Having spent the year busily sending hot items back to the legislative branch, the Supreme Court rested its cases last week and adjourned for the summer.
During its busy return season, the Court decided, among other things, that there is nothing discriminatory about denying women disability insurance for pregnancy, while granting it to men for vasectomies. It also decided that there is nothing inconsistent about defending the right of women to have abortions, while denying poor women the means to get them.
The Court, in short, and at length, sent these questions back to the state legislatures and the Congress. Barring a sudden turnover in the Court - or a plague among the Nixon-appointed Justices - these issues will remain on the lawmakers' turf for some time.
What that means simply that those concerned with social issues, who have depended on the courts, are going to have to step back take a deep breath and plunge into their summer refresher courses on the way that legislative folk wolk.
You may recall from grammar-school civics that the elected branch of government is the one that's supposed to be most reponsive to the opinions of the majority. They are elected by a majority, they pass bills by the majority. This has led most of us to the notion that they respond to something the U.S.A. refers to abroad as The Will of The people. In real life, that notion is, at best, a possibility - at worst, a fraud.
The U.S. Senate, for example, took less than a day to convert the Supreme Court's permission slip into a bill. It passed an amendment forbidding the use of federal funds for most abortions. The only loophole it left to poor women who are not raped, deathly ill little tims of incest was the three little words: ". . . where medically necessary." That is a presciption for doctor-shopping. Even that may not last through the House-Senate conference committee.
Meanwhile, out in the states, nine legislatures have voted in favor of a constitutional convention to pass a right-to-life amendement ruling out any abortion. In general, the anti-abortionists have picked up speed and votes among legislators. They've done so dispite the fact that every recent poll has shown that a majority of Americans - 67 percent in on survey, 81 per cent in another - support the woman's right to choose.
As most legislators will admit, it simply isn't the silent majority, or the polled majority, that influences them most. In a contest between a silent majority and an outspoken fervent minority, the majority couldn't even get a cough drop voted for their laryngitis.
The most effective national group in the country these days is the anti-abortion lobby. Any journalist, for example, will tell you that merely suggesting a pro-abortion sentiment in the paper will visit a hernia upon the neighborhood mailman. In the past week since I wrote about the Supreme Court decision, the mailhas been replete with pictures of pickled fetuses, dire warnings of hellfire and suggestions that the world would be a better place if my mother had aborted me.
This is a tiny smidgen of what happens to legislators. They regularly receive batches of letters from, say, one small town in Ohio, all written in the same terminology by people, none of whom supposedly knows the others. This is what is known - but rarely mentioned in the civics class - as pressure.
On the whole, legislators respond to pressure the way a leg responds to a sharp rap upon the knee.
The relative silence of the majority, including the 300,000 women who had Medicaid abortions and the 600,000 who had private abortions last year, doesn't go unnoticed by legislators. To them, the controversy doesn't seem to be between a majority and a minority, but between the apathetic and the one issue voters.
To the organized go th spoils. If anyone needs another example of this truth, consider the International Women's Year state convention in Utah two weeks ago. It was taken over by carloads of Mormon women carrying instructions to vote "no." Dutifully, they voted no to abortion and no to the Equal Rights Amendment, as expected. But like robots, they continued to vote no right down the IWY platform until they also voted overwhelmingly against "promoting international peace."
That's solidarity for you. That's also democracy for you. If these issues are going to go back to the legislatures, then the "silent majority" had better go back to basics and get their voices back in shape.
As. Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Texas) said in Pittsburgh to another IWY state convention, "If you don't have political clout, politicians won't listen to you. That's the way politics works."