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Were Roe to go

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Jul 27, 2005

An interesting opinion piece called "If Roe were overturned" by Laura Vanderkam in USA Today:

In their zeal to fight over the Supreme Court, though, neither side of the abortion debate has absorbed these numbers. Few pro-life groups realize they've fought a 30-year battle to put just a handful of doctors out of business. Pro-choice forces haven't grasped that the millions they'll spend lobbying to block Bush's nominees could tip a lot of legislative races in places such as Kentucky and Texas. Or, for that matter, build a lot of clinics near the borders of states likely to enact or keep abortion bans.

Vanderkam centers her argument on the number of abortionists operating state by state, and she reasons that, were the legality of abortion to be decided once again by the legislatures, the states most likely to outlaw abortion are those with the fewest abortionists (and vice-versa), whence the fall of Roe would have little impact on access. I think she's off-target.

Roe v Wade -- and its companion case Doe v Bolton -- did away with virtually all restrictions on abortion, yet even today most supporters of Roe still believe it outlawed abortions in the third trimester. Prof. Mary Ann Glendon has stated that, prior to the controversy over Partial Birth Abortion, the majority of her faculty colleagues at Harvard Law School were under the same erroneous impression. Most folks just don't know how sweeping the current law is. Were abortion to be debated anew in each state, even the most liberal legislatures couldn't enact a structure fully as radical as Roe. Remember that most voting-age Americans are opposed to most of the abortions actually performed. Remember too that 100% of the post-1973 developments in ultrasound imaging and prenatal medicine would be working against the abortion mentality in general and the trimester-based legal reasoning of Roe in particular. Not that Catholic doctrine would become law, of course, but for pro-lifers there's no place to go but up.

I also think Vanderkam underestimates the cultural shock to the system that the slightest retreat from Roe would bring in its wake. Here I'd agree with the trolls at NARAL: once you concede that the unborn child has an interest distinct from that of its mother -- however narrowly you define it -- it becomes impossible to defend the absence of such an interest in other cases. That doesn't mean the law will give the child's interest due weight, but simply to admit it as one factor in the equation is a huge defeat for the absolutists. Another recent article quotes DNC chairman Howard Dean as telling his fundraising wonks that he would "like the word 'abortion' struck from the political discourse." Not surprising. The more that is generally known about abortion -- about the law, the stats, and the procedure itself -- the worse it is for the Dems. Any increase in awareness is a loser. They prefer the subject never came up.

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  • Posted by: - Jul. 27, 2005 8:50 PM ET USA

    Please don't generalize about Democrats, Diogenes. I think that you should have written, "The more that is generally known about abortion... the worse it is for the DNC", or the Dem leadership, or words to that effect. Although Democrats for Life (I'm in its CA branch) receives no support from the DNC, some Democrats, liberals and progressives are pro-life and anti-Roe. Anti-Roe makes sense when one is, like me, anti-death penalty and pacifist. Weird that more people don't see it that way.

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