Roe v. Wade at 40: Where are we now?
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 16:01
Forty years ago this month, the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade ruling that both legalized abortion in America and made access to abortion a Constitutionally protected right. Since then the debate has raged over whether this decision was right, what the consequences were, and whether it should be reversed.
Conservatives, particularly those of a religious attitude, typically believe that abortion is wrong in all circumstances and must therefore not be treated as an acceptable medical procedure. Liberals usually believe and argue that the decision ultimately belongs to the woman, since it’s her body that is most affected. There are exceptions, of course. Just as there are pro-choice conservatives, so there are also pro-life liberals, and people of all political points in between.
Since 1973, abortion opponents have tried and failed repeatedly to get the ruling overturned. During that time, public attitudes toward the procedure have changed as well. In 2011, according to a Gallup poll, more Americans identified themselves as “pro-choice” than “pro-life” (49 percent vs. 45 percent). Interestingly, when considering the morality of the issue, the statistics have stayed relatively flat at 39 percent saying it’s “morally right” compared to 51 percent saying it’s “morally wrong.” And a clear majority, 72 percent, believe it should be legal under either all or some conditions. Predictably, these numbers tend to break along party lines – more self-identified Republicans say it should be outlawed, more Democrats think it should be legal.
This hasn’t stopped legislatures in mostly conservative states from attempting to impose harsh restrictions on access to abortion, however. The 2011 to 2012 campaign season featured some of the most stringent efforts at rolling back abortion rights in America. According to a Guttmacher survey, most states currently have some restrictions, and nearly half have passed or considered stringent limitations on access. Some of the most draconian involve required (liberals say forced) ultrasound images, waiting periods before the procedure, or even new, previously unheard-of requirements imposed on abortion clinics.
I count myself in the “pro-life Democrat” camp. I believe that though abortion is wrong morally, it should be available and legal. The real legacy of Roe v. Wade was not that it enabled abortion to be available in the United States, but that it became safe and regulated. Throughout history, women have sought to end unwanted pregnancies. Even prior to 1973, abortion was available, even if it wasn’t necessarily legal or safe. Women sometimes paid for their desperation with their health or even their lives.
We’ll never know for certain how many women died or were permanently maimed in illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade. But thanks to that decision, many are alive today who probably wouldn’t be if the procedure had remained illegal.
As abhorrent as I believe abortion is, I also believe outlawing it is the wrong way to go. I’d like to believe my children can grow up in a country where such a thing isn’t needed. But we’ve got a long way before we reach that goal. And I don’t want them growing up in a country where the option is denied them, should they need it.