When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the court was coming off a pretty high water mark for liberalism. The sixties and early seventies saw a liberal majority. The moment Roe was decided, it’s been the most all-consuming case in the Court’s docket every year since.
By the 1980s Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the bench and the justices began to sway more conservatively, thought not entirely because of her. In every case that even lightly touched on Roe, the justices made a point to make their opinions about it known. Among them was Justice Scalia who openly despised it to the point you’d think it was the only thing he ever thought about.
O’Connor, however, wrote in 1983 one of her most famous lines:
Roe v. Wade is clearly on a collision course with itself.
Her reasoning is only increasingly more apparent and correct. She believed medicine and science would advance and enable younger and younger babies to survive outside the womb. She also believed medicine and science would advance to enable safer, less-invasive methods of terminating a pregnancy. She’s been right on both counts and now we’re nearing the collision.
I believe this Court, in the near future, will strike down Roe v. Wade and turn much of the decision-making over abortion limits to legislatures. I think this is the right move insofar as state legislatures can decide when is too late for an abortion. I think that’s the wrong decision insofar as most states will abuse this power and enact legislation that just harms women’s healthcare. Which is why I hope the Court also hems in some limits and retains parts of Roe that protects a woman’s right to her body.
Left vs. right wing ideology isn’t helpful to anyone
The far left seems to think a baby isn’t a baby until it’s been born and the far right thinks a baby is a baby at the moment of conception. Neither of these arguments are helpful. For one, science is showing us we have much to learn about fetal development. Babies show signs of life that we’d reasonably associate as “human” far earlier than we thought. Babies suck their thumbs and respond to external sounds and voices within about twenty weeks or earlier.
It’s not unreasonable that a government—whose job among many is to protect the rights of people, property, and life—should protect the life of an unborn child when it reasonably becomes human. When a cell becomes a fetus and a fetus becomes a baby is shifting as we discover more about life.
It’s also not unreasonable that a government has the obligation to protect women’s rights, their ability to choose what to do with an unwanted pregnancy for a host of reasons, and recognize safe family planning must be included in the discussion lest women turn to back alleys and distant doctors with questionable experience again.
I’m not excited or happy about the firestorm such a ruling will bring about in life again. Most states will clamp down so hard it’ll be unreasonable and draconian to women’s health. I always remember the remark of a female colleague years ago: abortion should be legal but rare. Just where the legality ends and begins is challenging to define.