The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Roe Will Fall

As I was eating lunch today - lonely, of course - I had this little epiphany. Roe v. Wade is going to fall. WAIT - Stay with me...

Most of you, I'm sure, are unimpressed. Many have long claimed Roe is unstable precedent. I certainly always saw the likelihood that it could fall, especially if particular changes were made to the make up of the Supreme Court. I guess what was different for me today is that, for the first time, I felt really sure it would fall, and relatively soon, and perhaps most important, that it would fall with popular support for its being overruled. I have never felt any of those before.

As a matter of legal reasoning, Roe has always been a weak opinion, castigated by many who liked its result almost as much it was castigated by those opposed to its result. Nevertheless, most Americans support Roe. Most Americans are in the middle on abortion - they think it is a bad thing, and they support some limits on the right, such as parental notification for minors, modest waiting periods, restrictions on "partial birth" abortion. But they generally support the idea of some right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Most, I think, do not understand that Roe reaches as far as it does, and this is in part due to the limited success of the right-to-life movement - though most of their efforts to place such reasonable restrictions on the right to choose have been rejected (let alone overruling Roe completely), they have made it uncomfortable enough for abortion providers that providers can be hard to find in many areas. And they almost always keep a very low profile, due to fears of protests or even bombings. Thus most Americans are, I think, unaware of the sweeping scope the courts have given to Roe. Legally, we truly do have abortion on demand, pretty much anywhere, any time, for any reason.

Roe is now over 30 years old. What sparked my little epiphany was seeing a friend yesterday, a libertarian sort. In our conversation, he was totally sold on the proposition that Roe was wrongly decided. He did not always feel this way. I have watched him move from very sharply pro-abortion rights, to pro-right to choose but expressing more moral disapproval of the act, to now supporting the overruling of Roe. But as I thought about it, I realized that the same transformation has taken place in most all of my more libertarian friends. That is to say, it seems to me that the libertarian right has become increasingly pro-life, leaving behind its traditional pro-choice orientation. This is not a real big group, but it is important because, if I am correct in my perception, it means that Roe will soon have little support except among hard core liberals. These hard core liberals will continue, I suspect, to demand that Roe be interpreted in absolutes, including the right to partial birth abortion. That means that the center will become smaller, and people will feel forced to choose: pro-life, or pro-choice. The pro-choice position can beat the pro-life position, if it is seen as a necessary evil, an escape hatch many may sometime need. It will lose to the pro-life position if it is seen as all but celebrating abortion on demand, including partial birth abortion. When that happens, and people feel increasingly forced to choose sides between absolutes, they will go pro-life.

These are my descriptive, not proscriptive thoughts of what is likely to happen on this most vexing issue.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life