Monday, March 06, 2006

Roe on the chopping block...

It appears that the governor of South Dakota has signed into law a bill banning abortions with the only exception being to save the life of the mother. (If this survives a court challenge, just watch how the number of "life-threatening" pregnancies sky-rockets.)

Anyway, this is going to be challenged in court and will almost certainly wind up in front of SCOTUS, possibly overturning Roe and setting a new precedent. It appears it's finally upon us.

I'm of two minds about this. First of all, I'm pretty thoroughly pro-choice and do not like the idea of abortion being made illegal for all of the same reasons that anyone else who's pro-choice can give you. However, I'm also one of those who feels that having the courts, rather than the legislatures, protect abortion rights has been counterproductive, politically speaking. A solid majority of Americans are pro-choice rather than pro-life by something like 55-40%, depending on what survey you look at. And an even higher percentage (65%, give or take) don't think Roe should be overturned, which means that a certain percent of pro-life or "don't know" people like having abortion legal. Thus demonstrating, yet again, that a significant number of people who take surveys don't know what the hell they're responding to. But nevertheless, only 13 states have an anti-abortion majority. (South Dakota is one of the 13, but the majority is within the margin of error, meaning that statistically speaking, SD is split.)

So if Roe is overturned, abortion will remain legal in most states. One imagines that women living in those states that ban it will have the option to go to a neighboring state to get the procedure performed there, although their home state may well try to put up road blocks (not in the literal sense) to prevent or punish them for doing so. And if the Federal government gets involved, chances are it will be on the side of abortion rights, since this is the side of most Americans.

But, you say, the Federal government is dominated by Republicans, who are mostly pro-life. True, but therein lies the rub. The Republicans have gotten away with talking tough about abortion for decades without actually having to do anything about it. That helps fire up the pro-life constituency and wins the Republican party votes, but immunizes them from having to face the political consequences of outlawing abortion. The pro-choice crowd, meanwhile, has been lulled into complacency by Roe and subsequent decisions. They figure that no matter what crazy right-wing politicians get elected, the right to choose is protected by the courts.

Now all of that may change. Pro-choice voters will realize that they'd better get out and vote, and pro-life Republicans are going to face the specter of back-alley abortions and all the other negative consequences that outlawing abortion entails. This could very well cause a serious shift in the political landscape. And it's not just people like me who think this, I have heard that quite a lot of Republican strategists say, off the record, that overturning Roe would be disastrous for them.

All in all, I think it's likely to be a net gain for Democrats and possibly for the pro-choice cause as well. And, right in time for the mid-terms. That's not to say that I wouldn't prefer the status quo as far as abortion law is considered -- indeed, I would rather not mess with things at all -- it's just that I don't see overturning Roe as the end of the world.