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We Don't Know Roe

The Supreme Court confirmation battle is underway, and the nominee's views about Roe vs. Wade have already been the subject of controversy. The strategy of abortion supporters in the Senate and among interest groups will be to present Roe as mainstream, and to label those who oppose it as extreme. Some will assert that a Supreme Court Justice who opposes Roe is not qualified to serve on the Court. Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that the current Chief Justice of the United States was one of the two dissenting votes in the 7-2 Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. Moreover, the plaintiff "Jane Roe" (Norma McCorvey) now rejects the decision and works to reverse it. (I received her into the Catholic Church in 1998.)

Another significant fact is that the American people have never supported the Roe vs. Wade policy of legal abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Polling on abortion consistently reveals that the majority of Americans support the legality of the procedure in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother s life and physical health, but that support quickly declines below the majority when other reasons are brought forward. (Several years ago, Gallup did an excellent overview of multiple polls of Americans on abortion since Roe.) Because abortions for physical health, rape, and incest constitute a miniscule fraction of the procedures, it is true to say that most Americans oppose most abortions.

An analysis of polling questions, done by Professor Raymond Adamek, shows that most questions about Roe vs. Wade misrepresent the decision. The questions state that Roe allowed abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. This is the truth, but not the whole truth. Here are the words of the Roe vs. Wade decision:

"(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman s attending physician.

"(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

"(c) For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother" [410 U.S. 113, 114].

As the University of Detroit Law Review pointed out, "The Supreme Court s decisions…allowed abortion on demand throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy" (Paul B. Linton, Enforcement of State Abortion Statutes after Roe: A State-by-State Analysis, Vol. 67, Issue 2, Winter 1990).

Now is a perfect moment for educating the public about what Roe vs. Wade really said. When they find out, they will have a new understanding about who the real "extremists" are in the Supreme Court battle.

More about the educational effort on Roe v. Wade

More Columns

 

 

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