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Tuesday, 22 January 2013 07:46

A Beleaguered Roe v. Wade at Forty

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BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

On Friday, January 25, three days after the fortieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision -- which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion -- tens of thousands of anti-abortion protesters will once again hold their annual March for Life rally in Washington D.C.

While there hasn’t been another assassination of a doctor performing abortions since the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller -- who performed abortions at his clinic in Wichita, Kansas -- incidents of anti-abortion violence against health  clinics have continued. In 2010, Molotove cocktails were thrown at Planned Parenthood clinics in Madera, California and in north Texas. In January 2012, the American Family Planning Clinic in Pensacola, Florida was firebombed, and in April a bomb exploded on the windowsill of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Grand Chute, Wisconsin.

Over the past few years, however, the anti-abortion movement has turned to friendly legislatures and has registered a string of policy victories – particularly in states with Republican governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures. These states have imposed severe restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. In four states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi – there is only one clinic that, along with providing a broad array of women’s health care services, performs abortions.

Despite these anti-choice victories, a new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has found that more than 60 percent of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

At the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is anyone winning the abortion wars?

Attacking abortion state by state

Although public opinion on Roe v. Wade has not changed significantly in recent years, what has changed is how aggressively anti-abortion politicians have pursued new restrictions on abortions in a number of states.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that does extensive research on abortion, 19 states enacted 43 state laws restricting abortion last year. In 2011, 92 restrictive laws passed – the highest number ever recorded in a single year.

In addition, abortion providers nationwide, have decreased from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,793 in 2008.

The Religion News Service’s David Gibson pointed out that “Pregnancy centers run by conservative Christians as alternatives to abortion clinics have been proliferating as well, and there have been concerted — and often successful — efforts to cut or bar government funding of Planned Parenthood.”

Less than a month ago, Texas defunded all Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, even those that did not perform abortions. Recent bills passed in Michigan will increase regulation requirements for abortion providers.

According to an ABC News Radio report, “A law passed last summer in Louisiana now requires women to wait 24 hours between the time they undergo mandatory ultrasounds and the time they can have abortion procedures. This law also requires that the fetal heartbeat be made audible unless the woman specifically requests otherwise.  Unless the woman is a victim of rape, and has reported it, she must listen to a description of the ultrasound.”

In Virginia, women “will still have to undergo a forced, medically-unnecessary ultrasound and scramble to find a clinic that can perform an abortion,” rhrealitycheck.org’s Robin Marty recently reported.

Pew research finds majority supports Roe v. Wade

The Pew report, titled “Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision,” found that “opinions [on Roe v. Wade] are little changed from surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago.” And forty years after the Supreme Court decision, most Americans do not think the issue of abortion is a particularly critical issue: “53% say abortion ‘is not that important compared to other issues,’ up from 48% in 2009 and 32% in 2006. The percentage viewing abortion as a ‘critical issue facing the country’ fell from 28% in 2006 to 15% in 2009 and now stands at 18%.”

According to the Pew national survey, “White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority (54%) favors completely overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. Large percentages of white mainline Protestants (76%), Black Protestants (65%) and white Catholics (63%) say the ruling should not be overturned. Fully 82% of the religiously unaffiliated oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.”

Republicans are evenly divided on overturning Roe v. Wade, while Democrats and Independents oppose overturning it. And, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of both men and women oppose reversing the Supreme Court’s decision.  

Several Republican Party senatorial candidates who painted themselves into deep corners while talking about rape, pregnancy, and abortion, were soundly defeated.

During the past election, Missouri’s Todd Akin set the standard when he stated that “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” and not get pregnant. Last week Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia “became the latest Republican politician to tie himself into a pretzel talking about ‘legitimate rape,’” the National Journal reported.  

A recent Time magazine cover read: “40 Years Ago, Abortion Rights Activists Won An Epic Victory With Roe V. Wade -- They’ve Been Losing Ever Since.” The Pew survey clearly indicates a majority of Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

Religion News Service’s Gibson also noted that so-called "’personhood amendments’ that seek to leapfrog Roe and ban all abortions by declaring that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception have failed every time they have gone to the voters, even in the most anti-abortion states in the nation.”

Is anyone winning the abortion debate?

At the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade it is clear that the battle over reproductive rights is likely to be with us for at least another forty years.