In 2008, Indiana was a battleground state.
In 2011, it has become a battlefield.
The most recent skirmishing involves the new state law that strips Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Everyone who watched that bill move through the Legislature predicted that it was going to result in a lawsuit.
The predictions came true.
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed suit in federal court. (In the interest of full disclosure, I once worked for the ACLU.) An initial ruling could come before this piece goes to press, but both sides have vowed to appeal, so the fight could go on for some time.
I’m not going to speculate on who is going to win, because my speculation isn’t worth much. For some reason, judges don’t call to ask for my advice on how they should rule.
That’s not the fascinating part, anyway.
What makes this battle interesting is its timing.
For most of this decade, we have seen leaders make attempts to pull people together and heal the divisions in the country.
George W. Bush ran for president as a “compassionate conservative” and said he was “a healer, not a divider.” Barack Obama pledged to work with Republicans and even told Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.—one of Obama’s fiercest critics—at a televised meeting that he was going to find a way to work with him.
Here in Indiana, when he was contemplating a run for president, Mitch Daniels called for a truce on divisive social issues so the country could focus on the economic challenges we face.
None of it worked. The fighting rages on.
At least part of the reason is that, all too often, these fights are driven by extreme wings on either side, both of whom have complex motives. Some of those motives, as the Planned Parenthood battle demonstrates, involve questions of funding and fundraising.
If the fight is over and the crisis passes, it becomes more difficult to get people to write checks. That is why, for the advocates slugging it out in the abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control and other hot-button social-issue debates, Armageddon always seems right around the corner. To solve the problem and arrive at a peaceful solution would mean facing budget cuts and finding other jobs, so they work to keep the fight alive.
Both sides, of course, claim the public supports their position.
In the Planned Parenthood tussle, for example, one of the law’s sponsors—state Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis—said the people of Indiana wanted the bill because they oppose abortion. Advocates for reproductive rights say the polls indicate the opposite.
The reality, to no surprise, is more complex.
Almost all polls in regard to abortion show the same thing: The vast majority of Americans want abortion to be legal, for it to be safe, for it to be available to women regardless of their financial means—and for it to happen a whole lot less often than it currently does and only as a last resort, rather than a first option.
The problem is that crafting that position into law, as sane as it may be, is probably impossible.
To determine someone’s motivation for seeking an abortion—with its overtones of mind control—is troubling to the warriors on both sides of the debate. And, frankly, it’s troubling to many folks in the middle, too.
Worse, it’s probably unconstitutional.
There is tragedy here. Because we can’t arrive at a compromise that satisfies the majority, we are fated to cede the discussion to the folks who have no interest in de-escalating the debate. They will fight on, with more and more anger, as they drive wedges deeper and deeper into the American body politic.
For the folks who live at the far ends of our national divide, the fight sustains them. It just tears the rest of us apart.
Welcome to the battlefield.•
Krull directs Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and hosts the weekly news program “No Limits” on WFYI-FM 90.1. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.