Monday, October 15, 2012

What Would Overturning Roe v. Wade Accomplish?

[Note: I previously posted this during the 2008 presidential campaign.  With some minor editing, the message is just as valid today.]

Of all the reasons for US citizens to go out and vote for a presidential candidate this November, the one at or near the very top concerns the nominations our next president will make for the likely future Supreme Court openings during his term. While the people we vote for in Congress make the laws, the Supreme Court which consists of lifetime appointees, may have a more profound influence on the lives of more people as the result of their decisions.

One of the most well known and controversial Supreme Court decisions was 
Roe v. Wade which back in 1973 declared that restricting abortion rights at least in the first two trimesters of pregnancy was an invasion of privacy and thus unconstitutional. The result of the decision of course applies to not only the federal lawmakers, but also the state and local ones too. Those who are ‘pro-choice’ opposing laws restricting abortion, hailed this decision. But those who are ‘pro-life’ believing in restricting abortion for moral purposes, condemned it and vowed that they would do all they could to eventually get Roe reversed by supporting the appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices. With the conservative appointees of President Bush, the Supreme Court is in a precarious liberal-conservative balance that has caused some bitterly divided 5-4 decisions. The next president will almost certainly tip the balance decisively one way or the other with his appointees which will then likely determine the outcome of a number of important Supreme Court decisions, not the least of which would be the fate of Roe v. Wade.

Of all the social issues facing this country, abortion is the most hotly contested because no other issue so often blurs the distinction between personal morality (behavior somebody believes is right or wrong for oneself) and political morality (behavior somebody believes should be enacted into law).

Social conservatives especially have a habit of combining these two concepts into one. But there IS a difference between the two! Let me provide an example:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for religious and presumably personal morality reasons does not drink alcohol. But he has never advocated the return of Prohibition to restrict others from drinking. The reasoning is simple; although he may strongly feel that drinking alcohol is wrong, I’m sure he accepts that reasonable people can disagree on this so trying to pass a law to restrict others from drinking would be unwise.

Fair enough? How about one more example:

Many of the most visible ‘pro-choice’ political figures such as 
John Kerry among others are not only personally opposed to abortion but are also practicing Roman Catholics — a religion that condemns abortion in no uncertain terms. Why can’t we use the same logic about reasonable people disagreeing in the Romney example to laws on the restriction of abortion? When life actually begins along with whether abortion is truly murder are most passionately held views of many. But nonetheless, reasonable people do disagree on these points! In fact, those who don’t accept these disagreements may themselves be unreasonable!But a primary focus of a Mitt Romney presidency would be the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Morality issues aside, a pragmatic question needs to be asked — what would overturning Roe v. Wade accomplish?

Many believe that this would automatically make abortion illegal. But this is not true. Reversing Roe only means that individual states would then have the right to pass laws restricting abortion as they see fit.

End abortion? Really?? It’s nice to think that we can “end” things we don’t approve of by simply making them illegal. But how realistic is this especially on an issue like abortion where there are passionately held views on both sides?
According to Wikipedia an estimated 44 million abortions are performed globally each year, with slightly under half of those performed unsafely. However, unsafe abortions result in approximately 70 thousand maternal deaths and 5 million disabilities per year globally.[2] 
One has to wonder how many of the people who are advocating making abortion illegal in the US and around the world are aware of such staggering numbers. Aside from the horrible safety issues, do they advocate arresting and jailing all of these women — along with presumably those performing the abortions? We are already building prisons as fast as we can to try and house the drug offenders as part of our War on Drugs. Do we build even more prisons for the upcoming War on Abortion?

And how do we go about enforcing these laws? Do we have law enforcement officers posted outside of doctors’ offices checking out women suspected of having an abortion? Now that would really be opening Pandora’s box!

There are some pragmatists among the ‘pro-lifers’ who will agree that although we can’t stop abortion everywhere, we can at least stop or maybe discourage it in the states where it is illegal. But who does that really affect, if anyone? For those with the means, it would just be an overnight stay in a neighboring state where abortion is legal. And for those who are thinking about the unlikely possibility of a constitutional amendment banning abortion in the US, there is always Mexico or Canada. As for the poor who want an abortion, they will either have to find a way to scrape up the money to travel elsewhere — or stay home to have an illegal abortion with the risks that entails.

Although there are many things that can be done to try and reduce the number of abortions, by far the most effective ones are those used before pregnancy happens. But unfortunately, the people who are the most in favor of anti-abortion laws are the same ones who are most likely to be against the most effective preventative measures like sex education and contraceptives. But despite their moral dislike for these options, wouldn't it be a worthwhile compromise for them to give in to those ‘lesser evils’ to avoid the far greater evil of having an abortion that quite possibly could have been prevented in the first place?

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