Historic parallels, societal responses


Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist



I can see some parallels with the aggressive efforts to deprive women of the right to abortions and the Volstead Act of 1919. The Volstead Act or the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution or the imposition of the federal prohibition of alcohol lasted until 1933.

“The Eighteenth Amendment emerged from the organized efforts of the temperance movement and Anti-Saloon League, which attributed to alcohol virtually all of society’s ills and led campaigns at the local state, and national levels to compact its manufacture, sale, distribution, and consumption. Most of the organized efforts supporting prohibition involved religious coalitions that linked alcohol to immorality, criminality, and, with the advent of World War II, unpatriotic citizenship.”

I have some special interest in this topic, since I grew up in a household permeated with the aroma of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. But the influence did not stop there; in the classroom in Bloomington High School (Indiana) we were taught that science had proven that alcohol would make a nail rust, and I presume do the same to our innards!

And do not forget, “Lips that touch wine will never touch mine.” Amen!

For nearly three years I worked in an alcoholism hospital in Denver, Colorado, and for an MS thesis I did a study of Alcoholics Anonymous, attending 25 AA meetings in the process. Later for a doctorate, I did a thesis comparing three approaches to the treatment of alcoholics.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently said, responding to the leaked Supreme Court preliminary statement on abortion, “I believe that eliminating the right of women to make a decision about when to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and set women back decades.”

What a surprise! I would never have thought of such an idea, and I think part of the reason for that is that I am a man! Could you imagine the uproar if the same expectation was applied to the men involved in those pregnancies?

This comment by Yellen sounds like a phrase that was so common when I was in graduate school in sociology at OSU – “The unintended consequences of social policy.”

Back to the prohibition movement – who would have thought for a moment that the law outlawing the use of alcoholic beverages would account for the rise of the criminal underground that permeated our society for so long? And of course, these laws are passed with the highest of moral intent.

The demand for booze was so great that boats lined up outside the legal three-mile (I believe) limit near New York City along the coast and sold alcohol there where they couldn’t be touched, and then they had boats that could out-run the police. Since the demand for abortion will potentially be of the same magnitude or greater, might there be some similar innovations? Where there is serious money to be made and demand for a service or commodity – it is hard to imagine the kinds of new businesses that will emerge.

What can I say? I remember years ago when an article appeared in a popular magazine titled “Trans-Action” which focused on the increase in flights from the U.S. to the Caribbean taking young women there for abortions. For upper-middle class and above-income women, the Supreme Court’s apparent inevitable decision to close abortion clinics is an inconvenience.

For working class and low-income women, and especially minority women, it is devastating. Is this simply another well-meaning policy that will interrupt the hopes of so many women to improve their position in society?

Since the majority of U.S. citizens oppose the change in the law on abortion and it will have such devastating consequences for so many, what might we expect as a societal response?

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

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Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist