Should we give up on Roe v. Wade?

Benjamin Wittes argues in this month’s Atlantic (sorry, subscription only, but worth the price) that it’s time to give up on the Roe v. Wade decision. Since Wittes is a pro-lifer, this might come as a bit of a shock. Wittes argues that having judicially mandated abortion rights only fans the flames of the most ardent anti-abortion activists. Wouldn’t it be better to let the political process decide?

Let’s see … what would a post-Roe abortion landscape look like? If states could decide on their own whether or not to allow abortions, what would we have? To visualize it, I’ve repurposed the World 66 mapping tool:


I took the states that leaned heavily in favor of Bush in 2004 and colored them red, as “lost cause” states, where abortion will most certainly be illegal. It looks like a woman in central Montana would have the farthest to travel to get an abortion. Otherwise, access to an abortion would be less than a state away for most women. I suspect some of the “border” states such as Texas and my own North Carolina will enact restrictions such as parental notification or father’s permission, but probably won’t ban all abortions.

What’s interesting about this map is that these are states where it’s already difficult to get an abortion due to intimidation by pro-life activists. A woman in central Montana already has to travel hundreds of miles to find a doctor willing to perform an abortion. These are also America’s least densely populated states, with perhaps 40 percent of the land area of the lower 48, but only 7.8 percent of the nation’s abortions, so the scale of the problem would be limited.

Just One Minute has criticized Hillary Clinton for participating in a “scramble back to the center” on abortion. This trepidation of a moderate Democratic response to the fanatical furor over abortion from the religious right is another indication that giving up some ground in the abortion battle might be an important step in preserving abortion rights. Here’s how Wittes sees a post-Roe world shaping up:

In the short term some states might pass highly restrictive abortion laws, or even outright bans — but the backlash could be devastating for conservatism. Liberals should be salivating at their electoral prospects in a post-Roe world. The simple fact is that a majority of Americans want abortion legal at least some of the time, and the majority in a democracy tends to get what it wants on issues about which it cares strongly. In the absence of Roe abortion rights would probably be protected by the laws of most states relatively quickly.

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One Response to Should we give up on Roe v. Wade?

  1. Vanderleun says:

    To assert, as Wittes does, that “The simple fact is that a majority of Americans want abortion legal at least some of the time, and the majority in a democracy tends to get what it wants on issues about which it cares strongly.” seems to me to gild the lily with several layers of pure plate. As we’ve seen for decades, nothing about abortion is a ‘simple fact.’ The entire argument runs on religious faith (and not just the right, but the religion of the left as well.), and facts long ago left the room.

    In addition, asserting that the majority of Americans wants abortion ‘at least some of the time’ seems to be to undermine the assertion of ‘majority.’ I am also not at all sure of the truth of that statement. In politics, those that only want something some of the time have a hard time trumping those who do not want something at any time; passion overcomes passivity.

    Hence, I tend to doubt that the conservatives have a lot to fear nationwide should Roe be overturned. The true believers on both sides of the issue have long since made up their minds and their positions are adamantine. For many in the middle, I think the primary reaction would be relief that there is some sort of resolution. And if, as Wittes believes, state laws come up, then all is well and good.

    What you are left with is not a burning moral issue, but a commuting problem.

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