William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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ROE AT 40 – AT 10:10 A.M. ET:  This is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in history.  The decision found in the Constitution the basis for deciding that abortion had to be permitted, under certain circumstances, throughout the United States.

It was hoped by some at the time of the decision that it would settle matters.  As we all know, that was a vain hope.  If anything, abortion has become even more controversial over the years.  The New York Post comments: 

There’s no naïveté quite like that of the sophisticate. Forty years ago this day, the Supreme Court upended the laws of all 50 states in Roe v. Wade — and The New York Times pronounced the issue settled.

“The court’s verdict on abortions,” said the Times, “provides a sound foundation for final and reasonable resolution of a debate that has divided America too long. As with the division over Vietnam, the country will be healthier with that division ended.”

Four decades on, we are hard-pressed to find any sign this division is ended. To the contrary, by substituting the preferences of unelected judges for the people acting through their elected representatives, Roe has only made the issue more divisive.

Our Founders well understood that there are issues that arouse passions and are in principle beyond reconciliation. In their wisdom, they gave us a political system that recognizes a difference between what people regard as ideal and what they will accept as a reasonable compromise.

In this light, pro-lifers must recognize that a large swath of American society believes a woman’s right to choose is sacrosanct — and President Obama was handily re-elected on this argument. For their part, pro-choicers might recognize that the pro-life movement is growing younger, that science and sonograms are making people think more about abortion and that, while Americans do not wish abortion outlawed, they do want it restricted.

Alas, since Roe the incentive for those with strong feelings on contentious issues from racial preferences to gay marriage and the death penalty is to think they’re just one Supreme Court decision away from absolute victory. As Roe ought to have taught us, in the absence of a national consensus, absolute judicial victories are dangerous and divisive things.

COMMENT:  That is well said.  Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, currently of the Supreme Court, expressed worry, in her days as a women's-rights lawyer, that a Supreme Court decision on abortion lacked validity in the public mind, as compared to actions by state legislatures. 

Abortion is not a matter that, ultimately, will be settled by laws or court decisions.  As pro-life Senator Tom Coburn, an obstetrician, said recently, it will be settled in the human heart.  He is correct. 

January 22, 2013