25 January 2013

Roe Plus Forty: Where Now?

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe vs. Wade, which effectively invalidated the 50 states’ abortion laws, asserting for the first time a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Although the court undoubtedly saw itself settling a contentious issue for a divided polity, we know now that Roe did nothing of the sort. Instead, it only increased the divisive nature of the issue, further polarizing a population into pro-choice and pro-life factions, each of which has taken apparently irreconcilable positions.
Earlier this month TIME Magazine carried a cover story whose author argues that, since the Roe ruling, the pro-choice side has been gradually losing the battle for abortion rights. Why? Physicians are less willing to perform abortions, and pro-lifers have succeeded in persuading their respective state legislatures to tighten up restrictions on the practice, which effectively places hurdles in the way of those who would procure the procedure. Some of these have a primarily psychological deterrent effect, such as requiring the mother to have an ultrasound of the child, thereby impressing on her the reality of the human life growing in the womb. There may also be something to the observation that, because pro-lifers have more children, their beliefs have a certain demographic advantage over those of pro-choicers. For these and other reasons, pro-lifers have reason to think that their long-term prospects are bright, even in the current absence of a sympathetic political climate in the highest places.

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