Letting Go of Roe: An Abortion Article That’ll Make You Think

Editor’s Note: Food for thought given the beginning of the Robert’s comfirmation hearings in Senate Judiciary Committee today…

Do you favor permissive abortion laws even if you personally don’t like abortion? Do you favor some restrictions on abortion but do not want Roe v. Wade overturned? Does a fear that we will go back to the bad old days of back-alley abortions if Roe is overturned keep you up at night? Finally, aren’t you just a little sick and tired of Republicans using the abortion issue to distract voters from issues like US leadership in the world, the failure of Bush’s foreign policy, and the growing gap between rich and poor?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you. In Letting Go of Roe Washington Post editorial writer Benjamin Wittes, a pro-choicer, discusses the fallout from a possible overturning of Roe and concludes that for Democrats, overturning Roe would not be all that bad politically. Wittes correctly points out that too often pro-choicers-through their own mistakes, albeit with some help from the right-wing noise machine- come out looking more intolerant on the abortion question than many pro-lifers do. What’s more, the continuation of Roe allows conservatives to rail against abortion but not take any responsibility for actually outlawing a practice many Americans don’t want to see outlawed even if they find it personally disconcerting.

More importantly, Wittes’ vast knowledge of legal precendent and his analysis of polling numbers from as far back as 1975 (two years after Roe was handed down) give a convincing case that while abortions would be limited by some legislatures, the days when the only abortion available in the entire US was an illegal one are not likely to return. Furthermore, if Roe were overturned it would make abortion a voting issue to many culturally moderate voters who today err on the culturally conservative side (as opposed to the culturally libertine side) but might begin voting the other way if they thought there was a real threat of the agenda of the Christian Coalition becoming law. Finally, he notes that Roe was decided 7-2 in 1973, and today the Courts makeup would likely yield a 6-3 decision against striking down Roe.

In the interests of full disclosure I will say that I do know the author, went to school with his kid brother and even went to public high school in the same county Wittes did: Montgomery County, Maryland (although his school and mine (Churchill and Einstein) hated each other and he graduated a few years before I did for what it’s worth). You may not see eye to eye with Wittes on each point, and remember Wittes himself says he favors generally permissive abortion laws, but it he will make you stop and think about liberal priorities.

I know for me I can only say in the latter 1980s and 1990s the Democrats tried the Clintonesque path of too little compromise on social liberalism and too much compromise on economic liberalism and needless to say, it didn’t really work out to the Democrats’ policy or electoral advantage. No I don’t say we should become a bunch of little Jerry Falwells, and some “social” issues on which the Democrats are quite liberal on they should not compromise on (e.g. the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of the 1950s and 60s, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, etc.).

Still, isn’t a more principled stand with the “little guy” on economic matters and less fear of those with social views to the right of Hollywood (including abortion) morally (and electorally) justifiable?

You can read Wittes article here.

Okay gentlemen and ladies start your (discussion) engines!!!

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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11 Responses to Letting Go of Roe: An Abortion Article That’ll Make You Think

  1. Marjorie G says:

    Agree that both sides always seem shrill and ideological. There are concessions like parental notification, and certainly when we reason, we say do you really want to send the mother and doctor to jail. Be careful what you wish for, but that is for people who converse, at all.

    Interesting what not having the carrot to dangle might do when the crutch or easy get for them is gone.

    I always said they didn’t want it to end, and would rather have the issue as pro-life. We know they are only pro-birth, and because of votes.

  2. kj says:

    Why you rarely see me comment on this topic is pretty simple: one: I knew someone, my age at the time, who died from a botched abortion and two: I don’t think of this issue in terms of the word “abortion.” I see this issue as a matter between a woman and herself, no one else.

  3. Nick says:


    Oh my god, I don’t know what I’d have done to the doctor in that case. Was this botched abortion before or after Roe was handed down on Jan. 22, 1973? If you don’t care to comment I Understand, I was just curious if this happened before Roe.
    On a more political note, I am of the understanding that two things that hurt the Dems in Missouri are:
    1) being home to many Catholics, St. Louis is the site of a major rite to life movement
    2) One of the driving forces in the GOP doing even better than normal in rural Missouri is a pro-life view on the abortion issue. Can you confirm or reject this?

  4. Marjorie G says:

    At a time in college, mid-60s, when doctors were dispensing birth control pills at heavy dosage like candy as a “license to love,” we still had death from the stigma and lack of access to safely performed abprtions. Also someone I knew.

    That was just the young without counsel, but compound that with no counsel at all at any age, incest, and health decisions generally that courts should get involved in. How really do the particulars unfold, and is the other side willing to accept it under any circumstance?

    A political gambit that is a real gamble.

  5. kj says:

    Nick, it was before Roe vs. Wade. Not the only back alley abortion I knew about at the time, but the only death, and I was a naive Catholic school kid in the middle of the country in the middle of suburbia.

    It is my opinion that the abortion issue was run much the same as the gay marriage issue in this county in Missouri… a *lot* of radio advertising.

  6. Marjorie G says:

    ie that courts should NOT get involved with mea culpa

  7. kj says:

    BTW, it wasn’t the doctor’s fault. The girl was too ashamed to tell her parents that she had gotten pregnant and what she had done, so she basically bled to death, hemorrhaged, in her bed. The parents were beyond devastated.

    I give my folks credit, they talked about this to me, it was not swept under the rug.

  8. Ron Chusid says:

    Nick is right from a political point of view. Repealing Row v. Wade would help the Democrats politically.

    It also wouldn’t be worth the cost. In our mind compromise might mean things like parental notification. In their mind compromise means no safe and legal abortions available in most cases. If they are really feeling like compromising they might allow abortion if the mother’s life is endangered by the pregnancy.

  9. Ron Chusid says:

    Obviously it is a generalization, but I’m not sure that I’d characterize Clinton as compromising on economics but not social issues. To really answer this I’d have to look at a larger number of his compromises.

    There’s no doubt that he often compromised on economics–largely due to having to deal with the Republicans in Congress. One are where he made a mistake regarding compromise was health care. We got programs like Medicare and Medicaid by willing to compromise. Instead the Clintons said Bill would veto any measure which did not provide universal health care.

    Big mistake. The point of the veto is to stop a bad law, not to stop laws which are good but not good enough. As a result of this unwillingness to compromise, we got nothing. Even Kerry’s health care proposals, which are much better than Clinton’s despite not being universal, would have been vetoed under this ultimatum.

    They were willing to compromise on social issues. Don’t ask, don’t tell is essentially a compromise position. While it might not count as it was after he was out of office, Clinton had also advised Kerry to compromise his principles by endorsing the anti-gay marriage ammendments in the states where they were on the ballot.

    Clinton was certainly far preferable to Bush, but he was hardly a die hard civil libertarian.

  10. My biggest concern… always has been, this is woman’s right to privacy. That’s it. Read DiFi’s statement from today.

  11. Nick says:


    I agree. In fact Clinton was, according to Anthony Lewis, the worst president on civil liberties in over 60 years-Lewis said this pre-Bush of course.