Roe v. Wade Status Quo

Why public opinion keeps activists in check


Perhaps the most striking aspect of yesterday's many observances of the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, was the relative lack of drama surrounding an issue that commanded front-page coverage throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s.

To be sure, pro-life and pro-choice (to use each side's favored term for its position) crowds thronged Washington, D.C. There was plenty of media coverage, both of the march itself and in the lead-up to the anniversary. And both sides aired apocalyptic visions of what would happen if the other side really got its way.

Yet overall, the commemorations were relatively ho-hum affairs, and not simply because of seemingly more immediately pressing issues such as war and the economy. It's because after three decades of legal abortion, the laws and customs governing the procedure are in rough correspondence with the actual behaviors and attitudes of the American public. This is a situation that perhaps fully satisfies no one, especially activists. Yet it should nonetheless be recognized as a considerable social achievement, especially given the topic.

According to most polls, including this one by Gallup, around one-quarter of Americans think abortion should be legal under any circumstances, 14 percent think it should be legal in most circumstances, 42 percent think it should be legal in only a few circumstances, and 18 percent think it should be illegal in all circumstances. These numbers—which have remained relatively constant for decades—add up to a public that overwhelmingly embraces abortion in some limited form.

Support for abortion is not unconditional—there's far more comfort with first-trimester abortions (66 percent) than with third-trimester abortions (10 percent). But such feelings also track with when the vast, overwhelming majority—close to 90 percent—of abortions take place. Were that to change, it's likely that public opinion might shift significantly, too. Similarly, the fact that the abortion rate and raw number of abortion have been declining for years suggests that public opinion is not going to change radically anytime soon.

This isn't to say that the debate about abortion is "over"—or that laws governing the specifics of abortion won't continue to change over time in ways that bother ardent pro-lifers and pro-choicers alike. But taking a longer view, it does seem as if the extremes of the abortion debate—extremes that included incendiary language (including calls for the murder of abortion providers)—have largely subsided in the wake of a widely accepted consensus. Part of this is surely due to the massive increases in reproduction technologies that allow women far more control over all aspects of their bodies (even as some of those technologies challenge conventional definitions of human life).

But the larger part of the relative calm rests elsewhere. As befits a democracy that attempts to accommodate very different visions of the good life, this consensus has little to do with morality per se, much less with enforcing a single standard of morality. It's about a workable, pragmatic compromise that allows people to live their lives on their own terms and peaceably argue for their point of view.

Interestingly, that basic reality should discomfit equally both pro-choice activists, who understandably fear a Republican-controlled federal government, and pro-life activists, who understandably welcome the same thing. Regardless of whether Roe withstands possible legal scrutiny, regardless of whether George W. Bush gets to pick several new Supreme Court members, and regardless of whether Congress wants to severely restrict abortion rights, the mass public consensus in favor of the status quo virtually guarantees very little substantial change in any direction.

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  1. You know, Nick, it’s been a good nine years since you wrote this article, and no one has left comment on either side of this argument.

    The ugly truth, though, surrounding this, is that this “debate” is just a complete money-making scheme for whatever “side” to continue hustling a buck off anyone coming in.

    I’m sorry to put it like this to you, Nick, but, it’s just the honest truth as I see it, even if, no one else can, or, will…

    “Choose a side,” it’s almost as if I hear them all say…”and FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT, give it your all, and then some more…Borrow if you got to…but whatever you do…WE’VE GOT TO WIN!”

    But, really, Nick…win what?


    1. Now, Nick, I’m just going to plainly state this to you, and I hope you can understand:

      I’m going on record to state undisputedly…that Human Life begins AT CONCEPTION, and no where else.

      And that’s as plain as I can make it to you, Nick.

      It would seem that you would recognize that I fall within the label of “pro-life,” Nick, but, not so fast right there…

      there’s a little problem, that I’m quite sure many so-called evangelical Christians, finding themselves in the “Pro-Life” schools of thought, will have a little trouble dealing with, that I’m going to outline for you right here.

      They don’t exactly know what that statement TRULY MEANS.

      Nor, do I guess, will they even EVER TRULY publicy acknowledge it, although, they profess to have FAITH about it.


      1. You see, Nick, if these Evangelical Christians were TRULY FAITHFUL, then they would understand and completely acknowlege what is written in the Good Book.

        Is it not written in that Holy Bible — that these Evangelicals profess that WE should follow unquestionably — that God, The One they profess to call “Lord,” Jesus, proclaimed that HE is…The “Alpha and Omega,” or, in the modern vernacular, “The Beginning and the End?”

        Let me spell it out to you, Nick, in just a little more detail here, because, I think this probably went over the heads of many people reading this comment, if it hasn’t went over your head as well.

        If it is written that GOD is the Beginning and the End…then, shouldn’t someone therefore conclude that GOD IS the Beginning and the End of EVERYTHING, including HUMAN LIFE?

        And since GOD TRANSCENDS the physical plane of existence that we “enjoy” here on Earth…

        …then shouldn’t one conclude, therefore, that HUMAN LIFE BEGINS and ENDS Somewhere, (or, as it is written, with SOMEONE ELSE,)

        …that is BEYOND THE REACH or MEASURE of any HUMAN HERE, using Physical Means, to reach or measure it?


        1. So why, would we want to follow, those who claim to believe Him, as it is written, that HE IS…

          …want the Government to declare something ELSE as God, through aspects that (Is it not written in the Good Book?) could ONLY be attributable to HIM, who IS?

          I believe we’ve arrived at the REAL QUESTION, Nick, right HERE, UNDERNEATH the one Touted as “Real!”

          I’m afraid that the Evangelicals, and other Well meaning folks…no matter HOW MUCH PIETY and RIGHTEOUSNESS they have, or have bestowed upon them by OTHERS…

          want a SECULAR GOVERNMENT to proclaim SOMEONE ELSE or SOMETHING ELSE as GOD, because they CANNOT CONTROL the ONE who IS GOD, to begin with, PERIOD…

          and therefore cannot TRULY CONTROL ANYONE, but with SMEARS and INNUENDO, masking itself as “Piety” and “Modesty” and “Righteousness.”

          And the last time I checked…”any human male sperm fertilizing any female egg” is NOT GOD, NEVER HAS BEEN GOD, and NEVER WILL BE GOD…

          …therefore, why is the Evangelicals HELL-BENT on making a GOVERNMENT –declared to be a “necessary EVIL” — do the Job, FOR THEM, that they cannot TRULY do themselves?

          My question, therefore is…who exactly are they wanting to “SAVE THE UNBORN” for?

          God? or Satan?

          Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do!

          -Kapt Blasto

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