Abortion-rights advocate Tessa Anderson, 35, poses with a sign during Rally for Abortion Justice, which is part of the Bans off Our Body nationwide day of action, in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, Saturday morning, May 14, 2022. Thousands attended the rally, which was organized in response to a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, who supported overturning Roe v. Wade. If overturned, abortion would become illegal in 26 states.

Abortion-rights advocate Tessa Anderson, 35, poses with a sign during Rally for Abortion Justice in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood last May.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

How many fetuses can dance on a pin?

Banning abortion is religious oppression.

SHARE How many fetuses can dance on a pin?

An old joke: The French national railroad did a safety study and, after discovering that most accidents involve the last car on a train, removed all the cabooses.

If that doesn’t register, see, there’s always a last car on a train, and taking off the caboose merely shifts which car is last.

That works for first place, too. Thus Ken Griffin, Illinois’ richest man, relocating to Miami doesn’t deprive Illinois of a richest man, merely transfers the honorific to ... Neil Bluhm, the casino magnate.

Friday I contacted Bluhm through Walton Street Capital, but they didn’t think he’d reply.

“I doubt it (I know that I would not!),” wrote one of his partners. “But I have forwarded your note to him in the unlikely event that he does.”

Opinion bug


Figuring I could do better, I phoned a mutual friend, someone who’d flown aboard Bluhm’s jet — quite the brag in the early 2000s.

At that moment, word broke the U.S. Supreme Court has made obstetrics the hot issue in American politics for the next decade.

Suddenly, the new richest man in Illinois didn’t seem interesting anymore. My friend had something else on his mind.

Those coat hangers, he said, they’re just a symbol. Nobody ever really died from trying to give themselves an abortion with a coat hanger.

I believe they have, I replied, my fingers already on the keyboard. Countless.

He didn’t think so. I called up a 2001 interview with Dr. Quentin Young, who in 1948 was a resident at Cook County Hospital’s so-called septic OB ward.

“A euphemism for women who had been damaged in self-induced or criminal abortions,” he told me then. “Of course, all abortions were criminal then.”

And now criminal in half the country. Everything old is new again.

“He was seeing dozens of women a day who were so desperate to have an abortion they tried to do it themselves, using whatever was at hand,” I wrote. “They douched with bleach or peroxide. They used paint brushes and cocktail stirrers and pencils and knitting needles. And yes, they did use wire coat hangers.”

“Of course they did,” Young said. “They hurt themselves, perforated their uteruses, they came in bleeding, with difficult-to-treat infections.”

That did not convince my friend.

“Those aren’t documented cases.”

When I got off the phone, I took 10 seconds, found a news story about a woman using a coat hanger attempting to induce an abortion and sent it to my friend, who pointed out she hadn’t died, then grew abashed at his own nitpicking.

“Today is a bad day for this trivial and likely meaningless search,” he wrote, and I agreed.

With an issue as complicated as abortion, we all choose the parts to focus on and declare meaningful. Many will inevitably fixate the trivial and off point or even tune out the topic as too depressing, too endless.

While I cannot blame you, that is luxury we cannot afford, because it is clear this is only a step — Justice Clarence Thomas is already setting his sights on gay marriage. The oppression is the point. Religious zealots never rest, and a burning brand from the pyre under today’s heretic is used to light the flames beneath tomorrow’s.

This is my focus: Religion is supposed to be voluntary, and banning abortion forces women to obey the strictures of a faith they don’t follow. It’s like putting people in jail for not keeping kosher — another minority belief system related to the supposed cruelty of causing a death.

Though Jews don’t view fetuses as full human beings. Nor do most mainstream Christians, who want safe, legal abortion.

Friday’s Supreme Court ruling takes a fine point of law — Roe was a shaky case — and sharpens it into state theology.

The Muslim view of abortion is more nuanced, and here’s an irony: After red state legislators scared themselves silly for years over the bogeyman of sharia law, they now turn on a dime and embrace faith-based abortion law far harsher than sharia.

Our country will be roiled for years over a religious oppression that most civilized nations dealt with long ago. It is a disaster both for the personal tragedies it will certainly cause and the actual public troubles that will go unconsidered as we thrash at each other debating fine points of fundamentalist dogma, arguing over how many fetuses can dance on the head of a pin.

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