differences too stark to bridge

·5 min read

It’s been an intense life-and-death week in America: Four teenagers are killed in a school shooting, the Supreme Court debates abortion, a new COVID strain arrives – and none of the arguments over any of it make political or constitutional or public health sense.

If you’re “pro-life,” why not support reasonable gun restrictions? Why not support COVID vaccines to save lives, including your own? If you think the Constitution gives you the right to control your own body, why oppose vaccine mandates but require people to bear children? If you believe in the constitutional principle of religious freedom, why support repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing the right to abortion? Not all religions hold that life begins at conception, nor do all Americans. In fact, only 38% agree with that.

The most visceral of the three big developments is the Michigan shooting. Who could read about the four slain students without crying? This is a tragedy all parents can feel in their bones, a tragedy you can never get over.

Conceptual children vs. real ones

Losing a child in a school shooting is not the same as aborting a fetus at 8 or 12 or 16 or 20 weeks. It is not the same as taking medical advice to end a late-term non-viable pregnancy when carrying to term would risk your life or health.

Those are potential children, conceptual children. They do have their own power, their own hold on the imagination and heart; I know because I had a miscarriage and it was emotionally painful. But that is not the same as children with hopes, dreams, personalities and plans.

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Oxford High School students Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Tate Myre, 16, at top, and Justin Shilling, 17, and Hana St. Juliana, 14, were killed in a school shooting on Nov. 30.
Oxford High School students Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Tate Myre, 16, at top, and Justin Shilling, 17, and Hana St. Juliana, 14, were killed in a school shooting on Nov. 30.

A study published last year tells the story. Contacted every six months for five years after an abortion, over 95% of women said it was the right decision – including those who found the initial decision difficult. The most prominent emotion throughout the five-year period was relief.

So much for the “abortion regrets” narrative. It’s largely fiction, just like “guns don’t kill people” and “thoughts and prayers” are stand-ins for better laws and better enforcement of those we already have. Maybe if religious figures preached gun control, the odds would improve.

COVID is the latest example of the Ghoulish Old Party’s tragic indifference to the health and safety of others. Exhibit A is former President Donald Trump, who has put many at risk of COVID and may himself have spread it.

More from Jill Lawrence: On gun control, there's nothing and everything left to say

Twitter post by the late @THEHermanCain on June 20, 2020 at President Donald Trump's Tulsa rally.
Twitter post by the late @THEHermanCain on June 20, 2020 at President Donald Trump's Tulsa rally.

The COVID carnage arising from his April rally in Tulsa included at least eight staffers, according to “Betrayed,” by Jonathan Karl. One of them almost died. One of Trump’s most prominent supporters, age 74 and maskless at the rally, actually did die. “We killed Herman Cain,” a senior aide told ABC News reporter Will Steakin, according to Karl.

Trump tested positive for COVID. Did he endanger Biden when he showed up to debate him?

Trump was positive, negative and positive in a series of COVID tests from Sept. 26 (three days before his debate with Joe Biden) to Oct. 1. He not only attended the debate during that period, he made an unmasked appearance with Gold Star families and spoke to reporters on Air Force One, possibly infecting New York Times reporter Michael Shear. Shortly before the first test, he hosted a packed Rose Garden party – a superspreader event – for then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

That’s the same Amy Coney Barrett who suggested Wednesday that abortion is unnecessary because women can give up their babies for adoption. Except that, as lawyers defending Roe v. Wade pointed out, it is wrenching to give up a baby (more so than having an abortion, research has found) and there are health risks to pregnancy itself, especially in Mississippi and especially for minorities. Beyond that, limiting or outlawing abortions doesn’t reduce them, it just makes them less safe.

The ideal world we can't have

Roe v. Wade doesn’t force anyone to have or not have an abortion. In an ideal world, it would endure. In the real world, a high court majority is likely to hand abortion regulation power to the states – and women living in some of them won’t be free to control their own bodies, look out for their own health, or act on their own religious and moral beliefs.

In an ideal world, the Michigan massacre never would have happened, and Congress would have long ago passed a major bill doing everything possible to prevent such tragedies. In the real world, the best we can hope for is accountability. The prosecutor there made a start by charging not just the 15-year-old suspect, who faces four counts of first-degree murder and 20 other charges, but also his parents, who were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter apiece.

Columnist Connie Schultz: Gen Z only knows school shootings and the possibility of death at school

We can also hope Congress does what it should have done years ago. At the very least, send GOP Sen. Pat Toomey into his retirement next year with a victory – passage of the very modest gun background check expansion that he negotiated with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and that failed to pass in 2013, a few months after a shooter mowed down six adults and 20 little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Finally, in an ideal world, the political theatrics, misinformation and lying about vaccines and public health precautions would stop, and Americans would do what President Joe Biden suggested Thursday: in the face of the omicron variant, finally unite to fight COVID. “Think of it in terms of literally a patriotic responsibility,” he said.

That’s a wish, not a reality. But in a season associated with generosity and caring, it’s worth a try.

Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID, a school shooting, an abortion: The differences Americans face

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