Reviews | Even If Republicans Ban Abortion, Americans Will Soon Rebel

Once the Dry Movement got the Constitution on its side, resistance to its mission intensified. Canadian distilleries shipped thousands of cases of whiskey across the border. Al Capone and other urban gangsters became fabulously wealthy, forcing speakeasies to sell only the booze supplied by the mob. Applauded by many Catholic and Jewish voters, the mayors of New York and San Francisco denounced the law — and refused to help enforce it effectively.

Underfunded, understaffed, and often unmotivated police forces couldn’t stop people from breaking the law, whether those criminals were armed with machine guns or just a bourbon and a soda. Only 129 federal agents were powerless to prevent New York City from becoming a metropolis of lawbreakers.

Prohibitionists thus lost their reputation as a movement of compassionate idealists and found themselves grappling with a new movement: the allies of a state bureaucracy that clumsily preyed on anyone who did not behave like a fervent rural Protestant, a group that included Catholics and Jews. , as well as wealthy city dwellers.

With the onset of the Great Depression, resistance to prohibition became a political juggernaut. Black and white working people in the urban North responded to harsh federal state coercion by voting for the Wet Democrats. In 1932, they joined the presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who vowed to help hasten the end of nationwide prohibition. A year later, Roosevelt happily announced the ratification of the amendment repealing what Herbert Hoover, the president he had defeated in a landslide, had called “the great experiment.”

Of course, the political challenge of stopping abortions will be different from the challenge of abolishing the liquor trade. State, not federal, authorities are now in charge, and they could face less backlash from voters, many of whom have long sympathized with the anti-abortion cause. And it would probably be more perilous to operate a safe underground clinic than to run a speakeasy in places where most people saw saloons as a permanent, if sometimes regrettable, feature of urban culture.

Yet in some ways the anti-abortion movement after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision ruling is actually weaker than its moralistic forerunner was when prohibition became the law of the land. Almost 60% of Americans to disapprove of of the Dobbs decision. And while many conservative Christians of all denominations believe abortion is a sin, they no longer dominate public opinion as evangelicals did just over a century ago. Moreover, the two major parties are now firmly entrenched on opposite sides of the issue, while Prohibition had bipartisan support. And young women, vital foot soldiers in the former dry army, now overwhelmingly oppose the judicial and legislative effort to control their wombs.

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