Saturday, July 23, 2005

On Roe

Note the absence of "v". This post is not about the current disgrace of our government, but about the future disgraces it plans which will be generations long, too. This post is about Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States, and it is largely cribbed from Katha Pollitt's recent column.

Pollitt starts by saying what so many are saying, all over the blogosphere, too:

Should prochoicers just give up and let Roe go? With the resignation of Sandra Day O'Connor, more people are asking that question. Democratic Party insiders quietly wonder if abandoning abortion rights would win back white Catholics and evangelicals. A chorus of pundits--among them David Brooks in the New York Times and the Washington Post's Benjamin Wittes writing in The Atlantic--argue that Roe's unforeseen consequences exact too high a price: on democracy, on public discourse, even, paradoxically, on abortion rights. By the early 1970s, this argument goes, public opinion was moving toward relaxing abortion bans legislatively--New York got rid of its ban in 1970, and one-third of states had begun to liberalize their abortion laws by 1973. By suddenly handing total victory to one side, Roe fueled a mighty backlash (and lulled prochoicers into relying on the courts instead of cultivating a popular mandate). In 1993 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg caused a flurry when she seemed to endorse this view: Roe, she declared in a speech, had "halted a political process that was moving in a reform direction and...prolonged divisiveness and deferred stable settlement of the issue." It's not an insane idea, even if most of its proponents (a) are men; (b) think Roe went too far; and (c) want abortion off the table because they are tired of thinking about it.

Howard Dean was gently making a nod in the same direction recently, and many of the yuppy women I meet on my wanderings tell me the same thing: that it wouldn't really change anything if Roe no longer existed as the law of the land. Perhaps it wouldn't for them, as the tickets to London are not hard to acquire here, but it would make this country quite different. None of them have read any of the books about the pre-world Roe, none of them know someone who died of an illegal abortion, none of them have heard of the underground abortion mills run by people who used rusty farm implements for the surgery.

But this wouldn't happen, this nightmarish world you fanatic goddess describe, these women say. The question of choice would go to state courts and states would then decide to have abortion legal, except for the few wingnut once, of course. So that would be ok.

Ok? Pollitt tells us why it wouldn't be so:

But of course, if the Court overturned Roe, abortion would not be off the table at all. It would be front and center in fifty state legislatures. According to What If Roe Fell: The State-by-State Consequences of Overturning Roe v. Wade, a report published this past fall by the Center for Reproductive Rights, abortion rights would be at immediate high risk in twenty-one states, moderate risk in nine and "secure" in only twenty.
Legislative control might be more "democratic"--if you believe that a state senator balancing women's health against a highway for his district represents democracy. But would it be fair? The whole point about constitutional protection for rights is to guarantee them when they are unpopular--to shield them from majority prejudice, opportunistic politicians, the passions and pressures of the moment. Freedom of speech, assembly, worship and so on belong to us as individuals; our neighbors, our families and our legislators don't get to vote on how we use these rights or whether we should have them in the first place. Alabamans may be largely antichoice, but what about the ones who aren't? Or the ones who are but even so don't want to die in childbirth, bear a hopelessly damaged baby or drop out of school at 15--or 25? If Roe goes, whoever has political power will determine the most basic, intimate, life-changing and life-threatening decision women--and only women--confront. We will have a country in which the same legislature that can't prevent some clod from burning a flag will be able to force a woman to bear a child under whatever circumstances it sees fit. It is hard to imagine how that woman would be a free or equal citizen of our constitutional republic.

Pollitt is right. If Roe falls, abortion will be the one topic in dozens of state elections. If Roe falls, those states which would still allow abortion will have all the Operation Rescue fanatics permanently camped within their borders. And if Roe falls, lots of women will die. But that is just being "inconvenienced", as the wingnut politicians tell us.
I have a related post on this on American Street.